Mad Girl’s Love Song Explication/Analysis
“Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath dramatizes the clash between perception and reality in the mind of a speaker who has lost a love so vital to her world that she begins to question her own sanity. No formal setting is introduced, which supports a theme of mental instability as it can be inferred that the entire poem is taking place within the speaker’s mind as she struggles to determine the degree of validity that her memories of a past lover hold. The beginning stanza contains the two central ideas of the poem: perception and instability. The poem is a villanelle in iambic pentameter and these concepts are presented through the poem’s two refrains. The first refrain, “I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead”, both contrasts and shares parallel structure with the second line, “I lift my lids and all is born again” (1, 2). By purposefully creating a structural contradiction, Plath draws focus to both a theme in the poem and a view of her own: people see things not as they are, but as the people themselves are, the world is a reflection of the person observing it (Buckley). This obscurity in reality is what creates the conflict for the speaker.
The second refrain, “I think I made you up inside my head”, brings instability and self-doubt into the poem as the speaker questions if the one she loved so much, the one who still gives her so much pain, ever existed to begin with. The fact that this line was chosen as the second refrain, reappearing at the end of many stanzas including the first, and is always surrounded by parentheses seems to indicate that it is meant as a second thought for the speaker, a doubt of sanity always present and something thought only to herself, not to the “you” she is addressing, who is likely the one she loved.
The first line of the second stanza incorporates personification and symbolism, “The stars go waltzing out in blue and red” (4). The stars represent the one she loved, while blue and red represent the stability and passion respectively that this person took from her upon leaving. The second line of this stanza, “And arbitrary darkness gallops in”, is a metaphor for the uncontrollable depression that found the speaker after her stability and passion were lost (5). The verb waltzing has positive connotations while the verb gallops has more serious or negative connotations, this exemplifies the shift between joy and depression which likely contributed to the speaker’s questionable state of mind. This stanza ends with the first refrain which connects it to the speaker’s perception of the world as she feels inside; she likely sees an extreme contrast between life before this stanza and life after it. In the first two lines of the third stanza, “I dreamed you bewitched me into bed / And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane”, the diction of the verbs Plath uses and their effects on the speaker seem to indicate that the speaker thinks her insanity was caused by her ex-lover (7-8).
The words bewitched, moon-struck, and insane have connotations (with insane having denotations) of mental instability and insanity; the words they are paired with, into bed, sung, and kissed, have romantic connotations; this creates a cause and effect relationship as the speaker correlates her mental state with her lost love’s actions. This stanza ends with the second refrain which, along with the beginning words of the stanza “I dreamed”, brings instability into the meaning of the stanza. This point is developed further by the fact that this stanza, and the second refrain itself, is written in past tense, unlike most of the poem, which implies that the speaker is looking back at these events, likely in confusion over their validity (7).
Plath uses symbolism in the first two lines of the fourth stanza, “God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade: / Exit seraphim and Satan’s men”, to exaggerate how the speaker sees the world without good or evil through her sadness (10-11). The next line is the first refrain which again brings the theme of the world being a reflection of how the speaker feels, to her it seems that everything in the world has fallen apart; this adds to the conflict between perception and reality. In the fifth stanza, the speaker “fancied” her love would return, but that never occurred, “But I grow old and forget your name” (13, 14).
Like the third stanza, the first line is written in past tense, as is the second refrain at the end of the stanza, but the line describing the speaker ageing and forgetting the name of the one she loved is written in present tense. It would seem that this is the current time of the poem and the current age of the speaker. Like the third stanza that also ends with the second refrain, in this stanza the speaker is looking back at her life in self-doubt, but this time there may be more regret as this line takes place years later when the one she loved still fails to return. The final stanza begins with two lines, “I should have loved a thunderbird instead; / At least when spring comes they roar back again”, and ends with the first and second refrain respectively (16-17).
Many analyses of this poem interpret “thunderbird” as the Ford automobile first produced in 1955, however this is unlikely as this poem was written in 1951, four years before the car’s release (16). In this context, thunderbirds are the mythological creatures in Native American mythology that bring rain and storms (Alcantaro). The speaker likely yearns to have loved something like a thunderbird because she would have had something tangible and dependable in her life, like rain. The phrase “at least” implies that, while the speaker would probably have gained little pleasure out of loving a mythological bird that brings storms, she would “at least” have loved something that would “roar back again” every spring, which would have given her life stability and preserved her grasp on reality (17). If she had loved something that she had known to be real, she would have never had a clash between perception and reality and would have never lost her sanity.