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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Sylvia Plath's poem Metaphors


  1. Rosie says:

    I disagree on the last line. A mother’s job is not over when the pregnancy is. She still has to raise the child. “Boarded the train, there’s no getting off” means she knows that this horrible state she’s in is only the beginning. She still has to raise the child that has made her feel so awful. She is not looking forward to raising the child.

  2. James Yoder says:

    In her brief nine-line poem, “Metaphors,” Sylvia Plath uses rich imagery to dissect her role as a pregnant woman. Written in 1959, Plath was carrying Frieda, her first child with British poet Ted Hughes when she wrote this poem. As the name of the poem suggests, Plath uses a series of metaphors to describe the desperate state she feels she is in during her pregnancy. The way in which Plath frames the poem is very unique. She purposefully writes the poem in nine lines, with nine syllables in each line, bringing to mind the nine months during which she will carry the child in her womb. As is characteristic of her poetry, Plath writes in the first person to make a personal, human appeal by using the “I” voice.
    Plath uses handily crafted metaphors to convey her feelings about pregnancy. She describes herself as “an elephant” in the respect that she is bloated and uncomfortably large, a “ponderous house” in the sense that she is the clumsy structure which bears the child, and a “melon” in that she is the tough external facade of something ripening inside of her. Extending the metaphor into next line, “O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers,” Plath uses the rhetorical device of synecdoche, that is, the use of a part as referring to the whole, to describe her child. The use of this device is remarkable in this case because she chooses to use the parts of each whole which are the most valuable; the ripened fruit of the melon, the ivory of the elephant’s tusks, and the fine timbers with which the house was constructed. Plath here makes it clear that she believes the only salvageable good of her pregnancy is the offspring. Yet despite this “salvageable” aspect of the pregnancy, Plath feels like having to reduce herself to a disgusting, bloated vessel whose only worth is that by virtue of what it contains is degrading to her humanity. Plath in the seventh line describes herself as “a means,” as if she were simply a nine-month temporary incubator for the child. Once she embraces this imagery, reducing her role to a “means,” Plath fully adopts an attitude of self-loathing, an attitude whose seeds were planted when she used images like “a ponderous house” and a “melon strolling on two tendrils” to describe her pregnant self. Plath uses several more metaphors which speak of her ever-growing belly and increasingly uncomfortable lifestyle. She, in line six, describes herself as a “fat purse” holding valuable “money’s new-minted.” This image further highlights Plath’s attitude toward her pregnant self, that she is simply a receptacle whose worth exists only because of the “money new-minted” which it holds. She feels like she is disgustingly grotesque, and has relinquished her beauty, comfort, and humanity so that her child may enter into the world. Plath’s feelings of self-loathing are furthered by her feeling that she is trapped in her degraded state and that she can in no way personally effect a change that can restore her humanity, that is, that she “Boarded the train [and] there’s no getting off.” This final line of the poem deserves some extra thought, though, because while it, in one sense like the rest of the poem, it relates a general tone of self-loathing, it, at the same time, reminds the reader of Plath’s underlying humanity. The final line also acts, to some degree, as Plath’s acceptance of her temporary role as a “means” as something which all mothers much endure for their children, and a reminder that after the nine months burden is lifted, she will return to her full humanity. Even though the last line states that “there’s no getting off,” Plath reminds us painstakingly by the nine line stanza and the nine syllables in each line that she will “get off the train” once the nine months are through.

  3. Ol' Mr. H says:

    I agree with Ambrosia, but that is precisely what makes Plath so great – she embodies the perfect paradox, beautiful misery. If you ever catch yourself feeling too optimistic about the world, visit Ms. Plath. She’ll put things back in perspective. My favorite line is “O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers.” If you look at the previous lines, these are the objects of “worth” that melons, elephants, and houses carry. She doesn’t feel like a person of personal worth anymore. She feels that has become simply a vessel, whose only worth is carrying this child. I, personally have never carried a child (for obvious reasons), but my wife tells me that she often felt this way.

