Study Guide

Morning Song Analysis

  • Sound Check

    Notice how short some of the sentences are in "Morning Song"? They force you to pause – often in the middle of a line. That sort of choppiness might not seem immediately apparent when you're looking at the lines on the page, but reading the poem aloud will immediately make these pauses come to light. They help to build the sense that the speaker's worldview right now is chaotic, suddenly shifting, and generally emotionally charged.

    Even though there's no overt rhyme scheme in this poem, Plath plays with assonance (the repetition of a vowel sound) in several stanzas of this poem: check out the way that short a's (in bold) and long a's (in italics) repeat in this stanza, for instance:

    Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
    In a drafty museum, your nakedness
    shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

    And let's not even talk about the way that "new," "stat-ue," and "mu-seum" all repeat "ew." Or how the diphthongs (a fancy term for smashing two vowel sounds together) in "our" and "your" are each repeated twice in the stanza.

    Such dense overlapping of vowel sounds tends to perform the echoing effect that speaker says "our voices" have created. It's almost as if the poem itself enacts its subject matter – which makes the intense personal message of the poem even more realistic. It's not an emotional appeal to a new baby that's cleverly wrapped in elaborate rhyme schemes or iambic pentameter. Nope, Plath's assonance is much more subtle than that, creating interwoven vowel patterns which seem as natural as your normal speaking voice.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    We've got to hand it to Sylvia Plath. "Morning Song" seems like a pretty innocuous title, doesn't it? People sing songs all the time. This just happens to be one of them.

    But wait – who's singing this song? Well, that's where things start to get interesting. As you dig deeper into the poem itself, the title acquires loads and loads of potential meanings. We've counted at least three. And we're betting that there might be others. Here are our top possibilities:

    Meaning #1: Check out the first lines of the poem. A new baby cries for the very first time. It's the beginning of her life. Just like morning is the beginning of the day. Get it?

    Meaning #2: Now glance over the last few lines of the poem. The baby tries out a "handful of notes;/ The clear vowels rise like balloons." We could almost say that that's another song. Plath even chooses to describe the baby's cries as "notes." Add that to the fact that morning seems to be whitening the windowpanes right as Baby starts to cry, and you've got yourself… a "Morning Song."

    Meaning #3: Since this entire poem is staged as a conversation between a mother and her baby, it's possible that the entire poem is a song sung to the baby.

    Things get really interesting, though, when you start to think about how these three songs interact with each other to form the poem as a whole. See, over the course of the poem, the baby moves from squalling to throwing out notes that rise like balloons. As she moves from crying into baby-song, her mother moves from detachment into something like love. You could almost say that "Morning Song" charts the dawning of a mother's relationship with her child. In fact, we think we will.

  • Setting

    You've seen it all before. Heck, chances are you once played the starring role in this little drama. See, "Morning Song" follows a newborn baby from the sterile, silent rooms of a hospital to its brand-new home. The poem draws us into both worlds, comparing the hospital to a "drafty museum" and taking care to point out the "flat pink roses" covering the walls of the baby's bedroom (5, 11).

    We're guessing that the setting of this poem actually influences the way that the mother (the speaker) interacts with her baby. Here's what we mean: if you've ever visited the baby ward of a hospital, you know it's a lot like the windows of a department store. Pretty, interesting things are set behind plate glass. In this case, though, instead of fabulous new shoes, the things behind the glass are fabulous new babies. Whether they're babies or shoes, though, putting things behind glass means that you're setting them on display. You can't interact with the babies (or, um, the shoes). You can just watch them from afar. Maybe that's OK when the things you're looking at are clothes or shoes or toys. After all, you don't own those clothes or shoes or toys. But when the thing is your very own baby, it might create a bit of cognitive dissonance. Why should your flesh and blood be put on display like a new toy? And, more disturbingly, how can you relate to something that seems to be presented to you as if it's a new toy? (Or, as the poet says, a new statue?)

    Things change, though, once the baby is set against the backdrop of the speaker's home. See, the speaker knows how to engage with things in her own place. The "flat pink roses" are in the background of her daily activities –and that makes it all the easier to incorporate her baby into those daily activities.

