1 Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and
your bald cry. Took its place among the
1.1 To compare a child to a “fat gold watch” is surreal. The child
is animate while a watch is inanimate. Love is engaging
while winding up a watch is a mechanical act. What the
simile suggests, is the great distance between the act of love
and the fact of the baby.
1.2 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.
2 Our voices echo, magnifying your
arrival. New statue. In a drafty
museum, your nakedness Shadows
our safety. We stand round blankly
2.1 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
2.2 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.
3 I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that
distils a mirror to reflect
its own slow Effacement
as the wind's hand.
3.1 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.
4 All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses.
I wake to listen: A far sea moves
in my ear
4.1 Line 10: The "flickering" of the baby's
breath creates a delicate image – one
that, like a moth's wings, is barely
noticeable, even in the silence of the
4.2 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.
5 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
5.1 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).
5.2 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.
6 Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now
you try Your handful of notes; The clear
vowels rise like balloons.
6.1 Line 18: Sound rising like balloons? Well, you see
balloons. You hear sounds. Once again, Plath
uses synaesthesia to develop strong sensory
6.2 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.
7 When Sylvia Plath wrote this
unconventional poem of hers
on February 1961, she had given
birth to her daughter Frieda.
The mother love is strangely
absent in the beginning of the
poem. But the mother does
move from a strange alienation
to a kind of instinctive sweeping
emotion, when she lives with
the child for some time and
when the child happens to
breathe and cry; this probably
happens after the intense labor
pain is over, so that the mother
could feel the love.