The main metaphor employed throughout "Ode to an Artichoke" is that of the artichoke itself as a figurative representation of a human being or, more specifically perhaps, of the poet himself. The artichoke is described as having a "tender heart / Dressed up like a warrior." It has attempted to protect itself by building an armor of "scales," unlike other "crazy vegetables" that seem to throw caution to the wind and uncurl their tendrils, try on skirts, or perfume the world. No, the artichoke is dressed as a soldier, "Burnished" and looking like it belongs in the "military." It seems secure and safe and protected from the outside world.
At market, however, a young woman picks the artichoke up, unafraid of its armored appearance, and she assesses its quality, buys it, and goes home to cook it. Ultimately, she, and we, "strip off" each scale and eat the "peaceful mush / Of its green heart." Thus, this little vegetable that has tried so very hard to protect itself from the world, to protect, especially, its vulnerable and innocent heart, can be easily stripped of its armor and made to reveal the softness inside. The same can be said of people, and perhaps especially of poets, who try to protect themselves from the harshness of the world by creating facades that seem impenetrable, and yet they actually are relatively easy to dismantle, revealing the vulnerability at their core.