on May 15, 2002
Sylvia Plath is one of those poets who seems to loom large as an iconic figure in popular and literary culture. This may be as much due to the details of her life as to her work. But putting the "legend" of Plath aside, I found her book "Ariel" to be quite an intriguing collection of poems.
There are many mentions of death in general and suicide in particular throughout "Ariel." The dark, cutting nature of many of the poems make them feel like glimpses of Plath's inner torment; also, a number of the poems seem to challenge conventions regarding traditional female roles in society. Structurally, many of the poems have an engaging musicality and demonstrate a witty use of rhyme and other effects.
Many of the poems have a grimly playful quality. Plath uses a strange, unsettling constellation of images and allusions: "Mein Kampf," the Ku Klux Klan, rubber breasts, carbon monoxide, schizophrenia, the Vatican, etc. There are some really arresting turns of phrase.
Some of the most striking poems include the following: "The Applicant," a disturbing satire of marriage; "Lady Lazarus," in which she writes "Dying / Is an art"; "Tulips," a horrific vision told by a hospitalized woman (this one is reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilmans' classic story "The Yellow Wall-paper"); "Lesbos," a glimpse into the unfulfilling lives of two mothers; "Daddy," a frightening hate-letter from the speaker to her father; and "Balloons," a playful but edgy poem about balloons.
In the poem "Kindness," Plath writes, "The blood jet is poetry, / There is no stopping it." So many decades after Plath's death, it appears there is no stopping her poetic voice.
on March 21, 2002
There is no doubt that "Ariel" is Plath's most celeberated work.
The poems were written the last months of her life (Before she put her head into an oven) They seem to written with such urgency... as if she despertely wanted to get all of the darkness inside her on paper.
I am terrifyed by this dark thing
That sleeps inside me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.
She wrote and wrote and wrote.... Sometimes three poems a day...But the devil inside continued to consume her...
But it shimmers, it does not stop, and I think it wants me.
The reader feels her pain, her hopelessnes, her desperation, her burdened soul.
A flower left out---Morning has been blackened---Starless and fatherless, a dark water---Plummet to their dark address---And the message of the yew tree is blackness, blackness and silence---If you only knew how these veils were killing me.
Plath's darkest hours are within these poems...the reader can feel her night breath on their skin, feel her quickening heart.
Ted Hughes had left her for another woman, she was stuck in England with two small children, it was the coldest winter on record.
Here's what she says about Ted....
If I've killed one man, I've killed two---
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Plath's verse is gorgeous. Nobody has compared to her imagery yet...or her use of metaphor.
All night your moth -breath/
Flickers among the flat pink roses.
I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow.
Smiles catch on my skin/like smiling hooks.
The beads of hot metal fly, and I,love,I
am a pure accetylene.
My head a moon
Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin.
When she was only 30, Plath put towels under the doors where her children were sleeping, so they would not inhale the fumes...
She then put her head into an oven.
I often wonder why nobody could have helped her with her devil:
not her mother, friends, husband, children, her tarot cards, not even her poetry.
But finally she helped herself.....
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call ....ARIEL/1960
on November 15, 2000
Ariel is a collection of the last poems Sylvia Plath ever wrote. Furthermore, the poems were written during the last months of her life, which were very bleak months indeed. Plath's husband, Ted Hughes, had just left her for another woman, and she was left to watch over her two young children in the middle of a freezing cold winter in a small apartment that was not heated. Because of these circumstances, a lot of the poems included in "Ariel" are depressing; however, the poems are also strikingly beautiful. They show the human condition at its absolute lowest point: hopeless, stark, terrifying.
Plath eventually ends her life by commiting suicide in a dramatic way: sticking her head in an oven and leaving it there. It was her third suicide attempt, and the other two were pretty dramatic as well. Plath addresses these suicide attempts, and how it felt to survive the other two, in one of her most famous poems from Ariel, "Lady Lazarus": "I have done it again./ One year in every ten/ I manage it-/ A sort of walking miracle/ my skin Bright as a Nazi lampshade.../ And I a smiling woman/ am only thirty./ And like the cat I have nine times to die./ This is Number Three./ What a trash/ To annihilate each decade.../ Dying Is an art,/ like everything else/I do it exceptionally well./ Herr God, Herr Lucifer Beware/ Beware./ Out of the ash/ I rise with my red hair/ And I eat men like air."
The Nazi theme continues in Plath's poem "Daddy", in which she accuses her father of being similar to Hitler, and compares her husband to her father as well, writing about how they both had negative influences in her life. "I have always been sacred of you,/ With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo./ And your neat mustache/ And your Aryan eye, bright blue./ Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You-/ Not God but a swastika/ So black no sky could squeak through./ Every woman adores a Fascist,/ The boot in the face, the brute/ Brute heart of a brute like you..../ I was ten when they buried you./ At twenty I tried to die/ And get back, back, back to you./ I thought even the bones would do./ But they pulled me out of the sack, And they stuck me together with glue./ And then I knew what to do./ I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look/ And a love of the rack and the screw./ And I said I do, I do./ So daddy, I'm finally through./ If I've killed one man, I've killed two-/ The vampire who said he was you/ And drank my blood for a year,/ Seven years, if you want to know./ Daddy, you can lie back now."
