Sylvia Plath

‘You’re’ by Sylvia Plath is an ode to an unborn child. It explores the speaker’s expectations of motherhood and what emotions she’s going to feel.

Sylvia Plath

Nationality: American

Although Sylvia Plath was succeeding poetically, she was still deeply unhappy.

She tried to kill herself a number of times throughout the early 60s and in February of 1963, she succeeded.

In the two stanzas that create this poem, the poet abandons a definite rhyme scheme to fully embrace the uncertainty of the topic the poem is addressing, which involves the varying emotions of a woman awaiting the birth of her child. Though the layers of description in the work can feel vague enough to apply to a number of scenarios, small pieces of evidence throughout the lines provide confirmation that the imagery portrayed is intended to describe the state of a child who has yet to see the world and the emotions of the expectant parent. Once that notion is solidly in mind, the joy, anticipation, and love that Plath is expressing for this unborn child is almost tangible through her use of happy visuals and words. You can read the full poem here.

You're by Sylvia Plath


You’re Analysis

First Stanza

Clownlike, happiest on your hands,
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,
Of July to All Fools’ Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.

The word chosen to begin this stanza speaks of lightheartedness and playfulness that can be associated with children since Plath labels this child as “[c]lownlike.” While some might argue that a “[c]lown” is a negative concept for comparison, the definition of the “[c]lown” is technically someone who dresses up and performs in elaborate ways to entertain others. This is a concept that is easily connected to children as their mannerisms often stand out to provide those watching them with a laugh or a smile at their antics.

For Plath, this quality extends to pregnancy where a child has the same carefree quality of overlooking the possibility of ridicule, which is “[c]lownlike.” Rather, an unborn child is concerned with his or her own entertainment and comfort, as is notable through moments when they change postures to fall into unusual positions—like “on [their] hands, [with their] feet to the stars”—and their lack of concern regarding that ridicule is what brings this “[c]lownlike” quality into the scenario. A child’s tunnel focus on his or her own interests can be so innocent and unique that it sparks laughter and smiles, like a “clown,” so Plath’s comparison makes sense.

This tactic of calling on jovial objects for comparison extends further into the stanza when Plath brings up a “dodo.” Using the “dodo” in this way accomplishes two things. First, it links the pregnancy and unborn child to a noun that has a connotation of nonsensical whimsy, as if commenting that the growing child is bringing Plath amusement just by existing. The second thing the “dodo” mention accomplishes is to compare the life of the unborn child to a species that has gone extinct. By humans continuing to be born, a “[t]humbs-down” is given to the “dodo’s mode,” meaning humanity is continuing rather than becoming extinct like the “dodo.” This concept is concrete evidence that Plath is, in fact, referencing an unborn child since only a continuation of humanity could contradict extinction in this manner.

Additional evidence of this poem’s mother/child theme follows in the next line when it is stated that the person being addressed is “[w]rapped up in [himself or herself] like a spool” because the imagery is parallel to a child in the fetal position. Beyond this physicality, this notion builds on the idea that the child is amusingly only concerned with his or her own comfort since the “[w]rapped up” wording reveals that the child’s care is centered on himself or herself.

Plath finishes this stanza by noting that the person being addressed is “[m]ute,” as an unborn child would be, but possibly the greatest piece of evidence to support the idea that Plath is referring to an unborn child is in the time frame she gives for this “[m]ute[ness]”—specifically, “from the Fourth [o]f July to All Fools’ Day.” This time frame is about nine months, which is a number linked to a standard pregnancy. Using that number of months to depict the time before the addressed person can speak connects it more strongly to pregnancy than possibly any other word or phrase in the poem since only after that pregnancy is over—in nine months—will the child be able to move on from being “[m]ute.”

With this evidence scattered throughout the lines, Plath ends the stanza with a term of endearment for the child that is so full of soft syllables and the same jovial quality brought on by the “[c]lown” and the “dodo” that it reinforces the affection Plath is expressing. By lovingly declaring the unborn child as her “little oaf,” she is again stressing the happiness this child brings her by being so carefree and entertaining.


Second Stanza

Vague as fog and looked for like mail.
Farther off than Australia.
Right, like a well-done sum.
A clean slate, with your own face on.

Plath shifts her attention from what the child is doing to her own reactions in regard to the pregnancy, and these concepts are so common that an expectant parent reading the poem could relate to the varying emotions. There is curiosity since what the child will be is “[v]ague as fog.” This simile is an interesting choice because a “fog” blurs and hinders perception, but it does not necessarily remove every bit of detail for the person trying to view through it. General shapes, for instance, might still be distinguishable through the “fog,” just as a waiting parent understands certain concepts of the child before the birth. With modern technology, images might have already been provided to the parents, and things like gender and a heartbeat could have already been detected. Still, various unknowns loom over the child and will continue to do so until the baby has been born to lift the “fog,” things like eye color and the sound of his or her laugh.

Given the unsure details, it is no wonder that expectant parents would “[look] for [the child] like mail” that will one day be delivered, which brings the concept of anticipation into the discussion. However, “like [the] mail,” the baby will not be rushed from his or her delivery moment, and all that those waiting on the arrival can do is just that—wait.

Contrastingly, the child is unaffected by this concept as he or she is “snug” and “at home” as things are, and this concept supports the earlier mentioned idea that a baby is only (amusingly) concerned with his or her own welfare. It does not matter to the child if the parents are eager. Until the time is right, the child will continue in his or her “home” with its “Mexican bean” mobility without a care of how it impacts the mother.

Already in place within this stanza then are the notions of curiosity, anticipation, and amusement, but pure love is showcased as well through Plath labeling this child as a “well-done sum,” as in a perfect blend of his or her heritage, and a “clean slate, with [his or her] own face on.” There is so much possibility in a new life, and Plath is clearly looking forward to seeing what her own child will become, waiting on the child with smiles and love that encompass so many elements of the mother/child relationship before the child is even born.

From ‘You’re,’ then, the reader can experience elements of the joy, curiosity, and anticipation that an expectant mother would know, and the playful use of ideas and words builds the concept of happiness further. No matter the uncertainty and the discomfort, there is still such love prevalent in the scenario that the mother scarcely grudges any of the uneasy moments. Rather, she loves, and she waits.


About Sylvia Plath

An American writer, Sylvia Plath tried her hand at a series of literary possibilities including poetry and short stories, and her work found such a staple in the writing community that her name is still relevant, though her lifespan was too brief to allow for extended decades of writing. Her life contained both reason for joy and sadness since she studied at Cambridge and had two children during her marriage to Ted Hughes, but struggled with depression. In the end, her depression led her to commit suicide when she was just thirty years old, but her literature lives on to give her voice despite her unfortunate end.

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Connie Smith Poetry Expert
Connie L. Smith spends a decent amount of time with her mind wandering in fictional places. She reads too much, likes to bake, and might forever be sad that she doesn’t have fairy wings. She has her BA from Northern Kentucky University in Speech Communication and History (she doesn’t totally get the connection either), and her MA in English and Creative Writing. In addition, she freelances as a blogger for topics like sewing and running, with a little baking, gift-giving, and gardening having occasionally been thrown in the topic list.
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