With Mother’s Day just past, I’ve had two Sylvia Plath poems on my mind. They are such extreme contrasts in so many ways but there are also links and connections that fascinate me, particularly the imagery of a woman as a museum that may, or may not, be populated with statues.
By Sylvia Plath
Empty, I echo to the least footfall,
Museum without statues, grand with pillars, porticoes, rotundas.
In my courtyard a fountain leaps and sinks back into itself,
Nun-hearted and blind to the world. Marble lilies
Exhale their pallor like scent.
I imagine myself with a great public,
Mother of a white Nike and several bald-eyed Apollos.
Instead, the dead injure me with attentions, and nothing can happen.
The moon lays a hand on my forehead,
Blank-faced and mum as a nurse.
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.
There are so many great moments in “Morning Song” that I absolutely love (the line “One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral in my Victorian nightgown” is especially striking) but as a woman who has PCOS, I really identify with “Barren Woman.” It’s not something that I talk about much (because it doesn’t seem appropriate to distract away from the mothers on their special day) but Mother’s Day can be a hard day for women who struggle with infertility. This seemed like a good way to acknowledge both sides of the holiday.