Literature Annotations

Plath, Sylvia
Childless Woman

Genre Poem
KeywordsDeath and Dying, Grief, Human Worth, Infertility, Menstruation, Patient Experience, Women's Health

The speaker, the "childless woman" of the poem, describes the way infertility has rendered her body aimless and horrible. Her womb, like a dried-out plant, "rattles its pod." Her body is a knot, lines turned back on themselves instead of leading to the future, making it unnatural, "Ungodly as a child’s shriek." All her body can produce is the blood of menstruation, which signifies her own death, and a surreal and horrifying landscape "gleaming with the mouths of corpses." (18 lines)


Written a year later than Barren Woman, this poem is a more brutal evocation of the effects of infertility on body self-image. As in the earlier poem, childlessness closes the woman’s body back in on itself, but now, along with the chill moon and white ivory, she introduces the symbolic power of menstruation.

It is the lifeless "rose" (compare with the marbles lilies of Barren Woman), the "mirrors" she spins which capture nothing but her own reflection, and the image of death, which is the only culmination of which her body seems capable. Compare with Plath’s other poems on reproduction: Barren Woman, Three Women, Heavy Women (see this database).

SourceThe Collected Poems
Publisher Harper Collins: Harper Perennial
EditorsTed Hughes
Place PublishedNew York
Annotated by Belling, Catherine
Date of Entry 03/08/98
Last Revised 03/05/08