The Cultural Theme of Motherhood as Portrayed in “You’re” and “Metaphors”

The two poems, “You’re” and “Metaphors” are both written by Sylvia Plath, who at the time of writing was expecting her first baby. Sylvia Plath was a confessional poet whose poems were inspired by her personal life. She experienced a very traumatic childhood that started with the death of her father when she was only eight years old, and was followed two years later by an accident in which she nearly drowned.

Later on in life her marriage to Ted Hughes got into difficulties and ended when she discovered that he was seeing another woman. She then tried to commit suicide for the third attempt, and this time was successful. Her unhappiness seemed to free her poetic genius and was also the inspiration to many of her poems which chart the complexities of her daily life. She became a beacon for women everywhere.

These two poems are both like riddles, as the reader doesn’t know the subject of the poem until they have finished reading and have worked it out for themselves. Her poems are often difficult to understand as she was writing them for herself and they are very close comparisons to her own feelings and emotions. Although these poems were written at about the same point in her life they both have different subject matters. The poem “You’re” is based around the baby and how the baby is feeling whilst she is pregnant, whereas the second poem, “Metaphors” is describing how she is feeling about being pregnant. They both share similar feelings and the style of writing she has used is very similar however “You’re” is the happier and more carefree of the two. She uses lots of comparisons, associations, similes, and metaphors throughout these poems to try to recreate her feelings and emotions as she felt them. These descriptions often create vivid images of the subject she is describing such as the following line from the poem “Metaphors”

“A melon strolling on two tendrils.”

Here she is comparing herself to a melon on two tendrils, which gives the image of a fat body supported by two very weak and thin legs. This is how she sees herself during pregnancy and this is what she believes other people see as well. She uses images like this throughout both the poems, which add to the complexity and difficulty of understanding her work, however it brings the poem to life when you understand what she is trying to say. It is as if it is a riddle.

The poem “You’re” tells the story of her unborn baby and her feelings towards it. The title of the poem shows that she is going to make comparisons between the baby and other items to illustrate her points. She starts the poem by saying how happy the baby is and how safe it feels inside of her. She describes its happiness with the line.

“Clownlike, happiest on your hands.”

The word “clown” in this line suggests happiness. She then says that the baby is always in darkness and how it has been silent for nine months. The word “mute” in the following phrase highlights this silence.

“Trawling your dark as owls do.

Mute as a turnip from the Fourth of July to All Fools’ Day.”

She finishes the first verse by saying that during these nine months the baby has developed into a new human being. This is shown in the following line. This quote is also very similar to one of the lines in the poem “Metaphors” when she compares herself to a rising loaf.

“O high-riser my little loaf.”

In the second verse she describes her baby in a different tone to that of the first verse. In the first verse she says how happy the baby is while it is inside her, but now she turns to say that the baby wants to come out into the world.

“Like a sprat in a pickle jug”

By using this comparison she is saying how her baby needs space and how it wants to be free to do as it likes. She finishes this poem by saying that the baby feels right and she is ready for it to be born.

“Right, like a well done sum.

A clean slate with your own face on it”

Here she is saying that the baby is a new individual person with a mind of its own, but hopefully it will learn from her mistakes and can start a fresh life. Throughout this poem Sylvia Plath is looking at the good points of her pregnancy and is looking forward to the birth of her first child. Every image that she has included in this poem is meant to be seen in a good encouraging way. Even images that would be associated with harm, for example, the sprat in the pickle jug are seen in this poem as positive images. The sprat in the pickle jug suggests a feeling of being trapped and locked away, however Sylvia Plath has used it to show that the baby needs space and freedom. This emphasises the baby’s development.

However when she writes the poem “Metaphors” she is concentrating on her own feelings and not the baby. She describes the way she sees herself while she is pregnant and doesn’t mention her feelings towards her unborn baby like she did in “You’re”.

