The Stones - Sylvia Plath


The Stones - Stanza 1

This is the city where men are mended

I lie on a great anvil

The flat blue sky circle


'City' is a large impersonal setting

This imagery is used to evoke the operating theatre

> place where the persona feels isolated/anonymous/unknown in a city

'Men' - May alienate the female speaker.

  • alliteration is sinister
  • suggests the fragility of the human form

Could mean people are mended and broken like dolls?

'Anvil' - a steel block on which metal can be shaped

Connotations - of a sacrificial place

She's been waiting to be emotionally and physically shaped and battered back into shape

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The Stones - Stanza 2

Flew off like the hat of a doll

When I fell out of the light.

I entered
The stomach of indifference, the wordless cupboard.


  • The enjambment between the first and second stanza suggests the fragmented/panicked quality of the persona's thoughts, spilling over the regularity of the tercets.
  • The image of the sky flying off ‘when I fell out of the light’ implies there’s been an accident that has caused the speaker to ‘fall’ into darkness - despair?
  • ‘Like the hat of a doll’ implies a passivity/innocence/fragility.
  • ‘The stomach of indifference’ suggests she has been swallowed up in the world of the hospital
  • does the speaker see herself as a victim here?

-a subverted image of a hospital patient who is ordinarily seen as benefitting from hospital treatment.

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The Stones - Stanza 3

The mother of pestles diminished me.

I became a still pebble.

The stones of the belly were peaceable,


A ‘pestle’ is where things are crushed’

  • this connects back to the anvil
  • she feels she has been shattered, diminished, reduced to something small and insignificant
  • ‘a still pebble’ - in comparison to the ‘city’
  • ‘Belly’ refers back to the ’stomach of indifference’
  • we can see logic in these fragmented thoughts - like a stream of consciousness in structure.
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The Stones - Stanza 4

The head-stone quiet, jostled by nothing.

Only the mouth-hole piped out,

Importunate cricket

‘Does mouth hole’ suggests her mouth - is there a part of her trying to get back from having fallen ‘out of the light’ so her mouth calls out for help?

  • The mouth hole is described as an ‘importunate cricket’. Importunate means annoyingly persistent - there’s part of her that wants to live. Is she irritated by this?
  • The enjambment in the next line: ‘quarry of silence’ - quarry has connotations of being forgotten, buried somewhere - as if she has given up, is at peace in those silences, apart from the ‘mouth hole’.
  • Note that she refers to different body parts but not one body - throughout the poem.
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The Stones - Stanza 5

In a quarry of silences.

The people of the city heard it.

They hunted the stones, taciturn and separate,


  • Use of the third person pronoun here (‘they’) suggests the doctors (‘the people of the city’) are different from her - the enemy pulling her back to life?
  • The repeated imagery of stones - which the speaker has likened herself to - suggests a desire for the stillness/lifelessness/passivity associated with them.
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The Stones - Stanza 6

The mouth-hole crying their locations.

Drunk as a foetus

I **** at the paps of darkness.


  • There’s a change here - her body seems to begin to respond to treatment - ‘drunk’ and ‘****’ suggests a desperate grasping at sustenance.
  • ‘Paps’ - soft food that babies/invalids eat.
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The Stones - Stanza 7

The food tubes embrace me. Sponges kiss my lichens away.

The jewelmaster drives his chisel to pry

Open one stone eye.


  • Semantic field of comfort here - ‘embrace’, ‘kiss’, combined with a return to life ‘ ‘food’, ‘chisel’ (being made new) and ‘pry open’.
  • ‘Jewelmaster’ - a doctor? Does she see herself as a jewel to be formed by the doctors or does she see them as manipulating her - and she is unwilling as ‘drives his chisel to pry’ implies force.
  • Voice is passive - ‘food tubes embrace me’, ‘sponges kiss my lichens away’ - is she indifferent to the attempt to heal her?
  • ‘Lichens’ - reinforces her desire to be a stone.
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The Stones - Stanza 8

This is the after-hell: I see the light.

A wind unstoppers the chamber

Of the ear, old worrier.


  • ‘After hell’ - is this positive or negative? Does it mean she has gone past hell and returned or is still a form of hell? (Life). ‘I see the light’ has arguably positive connotations.
  • ‘Unstoppers’ has connotations of a medicine bottle being opened - has her numbness been lifted? Has she been brought back to old worries? - The senses that were numbed by her ‘fall’ are coming back to life.

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The Stones - Stanza 9

Water mollifies the flint lip,

And daylight lays its sameness on the wall.

