Morning Song: Sylvia Plath on becoming a mother

Morning is the start of a new day but can also allude to the beginning of life. In Sylvia Plath’s emotive poem Morning Song, she describes the arrival of her baby and those tender early days as a new mother…

This poem, by the late poet Sylvia Plath, was published posthumously in 1965 as part of Ariel; a collection of deeply personal poems arranged by her husband the poet Ted Hughes. Morning Song describes the birth of her first child, Frieda, and the many emotions that accompany new motherhood: fear, shock, tenderness, tiredness, confusion.

Plath compares her baby to a ‘fat gold watch’ – a ticking watch, which will stop at some point. This reflects the attitude she had to life, in general – that it is finite; that it will end. Sadly, Plath went on to take her own life and knowing this makes the poem difficult to read, because while she adored her two children, their existence couldn’t save her.

The description of a midwife’s hasty handling of a baby will resonate with new parents, as will the existential questions about what it means to be a mother and make a baby. And as Plath describes waking to listen to her baby’s breath, and then stumbling ‘cow-heavy’ from the bed as soon as the baby cries you’re reminded of those tender early days…

Morning Song – A poem by Sylvia Plath

Morning Song
by Sylvia Plath

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

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

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

Do you know any poems, stories, books or films about the early hour? It could be early mornings, late nights or something metaphorical, like this poem. Do let us know in the comment section below…