"Mushrooms" by Sylvia Plath

Like her contemporary Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath's reputation proceeds her as a female confessional poet who eventually died by suicide. She seems to be most frequently remembered for "Daddy" or for her novel The Bell Jar, but the first Plath poem that really thrilled me with its language was "Mushrooms."

You can make of the metaphor what you like (as with any poem). The thrill, for me, is in the juxtaposition of the visual images—mushrooms being innocuously ignorable in one moment and seemingly everywhere in the next, with a surprising power that "even the paving" can't stop—with the very playful, almost dully pleasant language (it's "bland-mannered," as she says) that somehow transmutes into chant-like proclamations toward the end of the poem, and then finally resolving with three emotionless but chilling statements of fact: "Our kind multiplies: / / We shall by morning / Inherit the earth. / Our foot's in the door."

Some notes:

  • Emphasis with short lines of brief words
  • Enjambment used to speed up the poem's pace, but controlled somewhat by the capitalization of first lines
  • Sense of exponential growth provided by 3-line stanzas with 5 beats per line (one with 4 beats)
  • Repetition: our/us/we, "we are," "less" (earless, eyeless, voiceless), "nudgers and shovers"
  • take, air, betrays, grains make, paving, tables
  • fists insist, discreetly
  • spite, multiplies, kind, overnight, whitely, quietly, acquire, widen, diet
  • we, discreetly, sees, heaving, needles, leafy, even, earless, meek
  • morning, door, shoulder
  • toes, noses, hold, loam, shoulder through holes
  • room, foot's, door
  • very, bedding, shelves, edible, ourselves, inherit
  • hammers, rams, crannies, shadow, bland-mannered, asking
  • heaving, bedding, paving, asking, nothing, morning
  • All the ways that verbs twist and turn in this poem, giving the sense of both observation and lived experience—take hold, acquire, sees, stops, betrays, make room, insist, heaving, widen, shoulder through, diet, asking, are, multiplies, shall inherit. And the contracted "is" in the last line: "Our foot's in the door."

After spending time with this poem, I can see that the phrase "nudgers and shovers" influenced my own poem "Orientation."