Literature Annotations


Plath, Sylvia
Barren Woman


Genre Poem
KeywordsBody Self-Image, Communication, Grief, Human Worth, Infertility, Loneliness, Nursing, Patient Experience, Women's Health
Summary

The speaker, the "barren woman" of the poem, describes her state as empty. She likens herself to a deserted space, a "museum without statues," at its center a fountain which, rather than issuing life, recycles its water, which "sinks back into itself." She imagines herself as a mother, but recognizes that "nothing can happen." The only one who pays attention is the moon, silently but ineffectually trying to soothe her. (10 lines)

Commentary

Plath uses the imagery of classical architecture to present a woman who sees herself as cut off from nature because of her infertility. She is like a building, an object constructed by culture from chill stone, where only marble lilies resemble living things. Even her imagination is circumscribed by her barrenness, for imagining motherhood is reduced to imagining an audience and the creation of "a white Nike and several bald-eyed Apollos": her only possible children are statues.

The final image likens the moon, symbol of chastity, to a nurse who, even as she places her hand on the woman's forehead, remains silent and "blank-faced," her caring for this woman clinical and inhuman. Infertility is thus presented in this poem as profound isolation from all other living things. Compare with Plath's other poems on reproduction: Three Women, Heavy Women, Childless Woman (annotated in this database).

SourceThe Collected Poems
PublisherHarper Collins: Harper Perennial
Edition1992
EditorsTed Hughes
Place PublishedNew York
Annotated by Belling, Catherine
Date of Entry 02/27/98
Last Revised 03/03/98