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 distils 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.
Sylvia Plath (Feb 1961)
S1 – The first line of a poem is very important and this first start line is such a wonderful definitive statement on the start of life, that of the birth of a baby, and indeed relevant to life in general. ‘Fat’ and ‘Gold’ appropriate for fat signifies health in a baby as weight is so important for increase is eagerly sought by the mother. Gold signifies purity.
S2 – Voices echo at the birth usually a common joy resonates A museum signifies history and those of the old generation. Drafty (= draughty) generates an uncomfortable feeling and the ‘nakedness’ of the baby in this new environment increases the concern. The audience is a blank entity as far as the baby is concerned. The baby has no awareness of how he or she fits into the world – she is very much a new exhibit with everyone watching intently.
S3 – This is an interesting image expression to show the independence that exists between mother and child. A cloud trying to catch an image of itself as the wind quickly dissipates any such attempt.
S4/S5 – The mother is in constant awareness of the sound of the baby at sleep – akin to the sound of the sea in her ear. She wakes to listen for re-assurance. And it only takes one cry for an immediate response. ‘Stumble’ might indicate that the mother is tired from getting up to tend the needs of the baby or from keeping herself awake in her attentive concern.
S6 – I like the personification of the window square as it takes colour in a white frame and as it swallows the stars as dawn dissolves the night. The handful of notes belong to the baby, perhaps the starting voice of that independence referenced in the third stanza. Balloons of course are colourful and have happy child associations – and the healthy sounds of the baby are truly a bright ‘morning song’ to the mother.
Footnote – Cats do have clean mouths – due in part to the fact that the saliva in a feline’s mouth destroys germs and keeps the mouth clean. This is more powerful in cats than it is in humans and dogs, probably because cats use their mouths to clean themselves so often.
Here is a link to a YouTube reading of this poem by Sylvia Plath
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