The poem “Metaphors” is a more self-centred poem than “You’re” because she has concentrated on her own feelings rather than her baby. You can tell from the title that the poem is going to contain lots of metaphors and that she is looking for images that resemble her during pregnancy. These metaphors are both positive and negative.

She starts the poem in a happy and comic way by describing herself as a big and heavy elephant or house.

“An elephant, a ponderous house.”

This image can be seen in both a positive and a negative way. It can be seen first as a symbol of her strength as it is describing her as being as sturdy

and as strong as a house or an elephant. In can then be seen in a negative way because she is slow and fat. She then uses the following line to express her happiness and contentment of being pregnant. The exclamation mark shows that she wants this line to be noticed.

“O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!”

In this line she is summing up the previous two lines in which she has called herself an elephant, a house and a melon. The red fruit signifies the melon, which might represent her body, the ivory signifies the elephant, which shows her strength, and the fine timbers correspond to the house, which represents comfort and stability. She could also be referring to the red fruit as blood and the ivory as bones. This could then represent her baby and the materials it will be made of.

She then compares herself to a rising loaf, which is very similar to one of the images in “You’re”.

“This loaf’s big with its yeast rising.”

This image could represent both her and the baby. To the child the image of high rising perhaps suggests a future and the baby developing as it did in “You’re”, and for the woman it could represent her swelling body while the baby grows. It also shows how the mother must develop as a human being. She now has the responsibility for a child, and has to look after and care for it until it is old enough to look after it’s self.

She then changes her blissful view of pregnancy to a discontented and miserable one, exploring her feelings about herself, by saying that all she is doing is eating and sleeping like a cow. She also describes herself as being on show for everyone to look at and laugh at. It is as if she is on a big stage for everyone to see

“I’m a means, a stage, a cow.”

When she uses the word “means” she is referring to herself as being unimportant and unwanted. She is saying how she is just used to reproduce and is disregarded afterwards. She concludes the poem by saying that once you are pregnant there is no going back, just like when you have boarded a train.

“Boarded the train there’s no getting off.”

She has used the train to describe how she has no control over what happens and how she cannot stop or end the pregnancy when she wants to. She chose to have the baby of her own free will, just like the passengers that board a train, so now all she can do is sit down and wait for the journey to end. With this line I feel she is expressing her anguish at having no control over her body.

In both these poems Sylvia Plath has used short sentences that are riddle like and difficult to understand. She has used stanzas of nine lines in each of the poems and in “Metaphors” she even combines this into the poem and how she feels about herself. She even made sure each line had nine syllables as well.

“I’m a riddle in nine syllables,”

She is trying to say that the poem has nine lines, as does the length of her pregnancy. When she uses the word “riddle” she is almost asking the reader to guess how she is feeling.

In “You’re” the images are much more complex and interlinking than in “Metaphors”. All her ideas are packed tightly together in both the poems although “You’re” uses more difficult forms of imagery compared to “Metaphors” which is slower and uses complete sentences. In “You’re” she is continually changing her mind and describing things differently. At first her baby is a ‘clown’, then ‘moon-skulled’, then a ‘fish’, then a ‘thumbs down sign’. If we take the time to work out what she is trying to describe we can see that she is thinking of the position of the baby, the condition it is in, and how it is fighting against the threat of death.

Overall I think that these two poems are very similar in the style that they are written however they are views of two different sides of one person. “You’re” is more fun and imaginative and she is concentrating on the baby rather than herself. However “Metaphors” is more realistic and life like and she is thinking about herself and she is being very self-centred.

For Sylvia Plath nothing was simple. In many of her poems she looks at the contradictions in her life between her role as dutiful daughter, a mother, a wife, and her duty and rights as a creative artist. From reading these two poems I feel that she is quite at home with her motherhood, yet there are still some sombre elements in these poems where doubts about her role appear.

From reading these two poems I am now aware that there are two different views to pregnancy that are both good and bad. I like the way that Sylvia Plath uses extreme and impacting images to describe her feelings and emotions, and I feel that these poems are well worth reading.

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