“You are”-A poem by Sylvia Plath

Clownlike, happiest on your hands,
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense
Thumbs-down on the dodo’s mode.
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,
Trawling your dark as owls do.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth
Of July to All Fools’ Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.

Vague as fog and looked for like mail.
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.
Snug as a bud and at home
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
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.

Of course everyone knows Sylvia’s poem is addressed to the child in her womb: “You are”-this, this . All in two stanzas of nine lines each.Nine refers to nine months of her pregnancy .The first stanza probably narrates the first phase of the fetal development and the second one relates to the next phase.

The plethora of metaphors do not connect within themselves but only expand the narrative giving it a visual feel. They are no extended metaphors but a series of metaphors all supplementing each other. Thus in the first nine lines ,the fetus is described in its likeness to a clown, a fish,a thumbsdown , a dodo ,a spool,a trawler,an owl,a turnip,a loaf.

Clown : A clown uses body language to elicit laughs.
Fish : The fetus floats in the embryonic fluid
Thumbsdown : The fetus appears in a hunched up position
On dodo’s mode : Dodos are supposed to be clumsy looking birds.
like a spool : The fetus is all tied up in the umbilical cord
Owl : Trawling darkness of the womb like an owl in the night
Trawling : A fishing metaphor to describe negotiating darkness
Mute as turnip : Fetus is conceived and grows from July to April
My little loaf : Delicious as a loaf and shaped like one.

In the second nine lines, the metaphors become more dynamic almost reflecting the growth of the fetus to the definite shape of a full-grown child. It now looks like a bent-back Atlas with an entire world on its shoulders.It is now vague as fog and looked for like mail. Farther than Australia. A travelled prawn,no longer a mute turnip. But snug as a bud waiting for a morning of blooming. Snug arises from a feeling of comfort within the womb.But it is now like a sprat(again a fish) in a pickle jar. A creel of eeels jumping about. Throwing around ripples. Jumpy like a Mexican bean, that jumps on frying. But it is now right, like an arithmetic sum whose answer comes right. Everything has worked out fine and the fetus is healthily kicking about against the walls of the womb. A clean slate , the baby has now a face of its own, apart from the mother’s. Clean slate because it is starting out in the world afresh with no history. The face has now a distinct formation of a persona.Now no longer moon-skulled with feet to the stars . A new actor on the world’s stage .

I love “moon-skulled ” to suggest a still forming mass of head, that will grow to a distinct face, a face of a new persona. I love “the feet to the stars” suggesting a head down and the feet up , the typical fetal position in the first few months. Gilled like a fish because being in aqua the embryo has to wear its lungs outside like fish. Everthing is fish till it comes out wearing a face to the world.

I love “trawling your dark” a fishing metaphor used to describe the fetus coping to exist in the darkest depths of the womb. The fourth of July is America’s independence but it is only on the All Fools day the baby will become independent,( nine months later) .That works a right arithmetic for a clown to appear with a face of his own.

“Warning”-A poem by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

I love this poem not for the beauty of its imagery or the music of its singsong lines, that have a strange lyrical beauty. The young woman imagines herself in a situation she will find herself in decades later.In imagining herself as an old woman she gives herself all the attributes one associates with an old woman,in common perception. But not out of self-pity but from a sheer sense of release, freedom from what a young person is supposed to be.

Conformance to a social type is tyranny of the hive mind .A young person experiences its oppressiveness throughout the younger years and it is only the old age that gives them freedom to express and be their own selves the way they want to,not like how the peers look and behave.

1) When you are old you do not need to wear clothes that make a statement.Nor do you have to wear outlandish clothes because everybody else wears them and together you all make a statement.

2)When you are old you need not have to carry the stigma of not paying rent ,of wearing shabby clothes,of setting examples to children etc. You do not even invite friends to dinner and read the papers.

3) The biggest adavantage is that you can squat on the footpath if you are tired, go out in slippers in rain, spit anywhere to to your heart’s content.

4) You can buy brandy and eat sausages , exhausting your meager pension, and with the least worry about getting fat.

The old woman has little stake in life and it does not really matter to her what everybody thinks of her.But remember this is how the young person imagines what an old woman’s life would be like. Is it correct to think that an old person feels she has no further stake in life? That it does not really matter how she behaves and whether she is a subject of ridicule?

But that is not what the poet seems to say but rather that you feel stifled to be a young person with all those stereotyping that goes with it. A young person who thinks she has a greater stake in life is forced to conform to the stereotype, the shackles of which leave nothing for individual improvisation. You have to be either a conformist with all its boring traits or are a rebel with equally mind-numbing protocols.

All this is preparation to old age, that is a long way off. Does old age come so suddenly and one starts wearing purple? Surely , for the sake of other people, one has to practise a little at being old right now so that they will not be shocked to see her suddenly in purple clothes.She has the tongue in her cheek.Dont they start wearing purple too?