'Mushrooms' by Sylvia Plath

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The Collected Poems1959Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietlyOur toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. WeDiet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, askingLittle or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Fungal Fascination of Sylvia Plath's Mushrooms

Have you ever looked at mushrooms? Really looked at them? Not just as a topping on your pizza or as a psychedelic trip enhancer, but as a living, breathing organism that thrives on decay and darkness? Sylvia Plath did, and she was captivated by the fungal kingdom. In her poem "Mushrooms," Plath delves into the mysterious and mesmerizing world of these spore-bearing wonders, exploring their hidden depths and drawing parallels to human existence.

Background Information

Before diving into the poem's analysis, let's take a quick look at its context. "Mushrooms" was written by Sylvia Plath in November 1960, during a time when Plath was dealing with personal and creative struggles. She had recently separated from her husband, Ted Hughes, and was experiencing writer's block. The poem was published in Plath's posthumous collection, "The Collected Poems," in 1981, two decades after her death.


"Mushrooms" is a three-stanza poem, each stanza consisting of four lines. The poem does not follow a strict rhyme scheme, but it has a musical quality to it that is enhanced by its repetition and assonance. Let's take a closer look at each stanza.

Stanza One

Overnight, very Whitely, discreetly, Very quietly Our toes, our noses

The first stanza sets the scene for the poem, describing how the mushrooms appear "overnight" in a subtle and secretive manner. "Whitely, discreetly, / Very quietly" – the adverbs used here emphasize the mushrooms' unobtrusive nature, as if they are trying not to draw attention to themselves. The use of "our toes, our noses" in the last line creates an intimate and personal tone, as if the mushrooms are intruding upon our private spaces.

Stanza Two

Take hold on the loam, (Again, more quietly) Butterfly, bee, And rotted oak trees

The second stanza expands on the mushrooms' relationship with the environment, specifically with the soil, insects, and decaying trees. The repetition of "more quietly" serves to reinforce the idea of the mushrooms' stealthy existence, and the mention of butterfly and bee suggests a symbiotic relationship between the fungi and the insects. The phrase "rotted oak trees" is particularly interesting as it implies that the mushrooms are thriving on decay and death, a theme that will be explored further in the next stanza.

Stanza Three

We shall by morning Inherit the earth. Our foot's in the door.

The final stanza is where Plath makes the leap from describing the mushrooms to drawing a parallel with human existence. "We shall by morning / Inherit the earth" – this line suggests that the fungi are slowly taking over the world, but it also implies a sense of inevitability and a desire for domination. The last line, "Our foot's in the door," is a metaphor that suggests the mushrooms are on the verge of taking over completely.


So, what does it all mean? What is Plath trying to say with this mesmerizing yet eerie poem?

One interpretation is that "Mushrooms" is a commentary on the hidden power dynamics that exist in society. The mushrooms, with their unobtrusive and stealthy nature, represent the marginalized and oppressed groups who are slowly but surely taking over. The line "Our foot's in the door" suggests that they have found a way to break through the barriers and are now poised to take control.

Another interpretation is that the mushrooms represent the darker side of human existence. The image of the fungi thriving on decay and death suggests a connection to human mortality, while the idea of them taking over the world represents the inevitable march towards death and decay. The mushrooms, in this case, become a symbol for the decay and destruction that humans must ultimately face.

Finally, "Mushrooms" can be interpreted as a celebration of the beauty and mystery of the natural world. Plath's fascination with the fungi is evident in the way she describes their appearance and behavior, and the repetition and assonance create a musical quality that adds to their mystique. The mushrooms become a metaphor for the hidden wonders of the world that are often overlooked or misunderstood.


"Mushrooms" is a haunting and mesmerizing poem that showcases Sylvia Plath's talent for finding beauty and meaning in the most unexpected of places. Through her exploration of the fungal kingdom, she draws parallels to human existence and offers a commentary on the power dynamics and mortality that shape our lives. At the same time, she invites the reader to look at the world in a new way, to find wonder and mystery in the things we often take for granted. So, the next time you see a mushroom, take a closer look. Who knows what secrets it might hold?

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Mushrooms: A Deep Dive into Sylvia Plath's Masterpiece

Sylvia Plath is a name that needs no introduction in the world of literature. Her works have been celebrated for their raw emotions, vivid imagery, and haunting themes. Among her many poems, Poetry Mushrooms stands out as a masterpiece that captures the essence of her style and vision. In this article, we will take a deep dive into this poem and explore its meaning, symbolism, and significance.

The poem begins with a simple yet striking image of mushrooms growing in a cellar. The first line, "Overnight, very / Whitely, discreetly, / Very quietly," sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The adverbs "very" and "discreetly" emphasize the quiet and unobtrusive nature of the mushrooms' growth. The use of the color white also adds to the sense of purity and innocence.

However, as the poem progresses, we realize that there is more to these mushrooms than meets the eye. Plath uses the mushrooms as a metaphor for poetry, which she sees as a subversive force that grows in the dark corners of society. The mushrooms are "soft fists" that "pummel" the air, suggesting a sense of rebellion and resistance. The fact that they grow in a cellar, a place associated with darkness and confinement, further reinforces this idea.

The second stanza of the poem takes a darker turn, as Plath describes the mushrooms as "dumb as old medallions" and "tubular, stemless, / And naked." These images suggest a sense of decay and death, as if the mushrooms are the remnants of something that once was alive. However, Plath also sees beauty in this decay, as she describes the mushrooms as "beautiful" and "silent."

The third stanza of the poem is perhaps the most enigmatic, as Plath introduces the idea of "mycology" and "the study / Of the science of the mushroom." This line has puzzled many readers, as it seems to come out of nowhere and has no clear connection to the rest of the poem. However, some scholars have suggested that Plath is using this line to comment on the nature of poetry itself. Just as mycology is the study of mushrooms, poetry is the study of language and its many forms. By introducing this idea, Plath is suggesting that poetry is not just a form of expression, but also a discipline that requires study and analysis.

The final stanza of the poem brings everything full circle, as Plath returns to the image of the mushrooms growing in the cellar. However, this time, she describes them as "Our / Foot's in the door." This line suggests that the mushrooms, and by extension poetry, are a way of breaking through the barriers that society has erected. They are a way of challenging the status quo and opening up new possibilities.

Overall, Poetry Mushrooms is a complex and multi-layered poem that rewards close reading and analysis. Through the use of metaphor, imagery, and symbolism, Plath explores the nature of poetry and its role in society. She sees poetry as a subversive force that grows in the dark corners of society, challenging the status quo and opening up new possibilities. The poem is a testament to Plath's skill as a poet and her ability to capture the essence of the human experience in all its complexity and beauty.

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