by Sylvia Plath
Lines 10-16 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Berries cast dark
Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Hauls me through air—
- Images continue to flash by our speaker's eyes as she's on her wide ride. She sees "Nigger-eye / Berries" that "cast dark / Hooks."
- Now, wait a minute, you're probably saying to yourself. "Nigger-eye berries"? Is Ms. Plath a racist? Why is she using such derogatory language?
- Well, as sad as it is, the truth is that the term "nigger," while still derogatory, was much more commonly used (and it was slightly less politically charged) in the 1960s when Plath wrote her poem. Putting the word "nigger" in a poem, while at best was a sign of obliviousness and at worst a sign of racism, probably wasn't particularly scandalous for Plath to do.
- In fact, Plath's just using the word "nigger" to describe some dark-colored berries that she sees fly by her. She's more callous than downright hateful, as she uses the word in an off-handed way as a descriptor. She doesn't use it to refer to African Americans.
- But let's be honest: whatever her intentions, Plath's use of this word is not cool. And by "not cool," we mean: it's racist.
- With that said, these dark berries make a lasting impression on our speaker, as she imagines that they "cast dark / Hooks" into her.
- In the next line, she even imagines that she can taste these sweet berries in "Black sweet blood mouthfuls." Now say that line out loud to yourself. Can you almost feel those berries in your mouth? The heavy alliteration of "black" and "blood" make us feel like we can taste those berries rolling around in our mouths. (Check out "Sound Check" to read more on this.)
- Also, let's be honest: this is a dark, even morbid, way to describe some delicious berries. "Blood mouthfuls"? Our speaker's got death on the mind.
- In the next line, Plath presents us with just one word: "Shadows." Are these the shadows that the speaker sees flying by her from atop her horse? Or are these shadows more metaphorical? Are they shadows of her mind (perhaps summoned by those bloody berries)? Let's keep reading.
- But—before we move along—let's just pause to take in those long em dashes after the words "Hooks—" and "air—": in these dashes we feel the quickness of Ariel's movement. Only these long dashes (and not words) can keep pace with the galloping horse.