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“Ariel” by Sylvia Plath is a collection of poetry by Plath, published by Ted Hughes that provide a glimpse into Plath’s life as she battled depression and suicidal thoughts. The poem was written preceding her suicide and involves themes of death, amd rebirth and captures the mental state of Plath assiduously.
About the Poet
Sylvia Path was an American poet, and writer who suffered from severe depression throughout her life. She was married to Ted Hughes who published most of her poems after her death. She attempted suicide multiple times in the 60s and finally succeeded in 1963. Her poems often instilled themes of Love, Death, Nature, Psychic Disorders, and Electra complex.
The poem “Ariel” is written in free verse also known as blank verse. The poem’s form represents the speaker’s experiences and impulses. The stanzas of the poem consists of three lines therefore it is known as tercets. There are a total of ten tercets in the poem.
Summary and Analysis
Stasis in darkness. Then the substanceless blue Pour of tor and distances.
The speaker is frozen in darkness and then in the next moment the speaker goes through the substanceless blue, that is the sky. As she sees the bright blue sky in front of her, around her she sees hills and mountains in the distance.
The speaker of the poem that possibly is the poet herself, Sylvia Plath. The title is highly significant to the poem, as Plath named her beloved Horse “Ariel” and went on weekly rides ever since she was a student. This provides more context to the poem.
“Stasis in Darkness” can be referred to as the silence before a storm. The speaker is frozen in darkness in the first line of the poem which is immediately followed by the next line which suggests the Horse started running and catched a bolting speed in no time. Moreover, Stasis in Darkness might also refer to the mental condition of Plath at that time. Since Plath suffered from chronic depression most of her life, she often felt frozen in the dark alone. Therefore she rides with Ariel who makes her forget about her worries.
The substanceless blue refers to the blank but blue, boundless sky that she pierces through as Ariel gushes through the wind. The overwhelming blue makes the speaker think as if she is flying. And her surroundings are pouring hills, trees, mountains, and greenery as she passes by. The high velocity makes it look like it is being poured all around her.
God’s lioness, How one we grow, Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow
The Horse, Ariel, is like God’s lioness, so fast and so strong. When the speaker rides her, they become one and grow together. The speaker observes the cautiousness of Ariel as she makes her way through the obstacles and the speaker admires the way Ariel’s knees and heels move.
The speaker describes Ariel as God’s lioness. She strongly believes this animal is more than a Horse, it is stronger and divine. To her it’s not just an animal, but a friend and she can feel them growing together as they ride endlessly. She feels like they are growing into one single entity. Ariel’s strong and fast demeanour makes the speaker feel powerful and confident.
The speaker observes the way Ariel crosses all the hurdles while maintaining her Godlike speed. She is amazed by Ariel’s body, especially her heels and knees, she loves to watch them cautiously move while maintaining the velocity and that too with such grace. She has faith in Ariel and believes each of her steps as they make their way through the furrow.
Splits and passes, sister to The brown arc Of the neck I cannot catch,
The splits and passes are like sister to the arc of the Horse’s neck as they share the same shade of brown. The speaker cannot reach this brown neck, she is losing control. These lines are composed in a way that shows the sudden switch of descriptions, intending to display the loss of control.
The splits and passes that the Horse makes, the indention from the hooves of the Horse are compared to the brown neck of the Horse. The brown arched neck of Ariel and the splits are like sisters as they match in colour. The clear meaning of this comparison is unclear as the next line does not explain the meaning behind it.
It shows the train of thought that was lost as the speaker realised she cannot catch the brown neck of Ariel. She is losing control and is unable to grip onto the neck. There is panic that is visible through the lines of this tercet.
Nigger-eye Berries cast dark Hooks—
Black-eyed berries that the speaker noticed while riding, cast dark hooks into her mind. It also refers to the darkness as the sun is setting. The word “nigger-eye” does not refer to the racial slur but simply to the dark colour of the berries.
The poem’s tone switches to more spiritual and metaphorical from these lines onwards. The “Nigger-eye berries” refer to Wild Blackberrries that the speaker notices while riding on Ariel. These berries bring the speaker and Ariel closer to nature with their “hooks”.