    We forgot to mention that there's one other setting for this poem: the speaker's mind. We go waaaay into her personal thoughts – which become a world of their own. Want to see what we mean? Check out our thoughts in "Speaker."

  • Speaker

    "I"

    We never get to learn the identity of the speaker of this poem – but since Sylvia Plath was a confessional poet, chances are that this speaker has quite a bit in common with Plath herself. (We know, we know, you're never supposed to assume that the author of a text is also the character that we meet in the text – but in this case, the line between the two is a bit thinner than most.)

    "I" is pretty ambivalent about participating in the events of this poem – even though the 'event' happens to be the birth of her child. If you're paying close attention, you'll notice that "I" doesn't even show up until halfway through the poem (line 7, to be specific).

    Even though "I" is the mother of "you," we're not about to see her spouting any of those hysterical, cutesy little love poems that we traditionally think of when we think of new babies. In fact, the speaker is not all that sure how to approach this child. At one point, she even disavows her privileged role as this new being's mother.

    By the time the poem resolves, however, You and I seem to have formed a sort of bond. I marvels at the way that the new baby blows sounds into the air, seeming to make a song of her own. Even if the speaker is not all that thrilled with the new mother-role that she finds herself in, she gets around to admitting that the baby itself is pretty amazing.

    Well, those are our thoughts on the speaker, but let's talk about the baby, "you" too, just for the heck of it.

    "You"

    It's evident early on that "you" is a newborn. But who exactly is this newborn? More importantly, what is she or he like? Well, that's what the entire poem tries to figure out. Layering metaphor upon metaphor, the speaker crafts "you" into a multi-layered being, one who's somewhere between a statue and a cat. Confused? Well, maybe that's because newborns aren't exactly known for their expressive personality. In fact, our speaker is trying pretty darn hard to come up with some sort of language to describe a being that seems entirely indescribable.

    Why address the baby as "you"? Well, for one thing, it helps Plath hone the emotions that the poem develops. See, "Morning Song" isn't a philosophical mediation on the nature of babies and mothers everywhere. Nope, it's far more personal. It's about one mother and her experience with one baby – you. And directly addressing this baby asserts the close connection between speaker and subject.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (4) Base Camp

    Plain, ordinary English. A pretty darn familiar subject. Short, snappy lines. Need we say more?

    Plath sucks her readers into this poem with her first image – and she keeps us engaged by the promise of continual emotional access. Hey, there's a reason why gossip mags are so ridiculously popular. We all want to know the dirty details of other people's lives. That's what makes this poem so appealing – and so easy to read.

    That said, this poem is chock-full of metaphors, and figuring out how the speaker feels about her baby can be a bit tricky.

  • Calling Card

    Up Close and Personal: Confessional Poetry

    This poem is all about laying emotions on the line – even if those emotions aren't exactly the sorts of feelings that most "polite" society would want to acknowledge. You might even say that Plath allows her speaker to confess her emotions to the page (and, by extension, to us as readers). She addresses feelings directly, sorting through all of the complications of love and motherhood and personal identity that get bundled into the speaker's experience of her child's birth.

    Confessional poetry may be Plath's calling card, but it became the form of plenty of other mid-20th century poets, as well. In fact, they named an entire movement after it. Check out what the American Academy of Poetry has to say about confessional poets here.

  • Form and Meter

    Free Verse

    For a supposed song, this poem is distinctly un-song-like – unless, of course, it's a song by Bob Dylan, who doesn't care so much about rhyming or rhythm or any of the other formal regularities that make it easy to sing along to that snappy tune on the radio.

    Sure, the poem is divided into six three-line stanzas, but the stanzas don't have any rhyme scheme or distinct metrical pattern. Even the line breaks seem to follow regular patterns of speech more than then correspond to a Master Plan. Perhaps that's a way for Plath to assert how utterly new and strange this "song" is – and we're betting that, in fact, the lack of form might be a way to indicate that new experiences (like, say, birth and motherhood) require new forms.

    Plath is experimenting with poetry as confession – an incredibly intimate, soul-revealing, emotion-baring sort of confession. After all, she's telling her child that, well, she doesn't necessarily feel all those warm fuzzy feelings that mothers are "supposed" to have. It might just be that trying to superimpose a fixed poetic meter on top of words that are supposed to come from the heart would dilute some of the poem's immediacy. As it is, we feel like she's shedding all sorts of conventions in order to express what she really feels – and things like meter and rhyme happen to be among those conventions.

