Sylvia Plath's 'Metaphors': Exploring Self-Loathing and Pregnancy

Categories: Metaphor

Sylvia Plath is celebrated for her confessional style of writing, which enables her to delve deep into her personal experiences and emotions. One of her poignant works, 'Metaphors,' composed in the tumultuous 1960s, provides a profound insight into her inner turmoil during pregnancy. Unlike many poets of her time, Plath embraces her vulnerability and engages in profound self-exploration within her poetic creations. 'Metaphors' exemplifies Plath's unapologetic use of the first-person perspective, a choice that lends an intensely personal dimension to her work, enabling her to convey her pessimistic attitude toward her changing body image during pregnancy.

The Unique Structure and Its Significance

At first glance, 'Metaphors' presents a striking structural choice: a single stanza consisting of nine lines, with each line meticulously crafted to contain nine syllables. The repetition of the number nine in this poem carries profound symbolic weight. Notably, both the words "metaphor" and "pregnancy" share this nine-letter count, and interestingly, the ninth letter of the alphabet is 'I.

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' This thematic connection to the number nine serves to underscore the poem's overarching theme, offering a subtle nod to the nine months of gestation that characterize pregnancy, thus highlighting the profound impact of this transformative period on Plath's psyche. The poem employs a form of blank verse, lacking a regular rhyming pattern, yet it maintains a consistent meter, with each line comprising precisely nine syllables.

Vivid and Evocative Imagery

Plath employs a tapestry of vivid and evocative imagery to depict her heavily pregnant body and the life burgeoning within her.

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She hauntingly describes herself as "An elephant, a ponderous house." Through the word "ponderous," Plath conjures an image of her own cumbersome and unwieldy pregnant form, while the term "house" symbolically conveys the notion of sheltering something profoundly precious within. Her choice to humorously liken herself to "a melon on two tendrils" paints a mental portrait of a round, unwieldy object precariously balanced on frail, almost fragile legs. It is through these comparisons that the reader is made to empathize with the depth of her depression and self-loathing.

The Juxtaposition of Self-Image and Unborn Child

Despite her unfavorable self-comparisons to unattractive objects, Plath invests great value in her unborn child's life, drawing poetic parallels with beautiful and valuable objects such as "ivory" and "fine timbers." This juxtaposition serves to underline the stark contrast between her perceived self-ugliness and the innate preciousness concealed within her. Plath poignantly characterizes herself as "a means" for her child's development, "a stage" for her child's growth, and "a cow in calf," accentuating the depth of her self-loathing regarding the physical transformations wrought by pregnancy.

Biblical Allusion and the Concept of Over-Indulgence

In the penultimate line of the poem, Plath enigmatically states, "I've eaten a bag of green apples." This phrase carries a potential allusion to the Bible, evoking the image of the apples that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. Here, Plath may be subtly drawing parallels between her own experience of overindulgence and the consequential aftermath of original sin. In this narrative, she aligns herself with Eve, suggesting that she too has succumbed to the allure of sensual pleasure and now faces the repercussions of her actions. On a more literal level, this line could signify the discomfort of overeating, a common experience among pregnant women.

Uncertainty and Helplessness in the Face of the Future

As the poem unfolds, Plath's tone deepens into palpable pessimism, offering an intimate glimpse into the extent of her self-loathing and depression. It is possible that these emotions were closely linked to the fragile state of her mental health. Plath's distorted self-image, coupled with her profound love for her unborn child and her anxiety about an uncertain future, converge to create a profoundly emotional poem. Through striking yet unsettling imagery, she draws readers into her innermost thoughts and emotions, inviting them to empathize with her plight. The poem concludes with Plath contemplating her uncertain future, invoking the metaphor of boarding a train with no possibility of disembarking. This poignant image signifies her advanced pregnancy, rendering termination an impossibility, and emphasizes her sole responsibility for the new life burgeoning within her. It conveys a profound sense of helplessness in the face of an unpredictable future.

A Testimony to Human Complexity

Overall, 'Metaphors' resonates with a profoundly pessimistic tone that underscores the extent of the poet's self-loathing and depression, possibly a reflection of her fragile mental health. Plath's ability to juxtapose her distorted self-image with her deep affection for her unborn child, all while grappling with an uncertain future, results in a beautifully emotional poem that resonates deeply with readers. Through the use of striking yet thought-provoking imagery, Plath invites readers to contemplate the intricacies of the human experience. 'Metaphors' stands as a testament to Plath's skill as a poet and her willingness to confront her innermost demons through her art.


Sylvia Plath's 'Metaphors' is a powerful exploration of self-loathing and emotional turmoil during pregnancy. Her vivid imagery, nuanced allusions, and introspective language offer readers an intimate window into her complex emotional landscape. The poem's unique structure and symbolic elements enhance its depth and resonance, leaving a lasting impact. Through 'Metaphors,' Plath demonstrates her remarkable ability to convey profound and raw emotions through her poetry, prompting readers to reflect on the complexities of the human condition. In doing so, she cements her place as a poet who fearlessly confronts her innermost struggles through her art, inviting us to join her in this profound exploration.

Updated: Nov 02, 2023
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Sylvia Plath's 'Metaphors': Exploring Self-Loathing and Pregnancy. (2016, Jun 07). Retrieved from

Sylvia Plath's 'Metaphors': Exploring Self-Loathing and Pregnancy essay
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