Study Guide

Morning Song Quotes

  • Language and Communication

    Morning Song (title)

    We've said it before (like, say, in our thoughts on "What's Up with the Title?"), but we'll say it again now: any time a piece of literature references language, it's a big red flag. And when a poem calls itself a song, then you know that it's going to be thinking through what it means to sing, or even to communicate in general. That's exactly what this poem does.

    [...] your bald cry
    Took its place among the elements. (2-3)

    Our speaker really emphasizes the baby's ability to make noise – in fact, it's the first thing that she describes "you" doing. There's something about this cry that seems pre-linguistic, however. Maybe it's because it's described as "bald" and "elemental." Maybe it's because babies don't really have that great a grasp on language in general. Whatever it is, this cry seems to be set apart from language.

    Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. (4)

    If you've been thinking that just about every line has something to do with language so far, well, we'd have to agree with you. Notice, though, how ill-defined the speaker's voice seems to be in this line? For one thing, we don't know what she's saying. For another, echoes have never been particularly crisp or easy to understand. It's almost like the adult voices get blurry and hard to understand in the wake of the baby's arrival. Which might just help us to understand why our speaker feels a bit upset at the arrival of her baby.

    One cry, and I stumble from bed, (13)

    Okay, so our baby's still crying. (Believe us, this won't change for a while.) Now, though, her cries have become a form of communication. Our speaker knows that Baby wants something – and even though she may not be totally on board with the whole motherhood thing yet, the speaker is immediately up to help.

    And now you try
    Your handful of notes;
    The clear vowels rise like balloons. (16-18)

    Now we're getting somewhere. Baby has moved from crying to singing – and judging from our speaker's reaction, it's a pretty miraculous change. Sure, our speaker doesn't come out and say that she's overjoyed. That would be too easy. But check out the language she uses – it's not a "bald" cry, it's a collection of "vowels," of language. And that language rises "like balloons." Everybody loves balloons. They're so happy and floaty and joyful.

  • Family

    Love set you going like a fat gold watch. (1)

    What do families do? They love each other. (Okay, they do plenty of other things.) But it's important to note that, before anything else, our speaker recognizes a bond of love that brings her baby into the world. Sure, there may be complications, but it's love that gets first billing in this poem.

    Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue. (4)

    What do people do when they've had a new baby? They stand around and stare at it for a while. Notice, though, how the first thing that our speaker thinks of when she looks at the baby is a "new statue." It's not even "my new statue" or, say, "new baby." Something funny seems to be going on here. Sure, folks are worshipping the new babe ("magnifying" its presence), but the language our speaker uses to describe this isolates the baby, turning it into an inanimate thing.

    I'm no more your mother
    Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
    Effacement at the wind's hand. (7-9)

    Wow. Talk about a sucker punch. You come into the world, thinking everything is all warm and cozy, and then… BAM! It turns out that your mother doesn't really think of herself as your mother. Sucks to be you, huh?

    One cry, and I stumble from bed, (13)

    Now we're back on track. Mom may not be thrilled about the thought of a new baby changing her way of life, but at least she's prepared to do everything she can to make sure that her child is fed and happy. After all, that's what mothers do.

  • Identity

    your bald cry
    Took its place among the elements. (2-3)

    This is it. The baby has arrived. And it does so with a huge, bawling cry. Nevertheless, our speaker seems pretty unwilling to recognize this baby as a human being. It's something less than that. Sure, our speaker calls the baby's cry elemental – but then again, rocks are elemental as well. It's not that big of an honor.

    […] your nakedness
    shadows our safety. (5-6)

    Confused? So are we. It seems like this phrase could have two meanings: either the baby's nakedness emphasizes the relative safety of the adults watching it (and thus inspires the speaker to take care of the baby), or the baby's neediness impinges upon the speaker's "safety" – i.e., her right to live her life just as she wants. Is "shadowing" a good thing or a bad thing? We're just not sure. Our hunch is that the speaker's not sure either.

    We stand round blankly as walls. (6)

    It's like the arrival of this new baby has reduced the speaker (and those around her) to less-than-people. Heck, they're not even wallflowers. They're just… walls. That's not exactly a desired form of being – at least, as far as our speaker is concerned.

    I'm no more your mother
    Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
    Effacement at the wind's hand. (7-9)

    Once again, our speaker is playing some fancy tricks with words. Is she saying that she's not the baby's mother? Or is she asserting that the baby has a place in the natural order of things? You could even call this a poetic version of "The Circle of Life." As the mother grows older, new lions come into the world. Or, um, babies.

    One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
    In my Victorian nightgown. (13-14)

    This is the only explicit self-portrait that we get from our speaker in the entire poem, and it's not a pretty one. "Cow-heavy and floral"? We're not exactly chomping at the bit to join her. Is this description overly harsh? Or is it an honest assessment of her new place in life? Either way, it's not all that inspiring. Which is pretty much our speaker's point.

    And now you try
    Your handful of notes; (16-17)

    This is the first time in the poem that the baby's sounds have been described as conscious linguistic productions, which is a huge shift. It suggests that our speaker might have shifted her perspective, as well – the baby's not just a creature in the world. It's a thinking being, and a creative one, at that. After all, music is a creative act. Now that's a big step up from a "bald cry."

  • Youth

    The midwife slapped your footsoles, (2)

    Pretty much every movie with a baby in it probably has a scene like this one: baby is born and gets smacked into the world. No wonder the baby starts out screaming. The fact that Plath chooses a stereotypical image of first-moment baby-ness suggests that she's not going to be claiming that her baby is extra-special in any particular way. Nope. It's just a baby. A very loud baby.

    your nakedness (5)

    Once again, Plath resorts to fairly typical images of babies to describe her newborn. This time, though, the image gets turned on its head just a little bit – this newborn is, in fact, a statue, which is something slightly less dependent and helpless than other forms of babies.

    All night your moth-breath
    Flickers (10-11)

    It's funny how one little baby can command so much attention, huh? But our speaker has moved from thinking about the ways that the baby interacts with her life to – well, letting that baby play a part in her life. Even though the baby is no longer screaming, our speaker is paying all sorts of attention to it!

    Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. (15)

    There's something lovely and pure in this description of "you," the baby. Cats are well known for not recognizing anything else in the world but themselves – sort of like babies. But at least this image is "clean" and peaceful. Maybe our speaker is coming around to her baby.