An Imitative response to “Morning Song” by Sylvia Plath  Trigger Warning – suicide

Evening Song

By Rachel Windsor

Sorrow took your breath like a chill wind.

The silence robbed the night, and your last breath

Took its place among the elements

My voice echos, magnifying your absence. New statue

In a drafty museum, your stillness

Shadows my terror. I stand shocked angry as fence rows

I am no more your sister

Than the salmon that fight the stream to spawn its own kind

Magnetoreceptors at genetics hand.

All morning New York times

Rattles amongst the outlets. I wake to listen:

Only wind rushes in my ear

One cry, and we stumbled from our beds, heavy and

In our childish night attire

Your mouth forms the shape of her name. The lenses

Tighten and swallow its landscape. And now I try

My handful of notes;

The emptiness rises in my chest like an attack.

I am alone

            I want to start my reflection by saying that I love Sylvia Plath’s poetry. I respect her feelings and appreciate what she was able to bring to art at such a time when being a female poet wasn’t respected and mental illness wasn’t understood. I don’t think anyone could know what her marriage to Ted Hughes was like or what being admitted in a psych ward that utilized shock therapy in the 1940s and 50s was like. I appreciate her attempt at drawing back the curtain of a poet and revealing or confessing her truths of domestic life. She wonderfully describes the highs and lows of child rearing and competing in a male dominant environment in a controlled and nuanced way that is not commonly found in poetry that I have read. I must admit that my repertoire is limited. Her work requires contemplation which is why I had a difficult time imitating it. I don’t want anyone reading my poem to think that I am ridiculing her for committing suicide by writing about her son’s suicide from his sister’s perspective. I merely chose this subject because her poem was about his birth. I thought it appropriate to write about his death. I have to admit that one of the challenges that I faced was writing from a perspective that wasn’t my own. I have never come face to face with a loved one who committed suicide. I do know others who have and who have confessed to me that that they have considered it. I cannot imagine that pain that Frieda Hughes felt at the loss of both her mother and brother to suicide. I will be looking into Frieda’s poetry now that I know that she too is a poet who followed in both mother and father’s footsteps. Nicholas did not. He was a biologist who specialized in Salmonid ecology.

            Plath wrote numerous poems about her experiences and feelings accompanying her pregnancy with Nicholas while battling chronic depression. She wrote an absolutely heartbreaking poem to Nicholas titled “Nick and the Candlestick.” She anticipates her son’s feelings about coming to terms with with her pain leading up to her death. Lines 23-30 are as follows:

O love, how did you get here?
O embryo

Remembering, even in sleep
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

In you, ruby.
The pain
You wake to is not yours.

She looks with loving tenderness upon her sleeping child while pondering her own death. It feels like an apology in the final lines of the last quoted stanza, “The pain/You wake to is not yours.” She expects that he will have to adjust to life without a mother and will inevitably attempt to discover why she did it. He was almost two years old at the time of her death, so he wouldn’t have been able to understand why at the time of her death in 1963. All the same, it must have caused pain to read these poems growing up under the scrutiny of media and knowing the scandal between his father and his string of mistresses and his toxic and abusive behavior towards them.

            In my poem, I wanted to pay respect to Nicholas’s knowledge of Salmon in lines 8-9. I learned a little bit about Salmon in preparation for this poem. Salmon lives are exceedingly cyclical and predictable like most creatures. They are born, find a mate, spawn, and die. Salmon have a sense called magnetoreception which allows them to detect Earth’s magnetic field to orient themselves in the ocean allowing them to find the places where they were born. This place. They migrate upstream through the freshwater rivers where they spawn and die. After reproducing, the salmon die. When they die, they release nutrients into the water. The young navigate the waters back into the ocean and are left to fend for themselves and restart the cycle. The magnetoreceptors are what guide salmon to their destination of death. Genetic predisposition for depression is still being studied, so I cannot be sure if Nicholas was born with depression. But, he was a scientist and a biologist, so I wanted to utilize and expand on the dichotomy of birth and death found in Plath’s work

            I also wanted to pay respect to Freida’s pain as the older sister of Nicholas who watched him battle with depression and announced to the world his death. She would have had to deal with his death publicly because of their parents fame. And she would have had to relive her mother’s death in newspapers and in private. It would not be a Sylvia Plath imitation if I did not include a confession of feeling or despair. In “Morning Song,” she is on edge at the sound of her child’s cry. I didn’t know how to fully imitate that feeling when comparing to Freida’s worry and horror at her brother’s suicide. I took many artistic liberties with this piece. I do not know that Freida found her brother. I do know that she announced his death.

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