Mad Girl’s Love Song’ is the poem that finally convinced me poetry wasn’t some elite art form whose deepest values would forever evade me. It’s one of those poems that I wish I’d written myself. A foray into my own soul, these six stanzas rang true to me at first sight, exposing thoughts and feelings that I claim for my own as much as they were Sylvia Plath’s. She, of course, made a much better job of organising those musings than I ever could.
On the surface just the lover’s lament of a woman on the edge, to me ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ presents an epistemic argument contrasting what we have imagined with what we think we remember. It is the written representation of how we come out the other side of meaningful encounters with others, romantic or otherwise, questioning everything – what happened, what did it mean, who am I now?
On first scan, the incessant repetition stands out even to the untrained eye – a quick Google told me that’s characteristic of a villanelle. The lines “I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead” and “(I think I made you up inside my head)” are set in relief against one another throughout the poem. To me, these lines represent the narrator’s solipsist attitude to love – once the encounter slips away into nothing but memory, who is she to say it even happened? She might as well have been the only one to experience it, it might as well be the figment of an overactive imagination. I find myself inherently drawn to the third stanza, where Plath asks us to consider the difference between what we have ‘dreamed’ and what we remember, and leaves us to wonder whether the difference is even important when it comes to the present.
It should come as no surprise that Plath was not a happy woman. Indeed, plagued by depression all her adult life, she made her first suicide attempt in 1953, not months after writing this poem. She was 20. The narrator’s confusion as to what’s real and what’s not is representative of Plath’s inner demons, culminating in the lexical field of the ethereal in the third stanza – the moon, the ‘bewitch[ing]’, the kissing ‘quite insane’ all represent her deteriorating mind. “I think I made you up inside my head”: once again, the repetition of this line is a reminder whether it be within the confines of this poem or within our own lives and pasts, that we can’t be certain of what’s real.
The sentiment of the opening lines “I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; / I lift my lids and all is born again” is echoed throughout the poem: the poignance of inner and outer perception is repeated again and again. Eyes closed, the world is yours. Eyes open, and you can see the world for what it truly is. Darkness and light, evil and good are both pitted against each other in the same way: the ‘blue and red stars’ shine against ‘arbitrary blackness; ‘seraphim and Satan’s men’ are uttered in the same breath. The overall effect of these unabating contrasts is a satisfying sense of balance: there is no colour nor darkness, there is no God nor Hell. Once again, the poem brings us back to the idea of solipsism – in a world somehow in between all extremes, the only thing she can know is herself.
I like to imagine Plath was frequently dismissed as some ‘crazy chick’, and titled this poem accordingly, an ironic statement against anyone too stupid to question the world as she did with every stroke of her pen. She had a tragic burden to bear, an isolating illness combined with the tools to express it. The use of quotation marks and parenthesis to punctuate the text harks towards a dual perspective; whether that is a lonely conversion within one soul or is a dialogue between two, I can’t decide. A perfect representation of all our own inner madnesses, ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ will be the one I come back to again and again: a reminder of the beautiful non-importance of our actions.
You can read ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ online here.
Image: summonedbyfells via Flickr