Nick and the Candlestick
Poems by Hughes it can be paired with:
Nick and the Candlestick marks a departure from the other poems set for study in that it focuses more on the potential for life and the beauty rather than the destruction of it. By examining that untouched, embryonic beauty, Plath reaffirms her view that social convention is inherently destructive.
The poem begins with a tone of ambivalence; through the ‘miner’ persona Plath establishes a sense of restrictiveness and oppression, as she characterises her womb as an ‘Old cave of calcium.’ She makes the nature of her relationship with her unborn son clear through the visceral imagery ‘A piranha, / Religion, drinking / Its first communion out of my live toes.’ – the child is draining the life out of her. This is juxtaposed with the metaphor of the candle, ‘The candle, / Gulps and recovers its small altitude,’ by which Plath describes nearly losing the child in an affectionate way, and thus begins her shift away from considering her son with ambivalence. Her affection is affirmed by ‘O love, how did you get here?’, while through ‘O embryo’ Plath reminds us of the smallness and fragility of life. The characterisation of the child as ‘ruby’ serves to reinforce the idea that he is small and precious. Building on the affection she has for her son, her direct address to him, ‘The pain / You wake to is not yours’ outlines their co-dependent relationship, as Plath states that she will bear the pain for the child, and that he will be born without such anguish.
Her journey from ambivalence to adoration is completed by the imagery ‘I have hung our cave with roses.’ The lines
‘Let the stars
Plummet to their dark address,
Let the mercuric
Atoms that cripple drip
Into the terrible well,
You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.’
Position Plath and her child against the enormity of the universe, as Plath uses imagery to convey that nothing else matters to her except her pregnancy. The very final line, ‘You are the baby in the barn,’ alludes to the Biblical narrative of the Birth of Jesus to suggest that the unborn child will be a saviour and provide hope.
Ultimately, while Nick and the Candlestick affirms many of the positions Plath held on the nature of feminine identity and the oppressiveness of male-dominated society, it does so by exploring a metaphorical place that is removed from the patriarchy: the intimate and fragile beauty of pregnancy, and the relationship between a mother and her unborn child. When considered alongside her other poems, we see that this moment is raised as an escape from the destructiveness of male-dominated society.