What kind of poem is "Mushrooms" by Sylvia Plath (poetic device)?

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sylvia Plath's "Mushrooms" uses a variety of poetic devices, but the central device is personification.

She personifies mushrooms, and by extension the personification is then reversed back to humans.  In other words, the speaker gives mushrooms human characteristics, to then reflect ways in which humans are like mushrooms.

The mushrooms possess toes and noses, and "take hold" of dirt.  They have "soft fists," they use tools--hammers and rams--and are "bland-mannered."  The mushrooms possess quiet power and work unseen at night.

The fertility of the mushrooms, together with metaphors of the mushrooms as shelves and tables, as well as their meekness, possibly suggests an identity with women.  And, using a New Testament allusion, woman will, reveals the poem,

Inherit the earth.... 


mstokes | Student

Sylvia Plath's strong feministic views can be found in many of her works; "Mushrooms" seems to be overlooked as a manifestation of this, possibly due to the subtlety in her use of metaphors. Persistent struggle is a central theme overall in this poem but Plath's word choices clearly narrow the minority down to women. Written in 1960, "Mushrooms" is a striking social commentary on the struggles of women to overcome the restraints of the housewife image. Plath parallels a mushroom's growth, determination, and population expansion with women's fight for notability, independence, and as she sees it, inevitable control of the majority.


There is also a reference to the Bible in Beatitudes where the meek will inherit the earth. It says, 'Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth'. So in a way, there is irony as it comes across as a blessing on one level, but the fact they are inheriting the earth presents a threat on another level.


The fact the poem contains enjambment could show that the 'mushrooms' cannot be contained, though they may go unnoticed, there is nothing to stop them again this poses a potential threat.

As the mushrooms are 'Earless and eyeless, /Perfectly voiceless' this on one hand may seem to mean they are of little significance, but the mere fact they can survive entirely independently poses another threat.


The build up of adverbs in the first stanza suggests a threat, where the 'mushrooms' are slowly building up and planning towards this subtle invasion to 'inherit the earth'.
Mushrooms could be a metaphor for the people in general, but it could also be to do with the liberation of women as the poem was written just after WW2.


Due to the time in which this poem was written, it is possible interpret the poem to be about the rise of women in social standing, hence providing them with power. For example, the phrase "Our toes, our noses" refers to parts of the human anatomy which are traditionally delicate and women were, at the time, seen to be delicate. It is said that the mushrooms "Take hold on the loam". Loam is a type of fertile earth and as women are the fertile gender, it could be said that Plath is referring to women here. Consequently, it can be seen that mushrooms is an extended metaphor for women and the growing of the mushrooms refers to the uprising of women in society.
There are many, many more examples which link mushrooms to women throughout the poem, such as domestic imagery, "We are shelves, we are
Tables", and references to certain qualities which women were expected to have in the 1950's, e.g.: "meek

stella01 | Student

I mean is it a blank verse, lyrical, free? something alone those lines