  4. Ambrosia says:

    Well as a student currently studying in ub i think Plath is bitter and very sour,in this poem she does not show any sign of happiness its lyk for her pregnancy is a shameful thing but its only natural to us all

  5. Eileen Kim says:

    (1)”I’m a riddle in nine syllables”
    means the period of pregnancy. for detailing,
    nine syllables means 9 months which is the period of pregancy.
    (2) “An elephant, a ponderous house”
    ‘elephant’ is speaker’s body because she has baby.
    ‘ponderous house’ has two meanings.
    – ponderous is same as elephant.
    – house is baby’s house. In other words, Women’s womb
    (3)A melon strolling on two tendrils.
    A melon strolling means speaker’s swollen belly.
    two tendrils means speaker’s thin two legs.
    so this sentense shows fat of belly as compared with two legs

    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.

  6. peter king says:

    to me this is an irritable poem. She’s irritated by the stupid metaphors and the pregnancy and almost recites them dismissively. The nine syllables per line (one for each month) in nine lines truck along without resolution. As a male this captures the grumpiness of women in their third trimester when pregnancy is at its most annoying. To me its not unhappy its more pissed off.

  7. whateves says:

    As an English Philology graduate, NO NO and again NO to those who think this is a happy poem Plath wrote in a joyful manner. If you’ve ever read Sylvia Plath’s biography or any other works of her, you would know what kind of a psychological state she was in throughout her life. I don’t want to go into details but i just wanna say that this poem actuall IS a gloomy poem; she is not thrilled because she’s pregnant, she does not think pregnancy is miraculously wonderful and she does not ‘humurously’ hint that there won’t be sex for a while by saying she’s boarded a train where there’s no getting off! Before ridiculing this sensational and sad poem to wider lengths, i suggest everyone who are interested in this to read Plath’s biography (even online), go out and buy one of her books consisting of her collected poems and then analyse this fragile yet mournful poem once more. You can get help to understand profoundly by getting help from world wide literature sites online or other literary works dedicated to Plath’s work from libraries or bookstores. In literature, there is never a simple definition to any symbol or metaphor in a poem or novel. You can’t imagine what kind of depth and how many meanings a simple word can have in itself.

    Salut to those literature lovers 🙂

  8. ali says:

    i think this poem is a biographe from sylvia.sylvia speak about his life when she was a child in his nine month .however this poem is very good for me.tel 02109192807833

  9. matta says:

    I think that Plath’s was very happy to be pregnant becaus she describe her baby as ivory and green apples

  10. munique says:

    this poem is so simple yet there is so much into it..
    one of my favourites poems.

  11. Jane Austen says:

    Many of these metaphors are euphimisms for pregnancy–for example, a cow in calf is a very old reference to a pregnant cow. Similarly, eating a bag of green apples causes one to bloat–that is,get big-bellied–therefore another metaphor for pregnancy. Yeast makes bread rise–another euphemism. (Compare to “a loaf in the oven,” yet another but not appearing in this poem.)

    The line “O red fruit, ivory,fine timbers!” looks back to the melon, the elephant, and the house.

    Don’t complicate things too much! And if you’ve ever been pregnant, once that train leaves the station it is (or used to be) in fact too late–no matter how one feels about the pregnancy.

  12. sedef says:

