Critique/analysis of Sylvia Plath's 'Mushrooms".




Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly


Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.


Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.


Soft fists insist on

Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,


Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We


Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,


Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:


We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.


Sylvia Plath



Mushroom critique/analysis - David W.



“Mushrooms” the poem by Sylvia Plath is from her first major published collection: “The Colossus and Other Poems.” It is a fine example of her work, with the use of alliteration, assonance, symbolism, internal rhyme and repetition. This obsessive compulsive’s delight is written with the sharp clean structured precision of a surgeon. At first glance “Mushrooms” has all the trademarks of the perfect terrorist broadcast al-Qa’iada would aspire to have read out by Osama Bin-Laden to cast fear in the hearts of their enemies, with it’s quietly menacing slow yet rhythmic flow. (Although one feels that if the Taliban had used a similar message, I would be well on my way to studying the Koran!) Like many poems it can be interpreted in countless different ways; with ‘Mushrooms, ’ Plath has merged several ideas (the Cold War, the atom bomb, depression to name but a few) into a single theme. The main themes being that of the upcoming rise of Woman’s rights with ‘We are shelves, we are Tables,’ highlighting the view held by men in society at that time of women as purely domestic objects and it is also laced with echoes of the birth of her first child. 



‘Overnight, very Whitely, discretely’ resembles the sensation (or rather lack thereof) of the moment of conception. The use of the Mushroom metaphor fits perfectly with the image of a pregnant woman. ‘Nobody sees us, Stops us’ remarks on the two things, the fact that it is often not until late into the pregnancy that it becomes obvious that one is pregnant and two, babies have a habit of slipping past us unnoticed. ‘Soft fists’ is surely alluding to the kicks the mother feels during pregnancy. ‘Earless and eyeless, Perfectly voiceless,’ is another beautiful reference to the growing foetus. ‘We Diet on water, On crumbs of shadow,’ refers to the reality that the baby is nourished through what the mother is eating and generally the mother’s diet changes during pregnancy. Most mothers I am sure would recognise the line relating to the birth of their child with ‘Widen the crannies, Shoulder through holes.’ The lines ‘Bland-mannered, asking Little or nothing’ convey the seemingly effortless ease in which babies survive. ‘We shall by morning Inherit the earth’ suggests that eventually the young will grow and take over the earth.



‘Very quietly Our toes, our noses Take hold’ makes reference to the way women had been making themselves an integral part of everyday life without asking for anything in return. At first nobody took the movement seriously as Plath points out with ‘Nobody sees us, Stops us, betrays us.’ ‘Even the paving. Our hammers, our rams,’ warn that the beliefs and values that had stood for so many years were going to be challenged. The ominous feel of the repeated line ‘So many of us! So many of us!’ indicates the sheer magnitude of the oppressed masses who are ready to stand up and be counted. ‘We are meek, We are edible,’ speaks volumes for the way a lot of woman felt with ‘Nudgers and shovers In spite of ourselves’ pointing out that they are pushed around by the patriarchal society, however ‘Our kind multiplies: We shall by morning Inherit the earth. Our foot’s in the door’ reassuring the Women’s movement that they will indeed prevail.



“Mushrooms” is a masterfully structured poem, which looks to follow the Octet Rule with three lines in each stanza and five syllables in each line (3+5=8). Plath uses alliteration ‘Soft fists insist’ (my personal favourite) and assonance ‘very Whitely, discreetly, Very quietly’ to great effect, causing the reader of the poem to read it slowly and steadily. The use of this technique adds to the quiet stealth-like feel of the poem. The repetition of vowels gives the poem a ‘spongy’ feel ‘Our toes, our noses’, whilst the use of consonants abruptly stops the sound with the reader’s tongue ‘Nudgers and shovers’.

Author's Notes/Comments: 


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