Metaphors – Sylvia Plath – Analysis


I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

Sylvia Plath

Metaphor = the use to describe somebody or something of a word or phrase that is not meant literally but by means of a vivid comparison expresses something about him, her, or it, e.g. saying that somebody is a snake.

Riddle = a puzzle in the form of a question or rhyme that contains clues to its answer

Tendril = a modified stem, leaf, or other part of a climbing plant, usually in the form of a thread, that coils around and attaches the plant to supporting objects

The poem has nine lines and each line has nine syllables. It is a little unusual for a poem to be swamped by metaphors – so the title quite appropriate.

A pregnant lady can be an elephant (maybe the way she feels about herself in making movement) – a ponderous house (thinking about herself as containing life) – a melon on two tendrils (gives emphasis to a large round body with thin legs).

A red fruit, ivory, fine timbers – red fruit = ready to be picked, the elephant is valued for ivory – a woman for childbirth – fine timbers has sexual connotations perhaps … how the pregnancy was established (structured)

Pregnant body is a big loaf in the making or a fat purse containing a coin in the making (something of value, and kept safe in a purse).

The pregnant lady a means to production and a stage in the process and the bag of green apples implies a certain uncomfortable feeling in the stomach.

But the last sentence is all important – a decision and a commitment – the journey ahead unknown – perhaps a little trepidation in what lies ahead.

Note that this was written before SP became pregnant – perhaps at the time she was deciding – standing on the station so to speak … and the puzzle only solved with time.

You’re – Sylvia Plath – Analysis


Clown like, happiest on your hands,
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense
Thumbs-down on the dodo’s mode.
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,
Trawling your dark as owls do.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth
Of July to All Fools’ Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.

Vague as fog and looked for like mail.
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our travelled prawn.
Snug as a bud and at home
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
A creel of eels, all ripples.
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.
Right, like a well-done sum.
A clean slate, with your own face on.

Sylvia Plath

Frieda Hughes, SP’s first child, was born on the first of April 1960. The poem infers conception was on the fourth of July. I think the poem was published after the birth – but the imagery could have been latent in SP’s mind while pregnant. Each stanza is nine lines.

The fish comparison flows through both stanzas. It starts with the foetus being ‘gilled like a fish’ indicating that it is very much in an underdeveloped state and ‘farther off than Australia’ in the second stanza reinforces the idea that it is at an early stage of development.

SP likens the foetus to fog, to a loaf, to a turnip, to a bud, to a sprat, to a prawn, to eels in a basket and to a Mexican bean. I think all of this imagery is quite appropriate to the shape and nature of a foetus as experienced by a woman, pregnancy being an experience that only a woman can understand.

‘Bent-backed Atlas’ – well he, or she, is certainly holding up his, or her, ‘world’. This is an immense thought considering the comparison of the smallest of being with Atlas.

The second stanza also shows excitement and anticipation as in ‘looked for like mail’. The last two lines are interesting. Birth is ‘right’ and natural and in the end can easily be seen as a ‘well-done sum’ – an accumulation of cells over time. The end product being all important. And to my mind birth is always a clean slate and the uniquenesss of the new arrival is given emphasis by ‘your own face’. Humanity is pure at this stage and of course we always hope the new generation will improve things.

Looking at some of the words –

Spool – a cylinder on which thread is wound
Sprat – a highly active small oily fish
Creel – wicker basket used to hold fish

Dodo – large extinct flightless bird
Atlas – primordial being holding up celestial spheres

Mexican bean – Mexican jumping bean contains lava in the bod causing the bean to jump
when heated
A clean slate – an opportunity to start afresh