Category Archives: Plath, Sylvia

Sylvia Plath: Metaphors

I have to admit to being a little slow on this one. 9 = 9 months; she’s pregnant. At first I thought she was just getting fat, which is true – she is growing – but the riddle is what’s growing inside her.

There’s a weird detachment to her pregnancy, too. She very in tune with what’s happening to her body and the strangeness of it all, but not much thought about the child: it’s sort of all about her while this thing is happening to her. I’m not judging, but it is interesting. Maybe that’s her depression talking?

So after a little math it’s pretty clear each line is 9 syllables and there are 9 lines in total so the very 9 months of pregnancy is built into the poem, the poem literally is a metaphor (though also oddly figurative in a way in its physical structure) for pregnancy.

Each line being a different month of pregnancy is its own metaphor for that stage. The first month is the riddle – I’m pregnant? – and I wonder if it was planned. Now since I’ve never been pregnant I can only guess at what she’s feeling each month – month 2 bloated with someone living in her (house), month 3 is sort of an acceptance of her condition (she describes herself as a melon), but the tendrils are interesting, it’s like an abstract Dali painting.

I won’t go through each line, but the lines “a cow in calf” and “I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,” stand out for me. She doesn’t say a calf in a cow, it’s reversed here so she might be playing on calving (birthing). And the apples are great because I feel like I’ve actually felt her eat that whole bag (in reference to her being hungry and eating strange things perhaps) and they are all tumbling down into her stomach and she is full of these lumpy, round, fruits, with seeds and all.

The final line feels more literal than the other since she may very well have taken the train to the hospital to give birth. In 1973, at least 10 years after this was written my mother took a cab to the hospital so it’s not unreasonable. But there is also the image of a train going in only one direction like her in the canal and a freight train is about to race out of her – there’s an inevitability and a hurry to the last line, no doubt she’s ready to get the riddle out of her.

Wonderful poem!