The grafters are cheerful,


  • ‘Flint lip’ - reminds us that the speaker sees herself as stone, but ‘mollifies’ has connotations of healing/comforting.
  • ‘Daylight lays its sameness’ - assonance here implies she’s been brought back to life - a life of monotony - draws attention to the idea of days passing here in the hospital.
  • ‘Grafters’ - those who are working hard to bring her back to life.
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The Stones - Stanza 10

Heating the pincers, hoisting the delicate hammers.

A current agitates the wires

Volt upon volt. Catgut stitches my fissures.


  • Juxtaposition between the grafters being ‘cheerful’ and the enjambment into ‘the pincers’ - their actions to mend her are torture to her.
  • This stanza - full of the semantic field of suffering/pain - ‘pincers’, ‘hammers’, ‘volt upon volt’ and so on.
  • Whole stanza involves unpleasant and unwanted medical intervention.
  • Stanza ends on ‘fissures’ - image of damage/cracks - a reminder that she’s broken - also like the veins in a stone/flint.
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The Stones - Stanza 11

A workman walks by carrying a pink torso.

The storerooms are full of hearts.

This is the city of spare parts.


  • ‘Pink torso' - shocking/body parts - broken bodies.
  • Use of rhyme in this stanza - implies this is a daily occurrence at the hospital - trying to mend broken women (implied by ‘pink’)
  • To the speaker, the hospital is full of broken people - does she feel they are unable to put her back together?
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The Stones - Stanza 12

My swaddled legs and arms smell sweet as rubber.

Here they can doctor heads, or any limb.

On Fridays the little children come


  • Again - further body parts - doesn't see herself as whole

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The Stones - Stanza 13

To trade their hooks for hands.

Dead men leave eyes for others.

Love is the uniform of my bald nurse.


  • Enjambment from the previous stanza to this one is sinister - does the speaker see everyone as potentially fragile/broken - even ‘little children’.
  • Very sinister, cold, non-human view of the hospital and her nurse who doesn't feel real love but puts it on and takes it off when appropriate without really caring.
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The Stones - Stanza 13

Love is the bone and sinew of my curse.

The vase, reconstructed, houses

The elusive rose.


Has love caused her to ‘fall’? ‘bone and sinew’ suggests that love is at the core of her suffering (‘curse’).

  • Is she the vase? She is repaired, but the cracks are always there, it has left her whole but fragile to another break.
  • Roses - traditional image of love, but it’s ‘elusive’ - does this mean she cannot love, or lacks love, or will never find love, or has suffered because of love?
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The Stones - Stanza 14

Ten fingers shape a bowl for shadows.

My mendings itch.
There is nothing to do.
I shall be good as new.


  • ‘Ten fingers’ - further body parts - she’s been healed, but she still can’t see herself/describe herself as whole.
  • Is she the bowl, ‘shaped’ by the doctors’ simply to hold shadows - connotations of death/despair? Is this what she’s been mended for?
  • ‘My mendings itch’ - suggests the physical itch of wounds, but also her recovery is agitated - an itch is an irritating and constant reminder that the wound is there. She may be physically repaired, but she’s still emotionally fragile.
  • She seems passive - resigned - as if reluctant to be well
  • The final rhyming couplet - has a mournful sound.
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The Stones - ending

Plath itemises parts of the body - belly, head, mouth, torso and dos on. We learn that she ‘fell out of the light’ - a brush with death.

The doctors are determined to achieve a positive outcome. This is conveyed through 2 images in particular - the ‘people of the city’ hunting the stones and the ‘jewelmaster’. These images also produce a new and disturbing idea - the patient wishes to resist the attempts to mend her: her ‘mouth-hole’ cries out as she is being worked on. We might also feel that the attempt to mend her is an assault. The imagery of stones suggests that the staff have a very tough job on their hands to bring this speaker back to life. She is ambivalent about recovery because light is the ’after-hell’. Was the speaker happier when the stones were ‘peaceable’ and quiet?

As the speaker recovers, the hospital seems to become a torture chamber.. It is impossible not to feel that there is something unnatural and sinister about this grotesque ‘city of spare parts’.

To the end of the poem the speaker remains distrustful of those who have treated her. The final phrase seems to be something a nurse might say - it seems trite after the powerful and brutal metaphors earlier in the poem - to end such a poem on a note like this suggests that the people in the city don’t understand her suffering. Ultimately, it ends on an ambiguous note - we cannot be sure that a full recovery is achieved, wished for or even possible.

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