Sep 24, 2019 in Analysis

Analysis of the “Metaphors” by Sylvia Plath

The poem “Metaphors,” written by Sylvia Plath, tells about a woman, who is expecting a baby and has controversial feelings about it. The poem consists of nine lines that symbolize nine months of gestation. The title “Metaphors” has nine letters, as well as the word pregnancy. There are also nine syllables in every line, and all these nines sink the poem into the mystery of pregnancy. The narrator is the author herself. She uses personal pronoun I in order to make it clear that the poem is about her. From the very beginning, the readers understand that the woman is pregnant. Moreover, if people read Plath’s biography, they will find out that she gave birth to her first child in 1960, the same year the poem was written (“Sylvia Plath”). It was her first pregnancy and, probably, she felt confused about it. Perhaps, it was the reason for why she made a decision to describe her state in metaphors. The paper discusses the metaphorical images in the poem and tries to make the author’s intentions clear.

The first line tells, “I’m a riddle in nine syllables”. A riddle is a hint for the readers that the message of the poem should be carefully considered. The narrator uses nine lines and nine syllables in each line in order to make the readers understand her feelings more deeply. Nevertheless, she does not tell them openly. On the contrary, the author compares herself to different objects encouraging the readers to solve the riddle. She is not just a pregnant woman; she is a mystery, something she has not yet realized herself. When people read the first line of the poem, they want to guess the author’s enigma and comprehend her intentions. The next lines make the point clearer.

In the second line, Sylvia writes, “(I’m) An elephant, a ponderous house”. The writer expresses her feelings about her pregnancy. The metaphors of an elephant and house are aimed to show that the narrator feels big, heavy, and clumsy, and it is a bit comic. The third line continues this humorous effect and tells that the woman feels herself “A melon strolling on two tendrils”. While reading this line, one can smile imagining a walking melon. This metaphor may seem funny; however, deep inside, the author is afraid of her huge pregnant body. Therefore, such humorous reaction is a self-defense; Sylvia Plath tries to hide her fear and discomfort behind such funny metaphors.

The next line is also symbolic. The red fruit is the final product of a plant; it is like a desired and long awaited baby. The narrator compares herself to a plant that bears a red fruit (a child), and this fruit is a true value. Then, the author writes about the ivory, which is associated with the elephant from the second line. It is known that people value elephants for their ivory tusks, which are used for different causes, for instance, art, jewelry, ornaments. Even the piano keys are made of ivory. However, the elephant itself is not as prized as it is killed for the ivory it has. This metaphor is very strong. Sylvia Plath compares herself with this animal because she, like an elephant, carries something much more valuable inside. Her baby is like the prized and precious ivory. The narrator feels like being appreciated only before the delivery, after which, she will lose any value at all. The last part of this line is “fine timbers,” which are associated with the house from the second line. The author strengthens the idea of the residents’ values. They feel protected and covered inside the house, just like the baby is safeguarded in the mother’s womb.

The fifth line tells, “This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising”. This metaphor is used to compare a baby growing inside a woman to a loaf rising in the oven. Time passes, and the fetus becomes bigger. Nevertheless, this line can also symbolize the author’s thoughts about her fate; when a child is born, she will be eaten just like this loaf. She feels horrible about this fact and, probably, is afraid of it. The sixth line supports the same idea; the woman is like a fat purse containing valuable money in it. Without money, the purse is worthless. The fourth, fifth, and sixth lines develop the idea of growing, and only the seventh line shows the final result. The author tells that she is “a means, a stage, a cow in calf”. She feels like a means of subsistence for her baby or a stage, on which the actors perform a play; people do not praise a cow but value her calf.


The last lines are concentrated more inwardly. The narrator uses allusion to the Bible. When Eve ate a bit of a forbidden apple and tempted Adam to eat it, the God’s prohibition was broken. The action was the worst sin, and all the women were punished to suffer pain during delivery. In the poem, it may stand for not only the physical pain but also the heartache. In the poem, the woman eats a whole bag of apples, which are green and not red-ripe. It may symbolize that she is not ready to take this step; she has not thought it over yet. However, the narrator does not interrupt her pregnancy; she accepts her fate of being a bearer of a treasure. Nevertheless, the fact that she becomes less essential depresses her. The ninth line tells, “Boarded the train, there’s no getting off”. This line is ironic and symbolic; the boarding is an impregnation; the trip is the period of gestation, and the sole station is the delivery of a baby. The train cannot stop during the trip, just like the narrator cannot abandon her pregnancy. She has to wait till the last station even though, she is no longer herself; she is someone else.

Sylvia Plath was not the only poet who used Biblical allusions in her works. In his poem, “Those Winter Sundays,” Robert Hayden also employs another allusion to the Biblical story. He describes the sacrifices and suffering of the father, who just like Jesus, suffered for all the people. The father’s “cracked hands ached from labor” but he did his duties not waiting for the gratitude. Sylvia Plath understands that she will enjoy no gratitude, as well; however, she accepts this fact and has no going back. Anne Bradstreet is another poet who alludes to the Bible. In her poem, “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” she refers to the Song of Solomon, which states that the water cannot quench love, just like in the seventh line of her poem, “My love is such that rivers cannot quench”. Another poet, who uses allusion to the Bible, is Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In her verse “How do I love thee…,” she mentions the Grace, Right, and Praise while comparing her love to her man with the God’s love to people.

There are many images in the “Metaphors,” such as a melon, a purse, and a loaf. They help the readers visualize the woman’s expectancy, feel it deeper, and better understand the state of the author. In the poem, “Q and A,” Ronald Koertge uses many images, as well. He compares thesaurus to a family and states that a dictionary is “like the Army where everyone lines up for roll call”. The poetry is full of such images and similes, the aim of which is to help the readers comprehend the sense of the verse better.

The Sylvia Plath’s poem is a single continuous metaphor, and its meaning is metaphorical and contradictive. The “Eating Poetry” by Mark Strand has also a metaphorical meaning. Its title is a metaphor, and the first line begins with the metaphor as well. It says, “Ink runs from the corners of my mouth” means that the narrator is overflowed with different thoughts. He compares himself to a dog; after having eaten the poetry, he becomes a new man, and this fact makes him happy. Plath becomes a new woman, as well; however, she is not happy but lost and not free. On the contrary, Lucille Clifton underlines her freedom and woman’s power using only one symbol – the hips. “Homage to my hips” is an example of a strong imagery created by simple words; her hips are “big,” “mighty,” and “magic”. With their help, she can manipulate men and make them do everything she wants.

Jean Toomer’s “Face” describes a woman in a metaphorical way. The poet compares female hair to the “streams of stars,” brows – to the “recurved canoes,” eyes – to the “mist of tears,” and muscles – to the “grapes of sorrow” that are “ripe for worms”. The author describes the woman’s death so carefully and figuratively that the readers cannot realize the sad ending up to the final line of the poem. The same is with Sylvia Plath’s “Metaphors;” even though, the poem seems humorous, a deeper sense is dismal.

In her poem, Sylvia Plath describes the controversial feelings a pregnant woman can feel about her condition. She is depressed and lost; she is no longer the same person she used to be before. The mothers should understand that they become the parts of their children’s lives until their adulthood; they lose their freedom and devote themselves to the babies. However, the author does not want to give up her significance. She struggles with her perception of being a mother as she wants to remain a woman with her personal wishes and thoughts.


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