Bree’s Melancholic Tales: An Interpretation of “Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath lived her adult days in somber madness, greatly attributing to the now-famous work she produced in her lifetime. The clinical depression that overtook her life was the driving force behind her writing, and ultimately her unfortunate demise. Sylvia Plath was only thirty years old when she took her own life.

Much of Plath’s work details her mental health and life troubles, especially the problems she experienced in her romantic life. I chose to interpret her poem “Mad Girl’s Love Song,” as I feel it is an accurate representation of Plath’s state of mind during her troubles with love. Interestingly enough, this poem was written years before she split with her husband Ted Hughes, whom she discovered was having an affair with another woman.

“Mad Girl’s Love Song”

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

The opening of the poem gives me such an unsettling feeling for some reason, but it’s completely fantastic, as I believe this to be Plath’s intention. It’s as if I am thrown into the swirling turmoil of Plath’s mind, staring out from behind her eyelids, witnessing what she is witnessing. She creates these two worlds, these two distinct places, in the same frame of time. One where it is dark and most likely within the confines of her own mind when she closes her eyes (this is affirmed by the recognition in the parenthesis), and the other of true reality in all its color when she opens them.

We are introduced to a struggle between reality and the inner workings of Plath’s mind, as well as to an unnamed person these words are directed to: “you.” Plath suggests that she made up this person in her head, which I think hints to a possible love that went wrong. Right after the end of a relationship, it tends to feel like you’re floating in limbo, wondering if it truly existed.

“The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.”

Though I don’t have a clue as to how stars waltzing ties into the poem, I do think that it’s interesting that she paints them “in blue and red.” In psychology, blue is a symbol of tranquility and wisdom, while red symbolizes energy and passion. The stark contrast of these meanings is further representation of the two worlds that Plath has created.

Perhaps when her eyes are open, her reality keeps her grounded and wise. But when her eyes are closed, she succumbs to the passion of her thoughts and is consumed by them. The action of opening and closing her eyes is also within the images that are created in this stanza. Her eyes are initially open to her colorful reality. But then she chooses to let her mind slip back into darkness, and she shuts her eyes again as if she’s embracing that darkness. It seems as though Plath is struggling to decide which world she would rather be present in — the natural world or her destructive mind.

“I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

There is a strong sense of delusion in these lines, making me think that her eyes are still closed from the previous stanza, meaning she’s still inside her own head. While she closes herself off from reality and gives into the darkness in her mind, she fantasizes that her lover has come back to her. She yearns to be intimate with that person once again, though she still wonders if that relationship was even real.

“God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.”

In this stanza, “God toppl[ing] from the sky” and “hell’s fires fad[ing]” makes for a strong image of her eyes opening up to colored reality once again. Usually God is associated as a being in the sky, a blue sky. And “hell’s fires,” which are red, is symbolic of the inner turmoil she is experiencing. She uses the colors of blue and red again here, as if to link back to her previous stanza. It’s as if these two worlds are clashing together to become Plath’s true reality. “Seraphim” is defined as a celestial being — an angel — which I think is supposed to accentuate her colored reality as “Satan’s men” similarly accentuate the darkness in her mind.

“I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

There is a very strong feeling of false hope in the first line established by the passing of time. Plath grows old while she waits for her lover to return to her, but wonders once again if their love was real or if she made it up in her head. At this point, with the repetition of “(I think I made you up inside my head)” throughout the poem, it makes you wonder if this person Plath keeps referring to is nothing but a figment of her imagination. Perhaps she never was in love, but only imagines that she was, because she wishes she had someone to love. Maybe she has waited her whole life to love and be loved. Perhaps that desire was never fulfilled, ultimately driving her mad.

“I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

I think “thunderbird” is a metaphor lightning here. Perhaps where she lived, lightning storms only came back in the spring time, obviously skipping winter. Even though they aren’t present every day, they came back seasonally. She compares this to her lover never having come back at all, saying that it would have been easier to love someone who at least returned to her now and then. The poem ends with the familiar repetitions used throughout, as if to prod at the idea that the person this poem is directed to never actually existed. I think one of Plath’s intentions with this poem was to make her readers question whether or not this was a poem about unrequited or delusional love.

In any case, whichever interpretation you feel suits the poem best, there’s no arguing that Sylvia Plath is a master of woe. It’s unfortunate that her great works derived from her mental illness, but it’s important that they live on.

— Bree Scott, Asst. Blog Editor

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