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A Literary Analysis of the Undertones of Sylvia Plath's 'Metaphors'

Literary Analysis of 'Metaphors' by Sylvia Plath
For those of you who love poetry or for those who need to learn and understand it, Sylvia Plath raises the bar. Quite difficult to understand, her poems are equally interesting to analyze.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Dec 09, 2017
Interesting!
This poem consists of nine lines, with each line containing nine syllables. The words Metaphors and Pregnancy have nine letters each, and the months of pregnancy are also nine.
Sylvia Plath was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, and a novelist and short story writer. She began to write poetry at the early of eight. Her poems were filled with deep metaphors that made them difficult to understand. They portrayed an 'in-your-face' reality with a dark satiric undertone, and she was labeled as a confessional poet.
Metaphors is a part of Colossus and Other Poems, that expresses Plath's mixed feelings on being pregnant. It comes as a series of metaphors in which Plath speaks of her pregnancy. She calls herself a riddle, an elephant, a melon, a fat purse, among other things that portray her indifference towards pregnancy and she comes across as unhappy about being an expectant mother. The poem can be considered as an expression of the mixed feelings that every woman has, during pregnancy.
Metaphors
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.
Summary and Analysis
I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
The poem starts off by proclaiming that she is a riddle. This further sets the tone of the poem. It tells us that the speaker/poet (lets consider the speaker as the poet) will be joking about herself. Like any riddle, she has a hidden message in her.

This poem is shear craftsmanship of words. The word metaphor and pregnancy both have 9 letters, each line of this poem has 9 words with 9 syllables, and of course there are 9 months of pregnancy.
An elephant, a ponderous house,
The humor continues in the second line as she continues to joke about her size. She claims that she feels as large and heavy as an elephant and a house.
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
Observe the word 'melon', it is full of seeds which will further grow into plants and bare fruits of their own with no help of the initial fruit.

She also compares her round belly or baby bump to a melon and her legs to be thin and threadlike tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This is where it gets a little tricky to understand. Red is an indication of flesh, while ivory indicates her fertile eggs.

The red fruit, also indicates the biblical forbidden fruit (apple). It also indicates the 'fruit of thy womb' or 'fruit of her loins'. The words 'ivory' and 'timber' both relate to expensive housing metaphors, which lightly hint that she is only a home for her unborn child.
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
She begins this line by comparing her growing belly to the baking of bread. It is also a hint to the modern slang of having a 'bun in the oven'.

In other words, she compares herself to a loaf of bread, while her unborn child to yeast; live and growing bacteria, which is rising (body and belly rising due to pregnancy).
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
This is where the poem turns sweet, but only for this line. She calls her child as new-minted money, meaning that the child is valuable for her. And she returns to self-deprecation, by comparing herself to a fat purse, and a mere carrier of the money.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
Pay special attention to the words 'means', 'stage', and 'cow'. She calls herself to be only a means or mode or a platform for something. This line show immense detachment from her child. She indirectly says that she is just a way for the new life or generation to come into this world. And it is as though the stage is forgotten after a play is performed.

Traditionally, a calf is in a cow. Here the reverse role indicates that the child is a separate individual in her frail childlike body. Some may also argue that it means that, like a calf begins to grow on its own outside the mother's body, this child too will grow on its own once it is born. Here again, she boldly displays her detachment and lack of maternal feelings towards her child.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Plath claims to have eaten a bag of green apples. Now if you think it is just pregnancy cravings, you are far from understanding her twisted tale. Green apples are comparatively sourer than regular ones, depicting her sour feelings towards her child. She is indirectly voicing her physical discomfort and 'sour' or negative feelings towards her pregnant body, and the unborn child.

Apples are again hinting to Adam and Eve's story. She pokes at the unholy fruit that brought the pains of labor to women. Unlike Eve, the poet confesses of eating a whole bag of them, also meaning that she is preparing herself to a world of sin and pain.
Boarded the train there's no getting off.
In this line, her helplessness and inability of backing off is evidently visible. Plath probably is too far along in her pregnancy for her to back out. Meaning that she has to carry on with the pregnancy till the child is delivered.
In short, the poem Metaphors is a metaphoric ensemble portraying the mixed feelings of a pregnant woman. Like many of Plath's poems, this poem too, has a cryptic confession hidden behind its baffling metaphors.