  • Symbolism, Imagery, Wordplay

    Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.

    Sense Perception

    One of the neatest things about a baby's first few months is that the baby actually learns to experience the world around it. After all, there are just a few more sights and sounds and smells and touches out there in the Big World than there were in Mom's belly. "Morning Song" turns the senses into an ongoing exploration for speaker and subject, a sign that the speaker might share just a little bit more with her child than even she realizes. One of the most common uses of figurative language in this poem is the incorporation of synaesthesia, or mixed-up sense impressions – which might convey just how confused the speaker is about her feelings towards the baby.

    • Line 2: Plath presents readers with a sharp image of a baby coming into consciousness through touch – or, to be specific, through a slap. As the baby feels, the speaker hears: she uses synaesthesia to describe the baby's "bald cry." (Want to know more about synaesthesia? Check our reading of line 10 in the "Line-by-Line Summary.")
    • Lines 5-6: Describing shadows and drafts in the "museum" of the hospital allows Plath to play with a metaphorical sense of touch as she describes the baby's arrival. The speaker isn't actually feeling a cool shadow fall on her skin. She just imagines the baby as that shadow.
    • Line 10: The "flickering" of the baby's breath creates a delicate imageone that, like a moth's wings, is barely noticeable, even in the silence of the night.
    • Lines 10-11: The baby's breath sounds like a "far sea"? That, folks, is a classic metaphor for the regular rise and fall of rhythmic breath.
    • Line 18: Sound rising like balloons? Well, you see balloons. You hear sounds. Once again, Plath uses synaesthesia to develop strong sensory images.

    Anything But Human

    Notice how Plath develops elaborate metaphors to compare both the speaker and the baby to anything but an infant and its mother? It's a pretty fascinating strategy – and it allows the speaker to defer establishing any sort of relationship with her newborn infant. Think about it: what sort of relationship can you really have with a watch or a statue? This changes, however, as the poem works towards its end – just as the speaker is working through her emotions about the baby.

    • Line 1: Baby = "fat gold watch." That, folks, is one strange metaphor. And we're just getting started.
    • Line 3: The baby's cry is described as being part of the elements, which helps to create an image of the baby as a sort of force of nature. Not your typical description of a newborn, huh?
    • Line 5: Baby = statue. Again, it's a metaphor. Strangely enough, though, Plath asserts the metaphor as its own sentence, "New statue." It's as if the metaphorical identity of the infant forms a logic all of its own.
    • Lines 7-9: Notice the negative construction that's used to create this metaphor: the speaker is not the baby's mother in the same way that a cloud is not the baby's mother. But it could also mean that the speaker is the baby's mother just as much as the cloud is. Either way, though, there's a troubled relationship between mother and baby – it's certainly not the declaration of possession that you'd expect to hear from a new mom.
    • Line 13: The speaker describes herself as a cow (or, well, as "cow-heavy"), which suggests that her relationship to the baby is an animal one: she's only there to support its physical needs (provide the baby with milk).
    • Line 15: Ah, here's an interesting change. For the first time, line 15 introduces a simile to describe the baby, not a metaphor. Its mouth is clean as a cat's. Words such as "like" or "as" introduce a simile, while metaphors usually don't use comparative terms. Why's that important? Well, it suggests that the speaker isn't saying that the baby is a cat. The baby is just like a cat – which means that, for the first time in the poem, she's recognizing the baby as a baby. That's a step closer to recognizing the child's relationship to her.
    • Line 18: Here's an image that's definitely human: Plath describes the baby's sounds as "vowels," which means that the speaker recognizes them as parts of speech. Human speech.
    • Steaminess Rating

      G

      C'mon, folks. It's a poem about a little baby. Seriously! Sure, we're guessing that sex played a part in the baby's journey into the world – but, after going through labor, we're not sure that the speaker in this poem would want to remember that right now. In fact, she's bound and determined to make sure we all know just how "cow-heavy" and less than sexy she is at this particular moment.

      You could think of this poem as instant birth control. After all, do you really want to spend your life in a Victorian nightgown, waiting for your kid to wake up? We didn't think so.