by Sylvia Plath
Stanza 3 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
- Everything here is so impersonal, apparently it makes the speaker feel, metaphorically speaking, like she's a pebble – an inanimate object. She imagines the nurses caring for her like water that rolls and tumbles that pebble, wearing it down, however gently.
- Just like she did before, the speaker erases her own humanity (and the nurses', too) with this combination of metaphor and simile. People become objects. What's so strange about this image is that while it's totally chilling, it's also strangely peaceful and beautiful.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
- The nurses give her injections that make her numb and make her fall asleep. The whole poem seems to be filling up with a kind of numb emptiness. We need another glimpse of those tulips, to liven things up.
- We love the phrase "bright needles" – it's totally scary and beautiful and fascinating all at once. We can imagine her almost enjoying the glitter of the steel, shiny and strong.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
- Finally, a (slight) shift in tone. The numb loss of identity is starting to almost please the speaker – as if she has been set free. She's totally "sick of baggage," tired of the things that were weighing her down. And we can definitely relate to that.
- What's so awesome about this line is that it takes something that sounds awful and almost makes it sound appealing. Okay, maybe not appealing, but at least freeing. You can see what we mean, right? She's lost herself, and that's helping her lose her baggage.
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
- The baggage she wants to leave behind is partly literal: the little black case that she took with her to the hospital. Patent leather is a very shiny, fake leather, and she imagines it looking like a box of pills, which brings us back to that numb, drugged feeling she's been building up for almost twenty lines.
- At this point, it seems like no matter what our poor speaker looks at, it reminds her of her unfortunate circumstances.
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
- And now we take a turn for the dark. There's another kind of metaphorical "baggage" our speaker wishes she could get rid of – her family. That's not so literal, but it's definitely depressing.
- She lists her husband and her child (who are in a photo by her bed) right after the suitcase. It's as if they were just another set of things to carry around, another set of things weighing her down.
- Plus, she's doing it again – turning people into objects. She does it over and over again, turning herself into a pebble, the nurses into water, and her family into pieces of baggage.
- She must be in a really tough spot. She's so alienated, so numb, that even her family, or at least her picture of them, seems like a weight she wants to toss off her back.
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.
- Man, this image is a doozy. She feels the smiles of her husband and child reaching out of the picture frame and sinking into her skin, like "smiling hooks." It's a chilling metaphor for sure.
- Not only does that sound painful, it sounds just plain horrifying. Her life must be pretty awful if the smiles of her loved ones cause her pain.
- In any case, we think this is a brilliant way of making you feel the speaker's suffering, the way even happy things have been twisted into pain and ugliness.