Heavy Women

Plath, Sylvia

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine
  • Date of entry: Mar-08-1998


The poem, spoken by an outside observer, produces an idealized image of pregnancy, of "heavy women" in a state of serene satisfaction with their state, "beautifully smug / As Venus," while in "each weighty stomach" a secret is developing in the dark: "the small, new heart." These pregnant women, though, are suspiciously unreal. Plath likens them to works of art, Madonnas attended by cherubs in Renaissance paintings. As ideals, these women "step among the archetypes" of motherhood.

By invoking these archetypes, especially in the pregnant women's hoods of "Mary-blue," Plath also hints at the pain associated with all motherhood: "the axle of winter" which "grinds round," and which will bring the star, and the wise men, and also the likelihood of suffering and loss. While the calm pregnant women are far away from it now, as they wait, Plath implicitly warns that pregnancy is a temporary state and that what follows is irrevocable and can be terrible. (21 lines)


The heavy women are disturbing in their lack of individuality and in the fragility of their calm, despite the skill with which it is evoked. It is ironic that while in Barren Woman and Childless Woman, Plath presents infertility as a diminishing of the natural, she here describes pregnant women as cultural constructs, too--as bound to archetypes which are both seductive and dangerous. Compare with Plath's other poems on reproduction: Barren Woman, Three Women, Childless Woman, (see this database).

Primary Source

Crossing the Water


Harper & Row

Place Published

New York 1971