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“You’re” is a poem by Sylvia Plath that displays the joy and eagerness of Motherhood, and shares the experience of carrying a life. The poem instils a playful tone as Plath teases her unborn child by comparing it to bizarre things.
About the Poet
Sylvia Plath is an American poet mostly known for her dark poetry that carries themes of complex human psychology and mental stress. This poem of Plath is an exception to most of her poems as it has an optimistic tone which is rarely seen in Plath’s poetry.
“You’re” by Sylvia Plath consists of two stanzas that carry nine lines each. There are a total of 18 lines in this poem that are written in free verse and therefore they do not carry any specific metre or rhyme scheme.
Summary and Analysis
Clownlike, happiest on your hands, Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled, Gilled like a fish. A common-sense
Plath compares her baby to a clown who is silly and happy with feet above the ground, reaching for the stars, with a moon-shaped head that is bright and white, and breathes through gills like a fish inside her womb.
The poem starts with the word “Clownlike” particularly selected by Plath to set the mood of the poem as blithesome and exuberant to match the playful energy of a child. The poem describes the child’s clownlike manners of having fun by getting upside down and lifting their feet up in the air.
The laughter and joy that a child spreads through their inquisitiveness and innocence is the reason why Plath describes it as “clownlike”. The head of the child is mentioned as moon-shaped due to its fair complexion and roundness. The child breathes like a fish breathes through its gills. This line particularly reveals that the child is still in the womb and therefore it’s breathing inside her womb through gills like a fish breathes underwater. This poem explores the relationship between a pregnant mother and her unborn child.
Thumbs-down on the dodo’s mode. Wrapped up in yourself like a spool, Trawling your dark as owls do.
The baby, according to Plath, is giving a sound thumb-down to the extinction of the dodo bird. The baby is self-sufficient and wrapped around itself like a spool, searching for something in the darkness of Plath’s womb determinately.
Plath says that her unborn child gives a sensible thumbs-down to the extinction of the Dodo bird. This is contrasting imagery as the unborn child is the new life form, ready to take birth, while the Dodo bird is extinct. It talks about the over-populated human race and extinction of the endangered species and its helplessness.
Plath believes her child has potential and wrapped up around itself like a spool, that is like a ball of yarn. Her child is self-complete, self-sufficient and she is so sure of it even before it’s born. The child is determined and trawling in the darkness of the womb like an owl does. Here, Plath mentions another bird which enhances the layers of imagery used within these few lines.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth Of July to All Fools’ Day, O high-riser, my little loaf.
In these lines, Plath mentions the gestation period from July to April. The baby is referred to as a turnip who is mute because the baby is unborn. She refers to her baby as a little loaf who will rise after nine-months.
These lines of the poem are crucial as they evidently reveal the poem’s central theme being a mother waiting for her child to be born. Plath was pregnant at this time therefore it is safe to assume she is the speaker of the poem. She describes the baby as mute as a turnip, it is an odd comparison but it suggests that the baby is like a root growing inside her womb, like turnips growing in soil.
She continues the line by mentioning the “Fourth Of July to All Fool’s Day” this period is of nine months from July to April, Plath hints to the gestation period that is a term used in pregnancy when the child is growing inside the womb. Plath further calls her unborn child as her little loaf. This description suggests that she is eager to meet this child that she had with Ted Hughes. It also refers to the phrase “bun in the oven” which is often used to mention a woman’s pregnancy.
Vague as fog and looked for like mail. Farther off than Australia.
“Vague as fog” suggests x-ray of the inside of the womb and the baby is like a piece of mail that you have to look for really hard. Farther off than Australia can mean that it is hard to make out the baby from the x-ray or it can also mean that the baby will grow as big as the continent of Australia in the far future.
Back in the 60s, when Plath wrote this poem, the medical technology wasn’t so advanced and therefore there were no Ultrasounds or Sonograms available. There were only X-rays that allowed people to understand the baby’s health. And these x-rays were not clear, it was hard to identify the baby from these x-ray.
Therefore Plath describes the baby as a piece of mail that one has to look for. The mail is farther off than Australia. This also suggests the continent of Australia is immense, just how the mother wants her baby to be, big and successful but it’s far in the future.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.
The unborn child is compared to Altas, the Greek Titan who held the sky up for eternity. Plath also compares her child to a prawn.
The unborn child of Plath is compared to bent-backed Atlas. Atlas was a Greek Titan often depicted by carrying the Earth over his shoulders. This Mythical Titan was condemned to hold up the sky for eternity. Here, Atlas is used as a metaphor for the child who is burdened with responsibilities at an early age.
This image is joined by an odd comparison of the child with a prawn. The post mentions “our traveled prawn” which suggests the mention of her partner Ted Hughes with whom she was married and their trip to America in 1959. Both prawn and bent-backed Atlas share the common quality of being bent which is the highlight of the comparison.
Lines 13- 14
Snug as a bud and at home Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
This is a reference to the phrase “to be as snug as a bug in a rug” and the baby is like a small fish in a pickle jug.
In these lines, Plath refers to the phrase “to be as snug as a bug in a rug” but slightly changes it to “snug as a bud and at home”. The deliberate change of the word “bug” to the word “bud” implies the new life that is going to grow in the comfort of their house.
The next line suggests a similar meaning, a sprat is a small silver-coloured fish that is often used as a bait to catch bigger fish. This small fish is compared to the child in the womb. And the womb is referred to as a pickle jug. A pickle jug’s aim is to preserve the pickle inside, therefore the womb is referred to as the preserver.
A creel of eels, all ripples. Jumpy as a Mexican bean. Right, like a well-done sum. A clean slate, with your own face on.
A basket full of eels that ripple around, this is what a pregnant woman feels like when the baby moves in the womb. Jumpy as a Mexican bean that is cooked to perfection, as right as a solved mathematical equation. The poem closes as Plath is eager to see her child and, erasing the past shortcomings, the slate is clean and ready to be filled with her child’s portrait.
Plath again brings in fish-related imagery in the poem. She mentions her womb as a basket full of eels that move around on their own. This feeling is usually what a pregnant woman would feel when the baby moves around inside their womb.
This is followed by another image of a jumpy Mexican bean, the intended meaning is the same, as the baby kicks inside the womb, it must feel like a jumpy Mexican bean that keeps popping. The next line might indicate the bean cooked just right, as right as a well-done mathematical sum. This suggests that the baby is ready to come out of the womb.
The last line of the poem has a hopeful tone as Plath is looking forward to the baby’s arrival. A clean slate refers to forgetting all the worries of the past, the child’s birth is the new beginning of her life and therefore she mentions the slate is clean and will be covered with the child’s face, suggesting the birth of the child being the most important moment in her life.