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Plath on Motherhood. Sylvia Plath’s poems Metaphors Morning Song You’re. Metaphors (1959).

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Plath on Motherhood

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Plath on Motherhood

Sylvia Plath’s poems


Morning Song


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Metaphors (1959)

I'm a riddle in nine syllables. An elephant, a ponderous house, A melon strolling on two tendrils. O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers! This loaf's big with its yeasty rising. Money's new-minted in this fat purse. I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf. I've eaten a bag of green apples, Boarded the train there's no getting off.

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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.

Morning Song

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Morning Song

  • Who is speaking in this poem, to whom?

  • Structure: The poem is like a series of moments or snapshots in 3-line stanzas. Go through each stanza and note down what is being described.

  • Why do you think this title was chosen? Think about the different connotations of the words.

  • Line 1: ‘Love set you going like a fat gold watch.’ Analyse the use of poetic devices in this line and explain why the image is effective.

  • Stanza 2 describes the parents’ reactions to the child in the hospital.

    • What mood is created here? Identify the words that create this mood.

    • What is implied by comparing the child to a ‘new statue / in a drafty museum’?

    • What do you think the simile “we stand round blankly as walls” means?

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Morning Song

5. Stanza 3: What is the speaker saying about her role in the child’s life?

6. Diction: comment on the effect of the compound words, e.g “moth-breath” (stanza 4) and “cow-heavy” in stanza 5. How do these two images create a contrast?

7. Imagery: what connections can you make between the words and images Plath has chosen for the poem?

8. Ending: how does the poem’s end link back to the title? How would you describe the tone of the last lines?

9. Overall message / theme: what does this poem suggest about the poet’s attitude to motherhood? Identify her attitudes / feelings, giving evidence from the poem.

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Your children are not your children.They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.They come through you but not from you,And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.You may house their bodies but not their souls,For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your childrenas living arrows are sent forth.The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Tangent: “I’m no more your mother than…”On ChildrenKahlil Gibran

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Clownlike, happiest on your hands,Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,Gilled like a fish. A common-senseThumbs-down on the dodo's mode.Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,Trawling your dark as owls do.Mute as a turnip from the FourthOf July to All Fool's Day,O high-riser, my little loaf.

Vague as fog and looked for like mail.Farther off than Australia.Bent-backed Atlas, our travelled prawn.Snug as a bud and at homeLike a sprat in a pickle jug.A creel of eels, all ripples.Jumpy as a Mexican bean.Right, like a well-done sum.A clean slate, with your own face on.


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Imagery in the poem

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A foetus

“Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,Gilled like a fish.”

“Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,Trawling your dark as owls do.

Bent-backed Atlas, our travelled prawn.”

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Task: Compare & Contrast ‘You’re’ to ‘Morning Song’

Consider the following aspects

  • Form & Structure

  • Imagery – what kinds of imagery have been used? How could you group them? What qualities of the child do they suggest?

  • Tone

  • Subject / theme

    You could do this in a chart / double-bubble

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