Book of the Moment: Sylvia Plath’s ‘Ariel’


It’s near-impossible to approach Ariel, without think of the legend of Plath. The legend of her as a beautiful, brilliant poet driven to suicide by her demons and controlling husband. she has come to represent the eternal image of the artist destroyed. I hate to say I expected Ariel to be less powerful than it is, but I did. Plath’s poetry is so meticulously composed it threatens this idea we have of confessional poetry as a cry, a begging for helping and attention, I don’t imagine these as a chaotic, cathartic outpouring of despair, they are more balanced than than that. The title itself means ‘lion of God’ in Hebrew, but also evokes the “airy spirit” in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. To me this is an immediate display of not just power, but a strictly feminine power, connoting Ariel’s control over all of the earth’s elements. Of course, as it was published posthumously, no one but her editors read any of the poems without the knowledge of her suicide tainting them, but Plath gave these poems no weakness, her personas read to me as stronger versions of herself; Lady Lazarus threatens the “eat men like air” while Plath struggled with her own husband’s abandonment and infidelity, the persona in ‘Daddy’ end with the triumphant note “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”

Plath’s suicide is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century, the absence of a note makes is a ambiguous one. We are deprived of even know why she did it, of course we can assume indicators, but the crater she left in the literary world by blowing herself to pieces is one without reason. What we do have is her curtain call, Ariel reads like a women who never expected it to be her last performance, her backstage disappearance, without words, leaves us only with her scenes.


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