Meryl Streep Reads “Morning Song” by Sylvia Plath
A paean and requiem for new parenthood — the love, the strangeness, the surreal and magnetic disorientation of it.
By Maria Popova
In contemplating the parallels between being an artist and being a parent, the psychologist turned pioneering sculptor Anne Truitt wrote of “an understanding deeper than my own of what it is to be human, and a mysterious revelation of a radiant order.”
A decade earlier, another trailblazing artist contemplated the shock and splendor of new parenthood in her own art. In February of 1961, shortly after giving birth to her daughter, Frieda, Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963) penned one of her most unusual poems. “Morning Song,” later included in the posthumously published 1965 classic Ariel (public library), is both paean and requiem for new motherhood — the love, the strangeness, the surreal and magnetic disorientation of it.
In this beautiful performance from The Academy of American Poets’ annual Poetry & the Creative Mind celebration, Meryl Streep brings Plath’s masterpiece to life with uncommon sensitivity to the innumerable nuances it holds:
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.
Complement with Plath on what makes us who we are, the little-known children’s book she wrote for her own kids, her recently revealed visual art, and her own haunting reading of her poem “Spinster,” then revisit other great readings of great poems: Amanda Palmer reads “Having It Out with Melancholy” by Jane Kenyon, Cynthia Nixon reads “While I Was Fearing It, It Came” by Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Boorstein reads “Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda, and Rosanne Cash reads “Power” by Adrienne Rich.
Should you find yourself in New York City, The Academy of American Poets’ Poetry & the Creative Mind — which also gave us Regina Spektor’s enchanting reading of “The Everyday Enchantment of Music” by Mark Strand — takes place every April at Lincoln Center and is consistently magnificent, featuring readings of beloved poems by inspiring cultural figures who love them, ranging from artists to astrophysicists.
Published April 4, 2018