These dark hooks cast darkness into her mind. It also refers to the darkness around her as she is riding Ariel and the sun is about to set.
Black sweet blood mouthfuls, Shadows. Something else
The berries must leave the black sweet blood inside her mouth if she attempted to eat them. Shadows, she notices them around her, or is it something else?
The speaker uses dark imagery in these lines as she imagines eating the Nigger-eye berries, that is the blackberries. She describes the sweetness of the berries that will spread thoroughly across her mouth, it will be black because the berries are black. And it will taste like blood. This cautions the readers as it ignites a feeling of uneasiness.
The speaker herself might be in danger as she mentions blood in these lines along with some shadows that she notices. She is unsure if it’s just the wind and shadows or something else entirely. As mentioned in the previous lines, she is not in control of the situation.
Hauls me through air— Thighs, hair; Flakes from my heels.
The “something else” is now hauling her through the air. She is being carried atop as her thighs and hair are being pulled out and the flakes of her heels are falling apart. She is being controlled by something whilst she is riding the horse.
The speaker does not precisely tell what the “something else” means, but she describes how she is being controlled by this power. It is hauling her through the air, against her will. Her thighs and her hair are being lifted up as she is riding, almost as if she is falling over. Her feet, moreover, are flaking from the bottom.
Feet are the only transportation facility that is available and in control of the speaker which is now being flaked away. She has completely lost control over the situation, over the horse, and now even over herself.
White Godiva, I unpeel— Dead hands, dead stringencies.
White like Lady Godiva, the speaker describes she is unpeeling like Godiva. Her hands are dead and dead stringencies. She is in a way shedding herself and becoming something new.
The speaker mentions the colour “white” which is completely contrasting from the previous image of black and darkness.
She then in the next line alludes to the historical figure of Lady Godiva. A noblewoman who travelled naked on a horse to prove her devotion towards her husband. The speaker compares herself to Lady Godiva as she is riding a horse and slowly peeling away metaphorically.
This dangerous ride that the speaker was experiencing is quite freeing. She is free from her dead requirements She is slowly shedding the person that she was and is becoming something new.
And now I Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas. The child’s cry
And now the speaker is transforming herself from a foam to wheat, becoming a part of nature, a glitter of seas. And she hears the child cry.
The speaker thinks that this ride is life changing as she feels herself changing in ways. She describes her change from foam to wheat as she is shedding her old self and becoming one with nature. She feels like a glitter of seas, a sparkling light of the ocean.
As she rides away with her changed self, a child’s cry falls on her ears. So far in the poem, there are no other characters mentioned. This suggests that the child came unexpectedly into the scenario and is vital in the speaker’s life.
Melts in the wall. And I Am the arrow,
The cry of the child melts into the walls and the speaker is like an arrow darting through the sky and becoming one with nature while she ignores the cry of the child.
The speaker discerns the cry of a child while she feels the glitter of the sea. Although she is able to hear the cry, she chooses to ignore it as it melts in the wall. It disappears from her mind and senses.
She is only focused on the current situation, that is her change as she rides. And she feels like an arrow, darting through the substanceless blues along with Ariel. They have grown much stronger together.
This cry of the child might refer to a cry of her own baby that she is weary of and wants to run away from. It might also refer to the miscarriage that Plath had, the child that was lost by her and the one she craved for.
The dew that flies Suicidal, at one with the drive Into the red Eye, the cauldron of morning.
As she rides on Ariel, bolting into the sky, the dew flies around her on her Suicidal ride. Driving into the red.
The speaker notices the dew that flies around her as she rides Ariel. Her ride she describes as suicidal. This suicide might ever to the killing of her past self. She let go of her past self, and is carelessly riding on her horse with high velocity where she is not in control. Therefore, the ride is suicidal as well.
Ariel and the speaker drive into the red eye, the cauldron of morning. They are driving directly into the sun as a new day is beginning. The speaker sees this bright red like an eye where Ariel is taking her. And the speaker willingly lets her take her into her new life as she propels herself into the rising sun, that is the red eye.