Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)
The sensuousness and concreteness of the poem – the “Black sweet blood mouthfuls” of the berries; the “glitter of seas” – is unmatched in contemporary American poetry. We see, hear, touch, and taste the process of disintegration: the horse emerging from the darkness of the morning, the sun beginning to rise as Ariel rushes uncontrollably across the countryside, the rider trying to catch the brown neck but instead “tasting” the blackberries on the side of the road. Then all the rider’s perceptions are thrown together; the horse’s body and the rider’s merge. She hears her own cry as if it were that of a child and flies toward the burning sun that has now risen.
The sexual implication of this imagery reinforces this reading and develops as well its use in “Purdah.” The female speaker here identifies with the horse, a symbol of masculine sexual potency which, as the arrow, becomes a phallic image that drives into the eye, the circle associated with female sexuality. Far from a desire to transcend the physical, “Ariel” expresses the exultation of a sex act in which the speaker is both the driving arrow and the receiving cauldron. “God’s lioness” in “Ariel” calls upon both strands of the female mythological lioness: as an arrow she is associated with battle. And in her merger with the sun, she absorbs its fertility. Destroyer- creator, masculine- feminine, the spirit with which the speaker identifies in “Ariel” is whole, entire in itself. The fires that burn in honor of and through this spirit are emblematic of its passion and ecstasy.
The difficulty with this poem lies in separating one element from another. Yet that is also its theme; the rider is the one with the horse, the horse is the one with the furrowed earth, and the dew on the furrow is one with the rider. The movement of the imagery, like that of the perception, is circular. There is also another peculiarity; although the poem is nominally about riding a horse, it is curiously ‘substanceless’- to use her own word. You are made to feel the horse’s physical presence, but not to see it. The detail is all inward. It is as though the horse itself was in an emotional state. So finally the poem is not just about the stallion ‘Ariel’; it is about what happens when the ‘states in darkness’ ceases to be static, when the potential violence of the animal is unleashed and also the violence of the rider. This speed is the escape from everyday life. The speed takes her away from the pain of existence of higher, existence. She becomes the portion of universal energy. So it is a kind of movement of the poem from non-existence to existence. That is the important thing about the poem. The darkness of existence is left behind. In this way the poet creates images of limitless speed. God’s lioness is like Blake’s Tyger, angry and full of rebellious strength. The speed is so fast that the poet becomes a part of the horse. The rider and the ridden have become one. God’s lioness is showing the anger and the strength of the God, his energy and his anger. The horse is going so fast that she is unable to catch the horse’s neck. The horse has to pass through the berries, which are like hooks that stop the horse. There’s connotation of blood black, red berries. The stop is only for a short time. The berries, try to hold her back, but she’s pulled forcibly by the energy of speed.
‘Godiva’ according to Irish mythology is a naked lady who rode through the streets of Coventry in order to persuade her husband, the local lord to lower the taxes. She protested against her husband. The poet becomes Godiva as she throws away all her existence and flies away. She becomes united with nature no longer the human. She passes through a wheat field. She becomes the part of the nature. She passes through the wheat field, she has now become a part of the nature. The wheat field seems like a glittering ocean. The child’s cry is the most important song.
“Arrow” stands for movement, whereas “dew” stands for the bright symbol of impermanence or transitoriness. She becomes just a red mist. She falls into a vast cauldron of morning. It renews her life: that is regenerated passing from non- existence to existence. She’s free to live at a higher level of existence. There is transformation through motion. The suicide is not annihilation, but transcendence.
Ariel is the representation of a person caught in the world which denies her humanity by defining her sexuality. As a female, she has no substantial freedom or self- definition. The poem studies the resulting state of mind: we experience how she feels. Descriptions of scenery, for example, tell us not so much how the world looks, as how the world symbolizes her feelings. Not surprisingly, images concerned with the body secure throughout ‘Ariel.’ ‘Ariel’ gives us the world in which destructive feelings and pain are grounded in real causes. As the poem develops, the treatment of these themes became explicit, and is rooted in women’s place in a man’s hostile world. The biological prison, the preoccupation with physical pain and deadness are intimate consequences of a prominent social ordeal. Inexorably trapped, the persona sharpens finds an escape. Her defensive passivity, her search for dissolution into primordial sea and air, lead her forward to a single answer, a single way out.
To treat “Ariel” as a confessional poem is to suggest that its actual importance lies in the horse- ride taken by its author, in the author’s psychological problems, or in its position within the bibliographical development of the author. None of these issues are as significant as the imagistic and thematic development rendered by the poem itself. “Ariel” is probably Plath’s finest single construction because of the precision and depth of its images. In its account of the ritual journey to the center of life and death, Plath prefects her methods of leaping from image to image in order to represent mental process. The sensuousness of the poem- the “Black, sweet blood mouthfuls” of the berries; the “glitter of seas” - is unmatched in contemporary American poetry. We see, hear, touch and taste the process of disintegration: the horse emerging from the darkness of the morning, the sun beginning to rise as the horse, Ariel, rushes uncontrollably across the countryside, the rider trying to catch the brown neck but instead “tasting” the blackberries on the side of the road. Then all the rider’s perceptions are thrown together: the horse’s body and the rider’s merge. She hears her own cry as if it were that of a child and flies towards the burning such that has now risen.
Sharma, Kedar N. "Ariel by Sylvia Plath: Critical Analysis" BachelorandMaster, 25 Nov. 2013, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/ariel.html.