This poem analysis of ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ is divided into three parts – context, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices, and deeper meaning. In the absence of any one of these, this poem explanation would be incomplete.
Context: ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ was written by Plath while she was still at Smith College, and before her first suicide attempt on 24th August 1953. An early poem, this is nevertheless exemplary of Plath’s work and her style of poetry writing as a whole. Dealing with the themes of depression and schizophrenia, this confessional poem shows Plath being as unabashed as she has always been in her best poetry. The combination of anger and anguish point to her attempt to give self-expression to her suicidal thoughts, to represent the tumultuous emotions one can go through before taking this supposedly irrational step. Hence it is that Plath clearly characterises herself as mentally unstable. The schizophrenia that was the spirit of the age in the postmodern era is also evident in Plath’s movement between seeing the world clearly and being unable to escape it at one moment, and then doubting its very existence at the next moment.
Rhyme Scheme and Rhetorical Devices: This part of the poem analysis is based on how Plath follows the verse form of a ‘villanelle’ in ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’. A villanelle is a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third line of the first tercet repeated alternately until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines. Here the first line of the first stanza (“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead”) is repeated in the last line of the second and fourth stanzas, and the penultimate line of the sixth stanza. The third line of the first stanza (“I think I made you up inside my head”) is again repeated in the last line of the third, fifth and sixth stanzas. Moreover, the first and third lines of all the six stanzas rhyme with one another. Hence it can safely be said that ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ is a perfect villanelle. The kind of repetition that goes into the making of a villanelle like this one also points to obsession, which is consistent with the obsession that Plath seems to be having with the lover that she has lost in this poem.
A rhetorical device that Plath is using in this poem is personification, in which a non-living thing is endowed the qualities of a human being. By giving the stars the ability to waltz, and the “arbitrary blackness” the ability to gallop, Plath is personifying them without however capitalizing their names. This shows that she is in fact hinting at something greater than light and darkness. She is acknowledging the power of both hope and depression to make and mar a (wo)man’s life.
Deeper Meanings: This part of the poem explanation focuses on two possible interpretations of ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ that might not be apparent in the very words of the poem, but seem obvious enough to a reader acquainted with Plath’s life and work. Both of these interpretations depend on the various references that Plath may be making through the use of the word “you” in this poem.
It is well known that Plath’s father passed away when she was just eight years old. The theme of betrayal that is apparent when Plath says that the “you” in her poem has never returned is also apparent in poems such as ‘Daddy’, in which Plath speaks of the absent presence of her father in her life. In both these poems again, there is a tone of yearning, with an underlying anger that threatens to break out at any instant.
The other thing that “you” could refer to is Plath’s own writing skills. Plath could be saying that she had only imagined she could write, that in fact it was just a dream or an illusion. This is consistent with the low self-esteem that we associate with one who suffers from depression, and with generations of women writers who had been led to believe that they are not fit for the writing profession. Plath, like all American women of the 50s and 60s, thought that marriage and child-bearing were not compatible with writing as a career. In response to rising pressure from her mother to get married while she was still in college, perhaps Plath had been unable to concentrate on her poetry, believing she would no longer be able to pursue it, and making herself believe that she wasn’t even very good at it to begin with.
No matter what “you” refers to, the heart of the matter is that Plath is absolutely honest about how much that “you” matters to her, and this is why the poem appears to readers to be so passionately written.
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