“Ariel” by Sylvia Plath

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Ariel

“Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.

God’s lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees!–The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Nigger-eye
Berries cast dark
Hooks—-

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Shadows.
Something else

Hauls me through air—-
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

White
Godiva, I unpeel—-
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child’s cry

Melts in the wall.
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies,
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.”

-Sylvia Plath

The first line of the poem is the inhalation, the calm before the storm. Everything is still for a moment before the world is full of mountains and distances. The next three stanzas describe the narrator (Plath) riding her horse named Ariel through blackberry brambles. At stanza six, something else pulls her from the horse and peels her from what she was, the strictness of her flesh form disappearing. She leaves behind wheat, sea, and a child’s cry, and flies like an arrow in to the dawn.

The first subject worth examining is the name Ariel. Although Ariel was the name of Plath’s horse, there are many other connotations that go along with the title. Ariel is also and angel knows as the “lion of God”, which explains the line “God’s lioness”. Ariel is also known as the angel of healing and new beginnings. Although the movie was not made until many years later, the Disney adaption of Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid named the little mermaid Ariel.

Although this poem was not based on the movie, it is entirely possible the name choice in the movie was based on this poem. In the real Hans Christian Anderson version, the little mermaid eventually gives her own life so that she may have an eternal soul and turns into sea foam, signifying that all of her earthly sins had been forgiven and that she was allowed to have a new start. Perhaps it was a writer for disney that read this poem and pulled the name.

Another interesting section is the stanza that refers to the black berries and the subsequent stanza. The brambles have sharp prickers that reach out to try and grab her and keep her there… but what does the “blood” stand for? At one point Plath did have a miscarriage and this could be a metaphor for it. This “blood” could actually be blackberry juice from “crushed fruit”, which would symbolize a pregnancy gone wrong. The shadows follow her like haunting memories.

From there on symbolizes rebirth. She goes from the free feeling of riding her horse to a whole new level of freedom as she is swept up and away, away from the dark blood. The color white is a symbol of being pure and renewed, free of anything and everything, as Lady Godiva freed herself from the societal expectation of being clothed.

The next section could actually refer to child’s birth. The wheat refers to fertility and then the ocean birth. There is the crying of a child, but she ignores it. Instead she frees herself from everything, even the duties of a mother, and lets herself loose. The very end can be taken two different ways. She could be referring to committing suicide, or reaching a state of higher awareness, depending on how the reader chooses to interpret.

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