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Redefining Motherhood In Sylvia Plath’s Poetry

1292 words - 6 pages

Known for her distinctive voice and exploration of dark, violent emotions, Sylvia Plath was one of the most acclaimed poets of the twentieth century. In her poems she discusses many common themes such as family relations, marriage, self-image and death in unique ways. Among these topics, she expresses a particularly original perspective on motherhood and its effect on the individual that often deviates completely from the traditional view of child rearing. In her poems “Moonrise,” “Heavy Woman” and “Morning Song,” Plath conveys the idea that motherhood, although necessary, is a personal as well as physical sacrifice that involves much pain and suffering.
In “Moonrise,” Plath depicts a ...view middle of the document...

The speaker then states that she can only see and smell whiteness and that it is a “complexion of the mind” (21), illustrating her depression and how all she sees and can focus on is death. This is also evident in the constant repetition of the term “white” at least once in every tercet. Additionally, she alludes to Lucina, who is the Roman goddess of childbirth, and describes her as a “bony mother” (25), that is “laboring” (25), and whose face “pares white flesh to white bone” (27), or in other words has a dead expression. This description suggests that she is a weak and frail being and not at in any way powerful and strong as one would expect a goddess to be.
The suffering involved with motherhood is also evident in the poem “Heavy Woman.” The speaker of the poem, who remains unidentified, describes a group of idealized pregnant women in s state of serene satisfaction with themselves, “irrefutable” and “beautifully smug” (“Heavy Women” 1). They are compared to the goddess Venus in the sense that they are “pedestalled” or above others, and are confident, strong and beautiful (2). They are shown to be “calm as a moon or cloud” (7). They seem even more unreal as the speaker compares them to the Madonnas from Renaissance paintings, since pink-buttoned infants, who evoke the idea of cherubs, attend them. The speaker clearly proves that the pregnant women she encounters really do “step among the archetypes” (17).
However, the speaker warns that although they are content now, “the dark still nurses its secret,” giving the impression that there is some unknown danger that is approaching (“Heavy Women” 11). The dusk that “hoods them in Mary-blue” refers to the impending darkness and alludes to the Virgin Mary who suffered greatly in her role as a mother with the death of her son (18). While they are safe now, the “axle of winter” (19) that “grinds down” (20) is drawing nearer, which hints at the pain, suffering and loss associated with motherhood that will follow. In other words, the poem transmits the idea that although motherhood can seem like a wonderful endeavor, it could also bring with it great suffering and consequences.
Plath reinforces her idea of motherhood as a sacrificial act in her poem “Morning Song.” This poem traces the thoughts of a mother immediately after childbirth and during the time that follows. Throughout the course of the poem, the mother as an individual fades as the newborn slowly takes overpowers and takes control over her. This is first hinted at as the mother compares her child to tough, solid, durable objects such as a “fat gold watch” (“Morning Song” 1) and a “new statue” (4) in an attempt to show its concrete and...

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