Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
- She throws us a bone, here, when she lets us know she's thirty years old (that's one of just a few personal details we get in this poem).
- Let's break this one down. She feels like she has hung on to little bits of who she is, like a name and address, but even those have now been taken away from her.
- Notice how she refers to herself as a "cargo boat," too. It's a weird metaphor for sure, but it does remind us of the baggage in line 18 – baggage is a kind of cargo after all. And yet again, she turns herself into an object.
- Here, we slip into the trap of relating this poem too much to Sylvia Plath's life. The year she wrote this poem, she had a miscarriage. Could this metaphor of a cargo boat that lets its contents slip be related to Plath losing her baby? It's important not to project her life on her words, but we have to keep it in mind as a possibility.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
- Goodness, this just keeps getting worse and worse. Now all of her connections to her life and her family and her world – in other words, things she loves – have been "swabbed" away. But how?
- When doctors and nurses prepare your body for surgery, they literally swab it clean with disinfectant. But for the speaker, this washed away her past life, too; it took away her being somehow.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
- It's flashback time. We head back in time, just a little bit, to the moment just before the surgery she is now recovering from. She lets us know she felt frightened and vulnerable, with her skin bare.
- She sees herself back on the gurney, with its green plastic cushions. Now that sounds uncomfortable. But there's something kind of sinister and gross about the image of green plastic.
- We bet anyone who has been in the hospital can relate to these scary, unnerving moments. After all, hospital gowns aren't exactly modest.
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
- As she lay there waiting for surgery, she imagined herself and all of her possessions going under water. She literally feels like she's drowning. That's definitely not good. Or is it?
- We can't know for sure, but our best guess is that the speaker is describing the moment when the anesthesia takes over and she starts to lose consciousness. People call it "going under," and that's absolutely how it feels for the speaker. Again, we've got this unshakeable feeling of emptiness and loss. Her possessions and her identity are slipping slowly away.
- And we're starting to wonder – just what kind of surgery is she having? This seems like some serious business.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.
- The speaker's not actually a nun, right? Right. So then why the metaphor? What in the world is she really saying? Well, a nun leaves everything in her life behind to be close to God, so maybe our speaker has given up everything in her life, too?
- Wait, no. That can't be right. Maybe she's just being sarcastic, using pure in the literal sense of all scrubbed and clean, while inside she really feels just plain awful.
- Either way, the idea of being pure echoes all the stuff she has been saying about the white, silent, clean world around her. But we can't shake the feeling she might be being just a tad ironic, or that there's something else going on here. What do you think?