    for the sake of god to students:)
    The poem Metaphors is written by Sylvia Plath on 20th March 1959. The poem is about her pregnancy as accepted by many critics, and the whole poem is full of metaphors, the same as the title of the poem. Firstly on the first line “The nine syllables” represent the nine months of pregnancy. Each line having exactly nine syllables and containing nine lines is in reference to her length of being pregnant. Each line has metaphorical meanings and symbols. Approximately all words are use of metaphors in the poem the words which are use of metaphors: riddle, elephant, ponderous horse, melon, two tendrils, red fruit, fine timbers, this loaf, money, fat purse, means, stage, a cow in calf, a bag of green apples, the train. That manner shows us Sylvia Plath intended to write a poem full of metaphors as we understand from the title and a sense of riddle, joy which surrounds the whole poem. Elephant and ponderous horse indicates that she feels herself as moving so slowly with huge stomach. “Red fruit, ivory and fine timbers.” creates the feeling of how beautiful and special either she is feeling towards herself and the baby. Melons on the third line represents the fetus that is strolling on two tendrils, furthermore tendrils reminds the reader ovaries of a woman. Also on the fourth line “The big loaf with yeasty rising” resembles her stomach’s growing. On the fifth line “Money is new-minted on that fat purse” here money represents the weights that she has got due to pregnancy and also the fetus which made her appearance fatter. According to some critics the sentence on the ninth line; ‘Boarded the train there’s no getting off.’ shows the regret of being pregnant of her but there is not any concrete sign that this sentence shows the regret and also it can not be proved that the poem has a negative, gloomy atmosphere.
    The poem has nine lines and rhyme meter is set up on nine syllables moreover the rhyme scheme is aaaabcdad. The persona is first person and the vocabulary is not complex. There are very few adjectives because the writer uses metaphors for defining the nouns. Also the sentences are simple.

  13. Chelsee says:

    This poem is talking about Plath’s Pregnancy. The nine syllables represent the nine months of pregnancy. I think when she talks about the elephant she’s talking about how huge she feels. The melon strolling on two tendrils is a description of Plath’s belly starting to show. In the fourth line “O red fruit, ivory,fine timbers!” I think she describing how special her child is. In the next line she mentions a big loaf with yeasty rising which refers to her belly getting bigger. I took the line describing how she ate a bag a green apples two different ways. First I thought it was talking about her new eating habits because now she’s eating for two so instead of just eating one apple she ate the whole bag. Secondly I looked at it like the bag of apples was the actual baby itself, being heavy and lumpy. You could look at the last line 2 different ways also. The train that she has boarded and cant get off of is the pregnancy. There’s no turning back and you could look at the last three words in a humurous way “no getting off” could mean that there’s no sex for a while.

  14. katherine says:

    You have very good taste in poetry, but I’m afraid Plath won’t be giving you any pointers since she’s been dead for decades… she’s a very famous poet – Gwyneth Paltrow played her in a movie a couple years ago; you can find most of her stuff online for free viewing, and I also recommend you check out “The Bell Jar.” It’s a novel and most students have it assigned at some point in their academic careers. Best wishes!

  15. kendra says:

    i really like your poem.i was just wondering if you can give me any pointers on how to write poetry

  16. ahem...ahem....*cough* says:

    This was a tricky poem.
    At first, I thought it was an elephant speaking, but I guess it’s about parenthood….most likely pregnat..

  17. Jackie says:

    I can see why she killed herself. She was very morbid and had alot of self doubt. Women who believe they are fat when carring a child should be psychologically probed. She didn’t like herself and when her husband left her it made her feelings about herself even more concrete. For me the poem was a window to who Sylvia Plath really was and anyone that knew her personally should have gotten her some help maybe she would still be alive.

  18. Ellie says:

    I was looking at other analyses of this and found an interpretation of line eight (“I’ve eaten a bag of green apples”) which I hadn’t seen posted yet and wondered if it might help someone else the way it helped me. It may be an allusion to the fruit of the Garden of Eden, adding Plath’s wry humor to pregnancy. Eating the “green apples” was like having sex: it was pleasurable but has long-term consequences.

  19. Kristen says:

    the elephant part makes it seem as if she didn’t want the baby as well as the ponderous house. This reminds me of Hemmingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, as it speaks of a sumwhat unwanted pregnancy and boarding a train- very similar infact.

  20. Amber says:

    I really liked this poem. I didn’t get it until I read the comments though. It is very clever. I would have never thought of something like that. She’s good.

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