Metaphors by Sylvia Plath: Critical Analysis

The poem 'Metaphors' by Sylvia Plath is a lyric poem where she uses the metaphors to create a riddle as she states in line one. The poem successfully describes the condition of a pregnant woman, her picture is beautifully made with the help of clear metaphors. The nine syllables, nine lines, and nine letters of title 'Metaphors' suggest the nine months of gestation.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

She playfully compares herself with a riddle and is unsure about the unborn baby, with ‘an elephant”, a ponderous house” and a watermelon with two thin tendrils. She mocks herself and her condition of her own pregnancy. Her clear indifference to her own state of pregnancy is quite noticeable in line seven where she is compared with “a means, a stage, a cow in calf”. All these metaphors show her little concern over pregnancy. Opposite to normal woman she is not excited, happy with upcoming baby. She is ‘a means’ just a way for the new life to be born and continue a generation. She is ‘a stage’ or a platform for the act of giving birth to a child. She is “a cow in calf” in which calves are taken away from mothers and the mother cows have nothing to do with bringing up of calves and with emotions. With the implications of these three metaphors, she boldly says she lacks maternal feeling which is, in general, natural during the period of gestation.

The conflict and confusion between the duty of a mother and feeling of individuality is a notable theme of this short poem. The speaker is found to have great fear of losing her individuality while performing the role of a mother. Plath seems ambivalent about motherhood. She was a promising writer, poet and had rising academic career. The motherhood could set a boundary on her bright future in literary works. Her husband Ted Hughes was free from all these domestic chores and responsibilities of kids, so he was rather free to devote much time in writing. The result is dissatisfaction, complain and resentment towards, children, husband and domestic tasks.

“The bag of green apples” is an allusion from the Bible. In the biblical story, the first woman, Eve ate the apple with Adam and brought pain and suffering during child birth to all women. Plath here may be referring to the same apples which she had eaten a bag full and obviously waiting for the further inevitable pain and suffering throughout whole life.

In a deeper sense it is possible that the poet has another type of gestation in her mind besides the literal one. A poem, especially a modern one, has many facets and could bear more than one meaning. This poem Metaphors talk about the speaker’s pregnancy. The form of this modern poem – the nine syllables or nine lines are indicating the nine months of pregnancy required for the birth of a child

Besides the literal and physical gestation, the poet might have an artistic gestation in her mind. The pain and pleasure are same for all types of creatures. Everyone forgets the painful hours before the time of birth. Everyone becomes happy to see their own lovely new creation. The pregnancy of a mother, of a poet, of a writer, of a dramatist, of a musician, of an artist is the same. There is no fundamental difference among the creators and the pain of gestation.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "Metaphors by Sylvia Plath: Critical Analysis" BachelorandMaster, 26 Nov. 2013,