Sylvia Plath’s Metaphor
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’s Plath’s “Metaphors” is about a woman feeling insignificant during the midst of her pregnancy. Striking imagery is used to explore the narrator’s attitudes about having a child.
Plath uses metaphors in every line, including the title itself, making the poem a collection of clues. The reader is teasingly challenged to figure out these clues, realising that the metaphors have much deeper meaning. The very first line of ‘Metaphors’ give readers an introduction to the poem, stating that it is a riddle to be solved.
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Riddles are not easily figured out and need careful consideration to find the meaning. However when solved, it seems the solution of the riddle is a pregnant woman. Plath uses 9 lines for the nine months of pregnancy by describing herself as nine syllables.
The title ‘Metaphors’ also has nine letters, adding to this effect. In the next 2 lines, the poem continues to use inventive metaphors to compare the narrator to different objects, creating imagery. In line 2, the narrator is “An elephant, a ponderous house. ” This expresses how the narrator feels about her pregnant body, signifying largeness. Similarly, the third line pokes fun of the way she looks by putting a funny image in ones mind of a pregnant woman that resembles “A melon strolling on two tendrils. ” The objects in line 4 (red fruit, ivory and fine timbers) all refer to previous metaphors addressed.
The red fruit refers to the melon and a fruit represents reproduction or a womb. When a plant is grown, the plant’s worth is in its fruit. Plath refers to her baby as the fruit and true value while she is the carrier, much like a plant. The next part of line 4 is the ivory. Once again, an elephant is killed for its prized ivory tusks which are valued and esteemed. This strong metaphor compares the narrator to the elephant who feels their fate is death. The third part of line 4 is the fine timbers that directly relate to the house previously mentioned.
The purpose of the house fortifies the idea that what’s inside is of value. The house is nothing without its fine timbers and it is merely for protection and shelter. Just like a pregnant woman is for her unborn child. The fifth line represents the rising loaf like a child growing inside a womb. It is a pun on a familiar saying to pregnancy of a bun in the oven. “Money’s new minted in this fat purse” plays with the idea that the purse has no great value in itself but contains valuable things inside. Line 7 explores the narrator’s feelings towards having a child.
She feels like “a means”, as if she is just a way for the baby to be born. As a mother she is just “a stage” and a platform but not a performance. She is “a cow in calf,” where many cows are separated from their offspring and have little to do with their mum. The final lines seem to break away from the rest of the poem and have a tone of darkness. After eating “a bag of green apples” one might feel sick especially since green apples are considered sour. The fruit is also unripe, signifying that the narrator is not ready to have a baby.
Another point that can be found is that it is easy to see the resemblance of this line and Eve from the Bible. Eve was tempted to eat an apple and was cursed with the pain of childbirth. Likewise, the narrator has eaten a bag of apples and is also cursed with bearing a baby. This sense of helplessness is particularly shown in the last line. There is no way out for her. She has “boarded the train” which she does not feel prepared for and nothing will stop the train until it arrives at its destination and the baby is delivered. It signifies the lack of control that she has over her own body.