Because this coveted mother is “the one mouth” the speaker “would be a tongue to,” and the mother rejects her, that tongue doesn’t return to the speaker’s mouth, but rather wanders, lost and separate, through the remainder of the poem — resurfacing later in the “tongueless” “molts” of “Golgotha,” and the “tongues” of fire that will “teach the truth” in “Witch Burning” by burning her alive.
As Stevenson notes, when Plath underwent psychoanalysis, she came to terms with her “need of giving Mother accomplishments, getting reward of love” (126). Plath wrote: “I felt if I didn’t write nobody would accept me as a human being. Writing then was a substitute for myself: if you don’t love me, love my writing and love me for my writing” (126). This connection between writing and the obtaining of love is cemented by some of the last lines of the poem in which the speaker makes explicit that it is “love” that “is the bone and sinew of my curse. / The vase, reconstructed, houses/ The elusive rose” (40-42).
Furthermore, because the line “The mother of mouths didn’t love me” is followed, two lines later, by “O I am too big to go backward” (8), it appears that because the speaker has been rejected by the mother figure, she can’t go back to childhood. Earlier, in the second section, “Dark House,” the speaker constructs her own dark maternal space in which to dwell: “This is a dark house, very big. / I made it myself, / Cell by cell from a quiet corner, / Chewing at the gray paper, / Oozing the glue drops” (1-5).
Rejected by the mother, the speaker builds her own space in which to metamorphose. This construct functions as the mother’s womb to which she longs to return, but also as the intellectual space from which her poems will grow. In this way, it represents a cycle of creation — both what she will make and what made her. She can’t seem to decide whether she is the child or the mother; she veers from: “I see by my own light. / Any day I may litter puppies/ Or mother a horse. My belly moves” (11-13) to “It is warm and tolerable/ In the bowel of the root. / Here’s a cuddly mother” (26-28). In these lines, Plath’s speaker seems to be enthralled by the locus of creation.
Plath is fascinated by the subterranean acts of creativity that give birth to poetry. As Ted Hughes observes in “Sylvia Plath and her Journals,” “Though her whole considerable ambition was fixed on becoming the normal flowering and fruiting kind of writer, her work was roots only… Or as if all poetry were made up of the feats and shows performed by the poetic spirit Ariel. Whereas her poetry is the biology of Ariel, the ontology of Ariel” (153). This is a powerful explanation of the metaphysics of Plath’s poetry. Against her own will, perhaps, Plath’s poetry (in the language of “Poem for a Birthday”) is more concerned with the “bowel of the root” than with the “moldering heads.” While most poets view the dynamics of their creative process as a means of reaching their ultimate goal of poetry, Plath’s poetic process is her poetry.