As a mother of two,Plath’s stages of motherhood had a great impact on her poetry. She was notafraid to examine the darker concepts of motherhood where “maternity is not apositive revelation in some women’s lives” or address a woman’s “realexperiences”. Through her short life, she was continuously conflicted on thematernal topic as she was aware she could not “have it all”, implying a familyand a career as a successful writer. For her existed only two options, eitherto take control of her life but fail to live up to society’s expectations onthe roles of a woman and potentially live a lonely existence or give all powerto a man and lose herself to domesticity.
Therefore, Plath viewed motherhood asa very black or white concept with no middle ground and to her it was aconstant battle for power, power to the self or power to the man. It wasevident through many of her poems that she loved her children dearly, howeverwhat she opposed was the ideology set by a male-dominating society. She did notwant to be resigned completely into the role of a mother by the manipulativesociety. Plath was able to live her dream when she was given opportunities topursue a career in writing and she did not let her marriage to Ted Hughes atthe age of 24, get in the way of her academic career. However, then came thearrival of their first baby together and Plath was now forced to take on therole of the typical American housewife.
Although she considered herself agifted writer, and was very keen to continue pursuing a career in the field,she was tied down by domesticity and motherhood. Through Plath’s poetry on thetopic of motherhood, her conflicting attitudes towards the concept are quiteevident with many switching perspectives within a matter of years. Motherhoodled Sylvia Plath to create some of her most optimistic as well as some of herdarkest pieces of poetry ranging from maternal love to resentment. Thefollowing is an excerpt from Plath’s poem “The Manor Garden”.
This poemuses heavy death imagery as the narrator fears her pregnancy and the pain ofchildbirth. Unlike many women who view motherhood with pride and as aprivileged opportunity, Plath uses this poem to associate it with fears andresponsibilities. This poem is a medium through which Plath is able to bluntlystate the dark truths about being trapped in the role of a mother; how it feelsto give up her career, the sacrifices she has had to make and her feelings ofisolation and discontent. Thefountains are dry and the roses over. Incenseof death. Your day approaches. Thepears fatten like little Buddhas.
Ablue mist is dragging the lakeThe first stanza of the poem allows readers tofeel Plath’s fear in not wanting to lose her youth through the mentioning ofthe fountains. It seems as if by falling pregnant, the child has stolen Plath’sinnocence and freedom. It is described as some sort of rude awakening,resulting in the narrator’s loss of childlike naiveté and their step towardstheir mature self.
“Incense of death, your day approaches” depicts that newlife and a new beginning is on the way however, with incense. Incense is burnedfor its sweet smell, so the sweet smell of death approaches along with the newlife. This goes to represent impending doom brought upon the narrator by theupcoming new life, the entity that had diminished the ambition to achieve thegoals of a strong, talented young woman. “The pears fatten like littlebuddhas”, can be thought of as symbolism for the fattening of a female bodyduring pregnancy, the decaying self-image in progress. This is allowing thenarrator to feel very vulnerable and trapped in her new body type. However, thestanza ends off with an optimistic line with the mentioning of the blue mistdragging the lake.
For the narrator, the blue depicts purity and hope whichcould possibly imply what the newborn child may bring and take the depressionand loneliness out of her life. Plath also wrote extensively on the morepositive aspects of motherhood such as through her poem “Morning song”where the approaching of motherhood is rather celebrated. The poem was writtenafter the birth of her daughter and mainly expresses Plath wanting to protectand care for her newborn. Throughout the poem she refers to her child as aprecious and worthful thing and does this by comparing her newborn to a “fatgold watch”. This comparison represents the tremendous amount of responsibilityPlath feels with her new prized possession as well as her lifetime task ofraising it. Although during the time of her pregnancy and of course later on inmotherhood she was battling depression, when she wrote this poem, it wasevident that she was starting to get a new view on her life and her childrenwere giving her hope and a reason to live.