These are two of the most well-known examples of the bleakness but truthfulness in Plath's poetry. They reach toward the human emotions everyone knows- pain, sorrow, bitterness, lonliness. However, Plath also wrote some humourous and sweet poems which are included in Ariel, including poems about her children and good memories. These poems add a lightness to the book which is otherwise dark and dreary. Although the reader is tempted to hate a book filled with such depressing poetry, no one can resist loving it. This book is, in my opinion, one of the best poetry volumes of Twentieth Century American Literature, and it will find a place in your heart. If you have not read Ariel, I greatly recommend it. Through the autobiographical poems found within it you will connect with Plath's disillusionment and also come to know a great deal about the poetic genius' troubled life and last days.
on July 5, 2000
I just recieved Ariel as a gift by a new friend and was introduced to Syliva Plath and her inner world at the same time. There are some poets who greatly influence others and I am one of those who is influenced By Sylvia Plath in Ariel.She and I share a great many issues and the way she writes so abashedly about her emotions and relationships such as with her father who dies years before her made me pause,think and my eyes fill with the water of emotions. This is the writing of a woman who greatly and desperately wanted the world to know and see her but not by its clouded and confused perspection of her but as she actuially was.a person who simply wanted to project her heart in the world and have it accepted. Every minute detail of life she has filled with emotions in these poems, for she knew well that every experience has an emotional impact on human beings. If you want to think and feel very intensely for the first time or in one of very few times then this book and these poems are for you.
on June 30, 2000
Sylvia Plath and Denise Lermontov were the two most powerful female American poets of the 20th century. When I was in my teens and a "would-be" poet, I had a copy of Ariel that I rarely let out of my sight. She is the queen of angst. I greedily drank the concoction she distilled out of her anger, disillusionment and loathing. I felt the same way towards my parents as she did towards hers. Those who try to soft-pedal these poems and claim they're somehow life-affirming are deluding themselves. These are poems of despair, anguish and hopelesness, probably the most evocative expressions of those sentiments ever recorded. They will not put you in a good mood. These come from the dark night of utter isolation, written by a young, beautiful wife and mother who will soon stick her head in an oven and turn on the gas. They are about as pretty as Auschwitz. If you are looking for poetry that is morally uplifting, look elsewhere. If the paintings of Bosch and Breughel hold some fascination for you and you don't flinch from visions of the damned, then this work will appeal to you. For some reason, I think of Sylvia Plath and Diane Arbus as artistic sisters. Both show us things we probably didn't really want to see, but it's impossible to look away when confronted with the images they depicted. Art is sometimes disturbing. This is one unsettling volume of poetry.
on January 29, 2000
To say that ARIEL is a stunning book of poetry does not seem adequate. Reading ARIEL is like opening a Pandora's box of strange beauties, nightmares, furies, sorrows, and surreal sweetnesses, as in "Morning Song", in which the poet whispers to her sleeping child: "All night your moth-breath/Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:/A far sea moves in my ear." Unlike Pandora's box, there is no hope at the end of Ariel, only "fixed stars" and the moon "staring from her hood of bone".
In ARIEL, Plath seemed to almost shamanistically reach into realities just beneath the surface of everyday life, hauling them to consciousness with a skill almost unequaled in contemporary poetry. ARIEL stands as an unrivaled poetic achievement, written in a mesmerising and indelibly haunting voice.
on November 1, 1999
These poems are scathing and beautiful. It is not a long work, but it requires multiple readings to break into its core. A greatly UNDERrated work that should have won the Pulitzer, I think "Ariel" stands alone much stronger than her Collected Poems, which actually DID win the Pulitzer. The emotions are huge and fiery, and the language is second to none. Plath has an ear for music in language, and shows it wonderfully in "Lady Lazarus," "Daddy," "Fever 103," and "Ariel," where she rides her horse into "the red eye, the cauldren of morning." Brilliant work by a sometimes misinterpreted and mis-categorized writer. Don't read it to wallow in depression-- read it to hear a unique and truly gifted voice. Brava, Sylvia Plath! Your time came too soon.
on April 16, 2001
It may seem like an exaggeration, but I think Ariel really is all about death and its various aspects: physical, emotional, spiritual. The poems are written in a broad, mythic sense that is larger than the author, as if she is speaking from a collective conciousness. They are also poems that can evolve with the reader; they can be outlets for angst or bitterness, they can be read for their viewpoints (such as the title poem, where the speaker seems to be a disembodied spirit) or a facinating and somewhat horrifying portrait of a woman on the brink of suicide. They show the beauty in the darkness of things, and, in my opinion, belong on every poet or poetry-lover's bookshelf.
on December 4, 1999
Some of the poems are difficult to understand the first time, others are like a window where you can watch life. But in the end, all of them come to an understanding of simple things, like a finger cut, and complex ones, like dying. The intensity that run free from the pages, the fire that try to burn your fingertips with every word, and the truth that pierce your hearth, is what it makes this book a jewel.
on May 4, 2002
I first encountered one of Sylvia Plath's poems in my English course at college. I became engaged and decided to buy this book. I wasn't dissapointed. Although I don't like all of the poems, there are some that are really haunting. She always put forth what she though, which is really admirable. They are easy to read. My favorites are:"Daddy" and "Lady Lazarus".