Ambivalence is the word which describes Sylvia Plath’s attitude toward her pregnancy in “Metaphors.” It is a riddle poem with the answer equally a pregnant woman. The reader is challenged to find the answer through the clues that the poet gives as she layers her poem in nine lines and the poem begins with nine syllables.
The poem itself is a metaphor to the pregnant woman who serves as the house for which the baby must grow. The nine lines elucidate the images that accurately describe the feelings of the pregnant woman as she balloons through her term.
The theme is the conflicting emotions that a mother experiences as she goes through childbirth. The literary devices which were chosen by the poet exacerbate and epitomize the feelings encountered by a pregnant woman.
Each one of the images itself is a metaphor.
An elephant, a ponderous house
Elephants have long gestation periods. Sometimes, the pregnancy seems interminable. The house itself is the family vessel. In this case, the bulky house holds the fetus.
A melon, strolling on two tendrils
The image is humorous. The skinny legs supporting the watermelon protruding from the body could also be thought of as the “fruit of the womb.”
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
Plath refers back to the previous images and extends the ideas:
The red fruit becomes the baby. A newborn baby is usually red when it pops out. The elephant loses its ivory in only one way—by death…however, the poet refers to the only reason that an elephant who ever be bothered would be to give up its ivory…or in this case, the baby. The tendrils have now become fine timbers which is a better image of the mother’s legs supporting her growing cargo.
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
The yeast makes the loaf rise. There is a bun in the oven as the idiom states. It is the leavening needed for this baby to grow.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse
The fat purse brings the growing mother to mind. Then, the newly minted coins become the baby housed inside the purse. The purse itself has no great value except to house the newly minted coin.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf
A little more sarcasm finds its way into this clue. The mother is only important as the house for the baby…The child she produces will, of course, take center stage. It makes the mother feel no better than a breeding cow.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples
Eating green apples can cause a stomach ache. They are also sour.
It may also be reference to Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Biblical allusion may refer to Eve and her luring Adam with the apple. Eve’s disobeying God imposes the pain of childbirth on women for eternity. Of course, Eve’s sin was multiplied which may have felt like she ate the whole bag of apples.
Boarded the train there’s no getting off
The train becomes the journey that the woman begins and then ends with the birth of the baby. There is of course a fix for the journey but the poet does not even consider that avenue. The woman feels out of control after she has bought her ticket and is riding the rails until her internment of nine months ends.