Sylvia Plath’s “Metaphors” cleverly explains the feelings of a pregnant woman. This poem was written during the year that Plath had her first child. The theme of the poem offers an ironic approach to pregnancy when a woman loses control of her body. The poet questions the entire experience of preparing to become a mother.
The metaphor begins by giving a hint at the subject of the poem. The nine syllables represent the months that the woman houses her precious cargo. Yet, that is not the message that the poet expresses. Since she is a riddle, the rest of the poem will give hints for the reader to solve the puzzle.
I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
an elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
She feels as huge as an elephant or a bulky building. Her self-image wraps itself around her growing body.
Her stomach reminds her of a watermelon in its shape and size; and her legs are the vines that shoot out. This is a humorous image with the watermelon tummy and the skinny legs supporting it.
It is what she has inside of her that is valued not the woman herself. It is the good wood, the prized elephant tusks for which the elephant must die; and the tasty meat of the melon that are important not the pregnant woman.
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.
The woman’s body is the yeast used in the loaf of bread. When it is warm, the yeast works to make the bread loaf expand. The same is true of the pregnancy. As it is contained securely, the baby enlarges the mother’s womb.
Again, it is the mommy versus the baby. The baby is newly made, but the mother is the heavy weighted coin purse that holds the newness inside.
Obviously, at this time in her pregnancy, she does not have the motherly thrill of “waiting to hold the baby feeling. She is the way the child can be born; she is the stage on which the drama will be played; and she feels like a cow who is getting ready to have her calf.
The apples refer to the Garden of Eden. Eve ate one apple and was banned from God. This lady ate the whole bag. Woman has been “cursed” with the pain of child birth. It was Eve who led Adam astray; therefore, she must suffer for it.
The pain may feel like the person has eaten an entire bag of green apples which would cause a terrible stomach ache. The green apples are not ripe. They need more time on the tree to be ready to eat. The woman may not be ready for the experience that she has undertaken. The time is not ripe.
The pregnant lady has taken a ride that will not allow her to get off even though it is obvious that she is not happy in her present predicament. It will not stop until the labor of childbirth begins. Mothers have some of these ideas pop up in their minds as their bodies undergo hormonal changes.
Plath wrote in her journal that she wanted children but was afraid that she would not be a good mother. Her marriage was rocky at times. As is verified, Plath suffered from depression and probably some mania. This would exacerbate her shaky feelings about these wonderful but hard nine syllables.