Harriet Walter

  Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath

  performed by Harriet Walter

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Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our 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. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little 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.

Interpretation by Daljit Nagra

The deliberate rhythm of the poem reflects the gradual movement of the mushrooms. The opening four lines have non-stressed endings so we are gently moved forwards at a faster than normal pace.  The internal rhymes are frequent (‘acquire the air’) to heighten the sneaky mood. Each small verse reflects the subject.

When I first read Mushrooms I assumed it was really about immigrants making their surreptitious way into a country. Hence ‘Nobody sees us’ because of their movement by night, or ‘We diet on water’ which suggests their impoverished state. The choice of vegetable is witty as these people are a ‘mush’ in the cabins through which they travel and the places they will have to secretly live in.

Plath herself is an immigrant to Britain. But it doesn’t matter if she did or didn’t mean this, the point is that mushrooms seem metaphorical for, for example, women’s rights and many other issues regarding the powerful and the powerless.

Daljit Nagra’s first collection Look We Have Coming to Dover won the 2007 Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. His poems often relate to the experiences of British-born Indians like himself and employ language spoken by Indian Punjabi immigrants.