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The major clue that the speaker is a woman, and a pregnant one, is line 7 (“I’m … a cow in calf”), but the entire poem makes this conclusion certain. The nine syllables are the nine months of pregnancy. The pregnant woman is a riddle because (a) even today there is much unknown about pregnancy, and (b) traditionally, the results of pregnancy are not known until birth. The poem is a riddle because one has to determine the identity and condition of the speaker. The imagistic references suggest size, ripeness, increase, and wealth. They all are parts of normal feelings of pregnancy, especially the expectant mother’s awareness that she cannot get off the train she is on (line 9). Some of the images—the melon and tendrils, the elephant—are funny, for however big she might feel, a pregnant woman is not elephantine. None of the images is shocking or demeaning; indeed, the speaker’s sense of herself as having “fine timbers” or being a “fat purse” conveys her happiness with herself. The aspect of early pregnancy suggested by the green apple is morning sickness, while the stage shows the speaker’s awareness that she is the means by which the human race continues itself. The onrushing train conveys the speaker’s sense that she is being carried along by forces beyond her control. Students may wish to apply this image to situations in life other than pregnancy.
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