Metaphors is a poem that needs to be solved. The speaker in the poem does not come out and say she is pregnant. She relies on the reader to make the inference.
Take a read and see how many clues you get.
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.
At least nine or more, I bet.
To Start, there’s the number nine and the poem is nine lines. Nine months is how long a woman is usually pregnant. For many of us, like myself, it goes longer though. My son seemed like he was never going to leave my womb. He was at home (“ponderous house”) and comfortable with all the food I was consuming. Eighty pounds later, I too was as big as “An elephant.” Draw a “melon on tendrils” and that is how I looked as well. All the references to fruit are appropriate when discussing pregnancy because we think of the “fruit of thy womb” from the Hail Mary (the mother of God). Bread represents life. We are baking life in our bellies just as it is stated with “This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.” The next line about the new money makes us think of the size and shape of a pregnant woman again, as well as the function, "this fat purse." The woman carries around this new commodity. Then we get an appropriate cow reference. This is one of the more obvious metaphors helping us to deduce this poem is about pregnancy. A farmer refers to a pregnant cow as “in calf.” And then, like the cows, we are a means for milk. Then there’s the size again—big as a cow or “a bag of green apples.” She is the bearer of the fruit. The apples also allude to the story of the very first woman, Eve in the Garden of Eden. It’s interesting that the apples are green. With that color, we think sour. This can be an allusion to the dreaded morning (all day for me) sickness/sour stomachs one suffers from when pregnant. It can also be the bitter feeling the speaker is having towards being pregnant. She is on the train. She is not “getting off.” There is no being a little bit pregnant. She is a lot pregnant and her whole life is going to change. This would give anyone some pause.
So where some critics (probably men) find this poem to be a negative account of pregnancy, I find it honest. Plath, as we know, had her issues
see my blog: THERE IS A CHARGE
but she was happy to have her children. She was a mother at a time when America women were slowly starting to reject the 1950 type of woman. She was ahead of her time as feminist before the real feminist movement kicked on in the 1970s with this poem published in 1959. Plath, as a mother, still kept her identity as a writer. Thankfully for us, she did. If Plath tried to live up to the Leave it to Beaver ideas of what it meant to be a mother and woman, there just may be a giant hole in our literary world today.
Plath worked as a confessional poet and what she confesses in Metaphors is honest and relatable.
I did not enjoy being pregnant. I was fat and sick to my stomach and tired and hungry and uncomfortable all the time. I, however, absolutely love being a mom. I wouldn't trade it for anything. My son is my greatest creation. I never thought I would love something so much. I am so happy to have my him. Carrying him around in my being, however, is another story. In addition to being uncomfortable, it was also a confusing time for my identity. Do I continue working? Do I find something else to do? Am I going to be an OK mom? Am I going to be able to provide? etc., etc., etc. My train of thought was all over the place. I had no idea where the train would even stop. My whole world did change. Luckily, it changed for the better.
Plath, with this poem, pre-feminist movement, provided a service for women to let them know it was fine to feel and express all these emotions. You can speak your truth and it shouldn’t take away the fact that you are still a good mother.
I was happy to know this poem when I was pregnant. Together we sat around in my husband’s clothes, the only clothes that fit me then, eating apples and bread and being envious of those skinny pregnant moms who would tell me how much they just loved being pregnant. For me, that was a riddle.