I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
from “Metaphors,” Sylvia Plath
It’s one of those poems that I have almost memorized by accident, Plath’s “Metaphors,” a “riddle in nine syllables” I’ve set to many classes of eleventh graders. “What is she talking about?” I’ll ask them, and then sit back to watch their too-cool faces screw up into concentration, as if these exaggerated frowns and squints will somehow figure it out for them. It’s a lesson in metaphors, in tone, in scansion. Someone will interpret a metaphor, someone else will count the nine syllables and nine lines, a perfect square of a poem. If circumstances become desperate, I’ll draw the “melon strolling on two tendrils”–a droll, cartoonish image–on the white board, and let them interpret it. It’s all such fun, and eventually someone has an epiphany.
“She’s pregnant!” he’ll cry confidently, only seconds later starting to doubt. “I mean, right?”
Yet though I’ve taught it dozens of times, I’ve only lived it this once, and I identify more than I thought I would. Not with the last few lines, where the tone shifts from ambivalence (“a means, a stage, a cow in calf”) to dread (“Boarded the train there’s no getting off.”), but to the first few amusing images: the melon, the elephant, the house.
It’s the “ponderous house” that resonates now, just a few days before my daughter’s due date. That word, ponderous, means “heavy and clumsy,” but also faintly echoes its sibling, ponder, both descended a Latin word for “weight.” (This Latin root also gives us pound… I could follow words all day.) How appropriate both are at the moment, when I’m feeling both literally heavy and clumsy, but also thoughtful, prone to pondering the nature of the world I inhabit and compare it to her tiny world, this “house” I’ve become for her these last few months.
We’re waiting for snow up here at Snoqualmie Pass, a maddeningly too-low place where the temperature hovers at 33˚ F, and we alternate between rain and snow daily in this late-autumn season. Everything that can change or die has done so, leaving the forest a familiar dark-green and light-brown, waiting for winter’s transformation. Possibly snow tonight, the weather report says. Probably Monday. Rain again Tuesday. 10 inches of snow Wednesday. We’ll see.
So I find myself again identifying with a forest, as I did six months ago in the Black Forest of southwestern Germany. Then we were waiting, the forest and I, for green-leafed spring and the internal and external signs of life after a tiring first trimester of pregnancy. Now we’re waiting for new seasons. For the clean, cold monochrome of winter, for the sleepless love of new parenting. For this little person I’ve gotten to know by touch to introduce herself to my other senses, and to everyone else. We wait, sometimes patiently, for snow and for her.
I know I’m not the only one waiting, and feel fortunate to have the joy of waiting for something so beautiful. The events of the last 24 hours–Paris filled with terror, death and loss–remind me that we’re all still waiting for peace. Across the world, I have students who cross daily from Germany back to France, the country they call home, and others who’ve spent portions of their childhoods in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, and now watch those places crumbling behind them. And millions of people I don’t know but have seen in countless photos, still walk and sail north and west, fleeing war and devastation, searching for home and safety. We’re waiting. For joy, for peace, for hope. For light.
Advent begins soon, another season of waiting. Never has the prophet Isaiah seemed more accurate, his promises more hopeful. Because we are a people walking in darkness, and we have seen a great light. A light that’s already conquered the darkness, though we can’t always tell. We wait expectantly for a Savior who’s already come, who reminds us that He brings peace on earth, good will toward men.
The snow will fall eventually, and sometime between now and the end of November, Luci will make her appearance. And we’re waiting, all of us, for the light, confident in the strength and love of our Savior.