Poem of the Week

“Metaphors” by Sylvia Plath

I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
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 unsettling nature of “Metaphors” (The Colossus, William Heinemann Limited, 1960)arises from the dichotomy of Plath’s tone and the images she chooses to convey her mentality. Initially, she playfully compares her pregnant state to an “elephant,” a “house,” a ripening “melon,” and a “yeasty” loaf of bread. However, starting with the sixth line, it becomes clear that beneath these pithy musings run the undercurrents of anxiety. Plath begins to see herself merely as a “means”—almost an incubator, with no other worth besides that of birthing offspring. This culminates with the last line, where she realizes that she is forever changed, irrevocably. Her pregnancy was only the beginning of the train-ride; she must now become a mother.

Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. She was the first poet to receive a Pulitzer Prize posthumously for her Collected Poems (Harper & Row, 1982) in 1982.

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16 Responses to “Metaphors” by Sylvia Plath

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  3. Ahmed k. Ahmed says:

    After reading the first line on the poem, I started to get the feeling that sylvia plath was gonna tell me a riddle. From her tone and usage of imagery, an unexpected harmony, comparing her self to being pregnant with elephants, Loafs bread yeasting, melon strolling, and a cow in a calf. She also writes the entire poem in with only nine lines indicating the resemplence to a nine month pregnancy. But the line that I enjoyed the most on this poem was when she said “Boarded the train there’s no getting off”, indicating that theirs no turning back. I enjoyed it so much cause I believe everybody should share the same thought, no matter how much we go throughout we always gotta keep moving forward.

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  8. Rachel says:

    Now I understand the pregnancy metaphor this is completely irrelevant. But when I first read it I received it as the nausea of high society? I know she worked and studied hard to get into college, and once she was in there she was surrounded by high society. Just this idea that once you have experienced a level of something, you can’t return your mind or something.

    • Rachel says:

      Personally I find high society nausea inducing and really disappointing. I think it’s just once you become aware of the layers of society and how you are not impartial to them you lose parts of your innocence.

    • Dan Cicero says:

      Perhaps a bit like your own mind:
      the interpretation’s changed now
      for better or for worse, for good.

  9. Kelsey Murphy says:

    I liked the poem. Just have to share my opinions, after googling, I found some interpretations lacking or skipping parts of the poem and it is a very clever poem that rates every word to be thought of. I want to share possibilities to think about.

    A common question I found was “Is she happy or unhappy about her pregnancy?”
    Does she have to be happy or unhappy about her pregnancy? I think she is more indifferent to her pregnancy, that she is what she is, pregnant. The poem is written from her perspective, so, it is how she sees herself but I think she is more happy than unhappy about the pregnancy.

    I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
    > Pregnant, nine lines containing nine syllables in each and nine months of pregnancy. She did a play of nines with this poem which tells me that each word was carefully chosen to get nine syllables in each line.

    An elephant, a ponderous house
    > An elephant is large. Ponderous, slow and clumsy. House, large? unmovable? She sees herself as being large, slow moving, and clumsy.

    A melon strolling on two tendrils.
    > She sees herself as large and round walking around leisurely with skinny legs.

    O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
    > O red fruit, makes me think of “Did someone pop her cherry?” Fruits carry many seeds and are known to be the ovary of a plant. It is often referenced to a woman’s womb because from seeds we can produce many more plants and if it is a red fruit it may be a cherry or it may be a pomegranate, which has been known to be a symbol of fertility.
    ivory, at its simplest is a hard creamy white substance. Could she be referencing semen?
    fine timbers!, timber is used for building. Man and woman each have half the material for life. We take 23 chromosomes from our mothers (eggs or seeds) and 23 from our fathers (sperm). It takes a man and a woman to create life so our timber could be a woman’s eggs and man’s sperm. She ended it with an exclamation point, “note of admiration”, or excitement.

    This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
    >The loaf is her child. If you have baked, you know that when you are done kneading the dough you let it sit and as it does the yeast begins to rise and doubles in size. So, from the line I get that she is far along in her pregnancy.

    Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
    > She uses Money’s, to represent her child. Money has value and describing it as new-minted it hasn’t existed before and it is made for the first time in the fat purse, that is her body. I think she uses fat purse to show her being lesser to the value that she carries inside her, her child.

    I’m a means, a stage, a cow in a calf.
    > She’s just a part of something more like a step in a process of creating life. A cow in a calf, a cow is large but it is also a later stage of a calf. I think she sees herself as just a stage in her child’s life and that being a cow in a calf is that she is a grown woman now experiencing the early stages of motherhood.

    I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
    > Green apples known difference from other apples are there tartness. By how many people have taken her words to be negative perhaps the green apples are her words. Her words can be seen as sarcastic, using irony to mock herself during pregnancy and now she is eating her words.

    Boarded the train there’s no getting off.
    > The train could be pregnancy, the journey of it.
    Boarded, she’s pregnant.
    No getting off, she’s pregnant and experiencing pregnancy there is no getting off because she will be a mother. Motherhood would be the destination of the train.

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