What is Sylvia Plath's poem "You're" about?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sylvia Plath's poem "You're" is narrated by a speaker who is a mother meditating on her unborn child. The speaker's use of comparison, mostly through figurative language, captures the feeling of the unknown and the complex emotions felt by an expectant mother.

"You're" is written in two stanzas. The title, a contraction for "You are," refers to the baby growing inside of the speaker. The poem characterizes what the baby is to the speaker, how the speaker conceptualizes this new life. The first stanza reads:

Clownlike, happiest on your hands,
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense
Thumbs-down on the dodo’s mode.
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,
Trawling your dark as owls do.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth
Of July to All Fools’ Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf. (1-9)
The first few lines describe the unborn baby's movements inside the womb. Plath makes use of alliteration in the first line and uses a vivid adjective ("Clownlike") to supplement the speaker's sense that the baby is happy. The descriptions of the baby's body as "moon-skulled" and "Gilled like a fish" makes the baby seem unreal and foreign. The baby's position in the womb is described using a simile: "like a spool." Then the child is compared to "owls" moving around in the dark. The verb "Trawling" is related to water and fishing, so it evokes the amniotic fluid in which the baby currently exists. The baby is "Mute as a turnip from the Fourth / Of July to All Fools' Day." The child is compared to a root vegetable, which seems an odd comparison; we only know that the baby is growing, yet silently. The reference to July 4th and April 1st probably represents the term of the speaker's pregnancy. She closes the stanza with metaphors, calling the baby a "high-riser" and "my little loaf," which seems to show more affection and connection between mother and child than we have seen in some of the other comparisons in this stanza.
The second stanza of "You're" continues:
Vague as fog and looked for like mail.
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.
Snug as a bud and at home
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
A creel of eels, all ripples.
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.
Right, like a well-done sum.
A clean slate, with your own face on. (10-18)
Two similes open this stanza, as well. The baby is "Vague as fog," which conveys the sense of the unknown that marks the term of pregnancy, before the mother meets her child. The second simile, "looked for like mail," suggests the expectancy, as the mother waits to give birth to her child. The baby is, however, "Farther off than Australia," which is ironic since the child is literally in the mother's body and couldn't be any closer to her. The allusion to Atlas and metaphor of the "traveled prawn" is also an interesting and ironic choice by Plath here. The baby may be travelling around the womb but is literally always in the mother's body, so the baby can't be moving much at all. The reference to Atlas suggests a burden that the baby carries, but it is unclear why the speaker feels this way. The next few similes depict the baby as "at home" in the womb and describe the baby's movement within its mother's body. The baby is "Right, like a well-done sum," which suggests perfected work. Finally, the child is "A clean slate, with your own face on." The metaphor indicates that the child can be whatever or whomever he/she wants to be. He or she will own that identity. The sense of the unknown that appears elsewhere in the poem is here in the final line, though with seemingly more hope this time.
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like "Simile," this poem covers a range of comparisons to describe the baby that was growing inside of Sylvia Plath's womb at the time of writing. The sheer creative range of the various comparisons perhaps conveys the sense of wonder and amazement at what is happening inside of her and the baby that is growing into a little person. As such the poem's theme is the wonder of motherhood and how amazing it is: the growth of a tiny, microscopic cell into a fully-grown baby inside the mother's womb. The last line in particular is particularly poignant:

A clean slate, with your own face on.

The baby represents a new start, not weighed down by the history of its parents, and with its own identity, rather than inheriting the identity of its parents. We can see in this poem the love that Plath feels for her baby and her excitement at seeing what it will be like.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The speaker of the poem seems to be a pregnant woman who is addressing her unborn child. This child is the subject of the poem. What makes the poem's subject so interesting are the myriad unexpected ways Plath describes the unborn baby: most people might use flowery language or common idioms about buns in the oven or bundles of joy. Plath, however, uses language we would not expect to describe this child, comparing it to a fish, a spool of thread, an owl, a turnip, a rising loaf of bread, fog, mail, some place very far away geographically, Atlas (the Titan that bore the earth on his shoulders), a shrimp, an eel, a Mexican jumping bean, a mathematical sum, and so forth. These descriptions seem to lack the triteness or the predictability of more common references to unborn children and so make us consider the experience of pregnancy in a new way.

drahmad1989 | Student

Before giving birth a baby , poem is about the pregnant women.

All which she describe is her feelings.

alexprajapati | Student
Clownlike, happiest on your hands, Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled, Gilled like a fish. A common-sense Thumbs-down on the dodo's mode. Wrapped up in yourself like a spool, Trawling your dark, as owls do. Mute as a turnip from the Fourth Of July to All Fools' Day, O high-riser, my little loaf. Vague as fog and looked for like mail. Farther off than Australia. Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn. Snug as a bud and at home Like a sprat in a pickle jug. A creel of eels, all ripples. Jumpy as a Mexican bean. Right, like a well-done sum. A clean slate, with your own face on.