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Ariel - Poems by Sylvia Plath by Sylvia…

Ariel - Poems by Sylvia Plath (original 1965; edition 1965)

by Sylvia Plath

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Title:Ariel - Poems by Sylvia Plath
Authors:Sylvia Plath
Info:Harper & Row, Publishers (1965), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:poetry, classic

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Ariel by Sylvia Plath (1965)



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Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Ariel, the collection of poems I read this week, was a book I found at Half-Priced Books, along with some other works by Plath. I have been interested in Sylvia Plath's novel and writings since I was in high school. I was a little afraid that I might have tended towards The Bell Jar in high school because it just SPOKE to me, and that I would be disappointed in this collection. I sincerely hope that is not the case, because I plan to re-read The Bell Jar this year as an adult, but I must admit, I wasn't impressed with Ariel. Some of the poems were wonderful, but most of them weren't my style. On the other hand, you can tell that Plath was severely depressed as she wrote them, and they certainly broke my heart that such a bright mind could succumb to such a dark place. It truly can effect anyone, and Plath was no exception.
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  pennylane78 | Jun 6, 2016 |
My copy of the originally published version of Ariel has been a dear companion to me for many years, but this was my first time reading the edition put together as Sylvia intended it. I read the facsimiles of her original manuscript and it was thrilling to see it *exactly* as she'd put it together. She's my very favourite writer and one of the biggest influences on my own poetry, so it was, as always, an intense and affecting experience to read her. I hadn't written anything in a week before reading this, but I immediately wrote two poems of my own afterwards. It was also a very rough day for me emotionally, and reading such dark poems made me feel a little less alone. ( )
  selfcallednowhere | Jan 16, 2016 |

O God, I am not like you
In your vacuous black,
Stars stuck all over, bright stupid confetti.
Eternity bores me,
I never wanted it.


Extraordinary, isn’t she? I was captivated by the poems in Ariel and am in agreement with others who view this collection as a masterpiece. For even when I came across a poem I didn’t fully understand, I could still sense the power within the words of Sylvia Plath which are precise, explosive, darkly beautiful.

In the afterword to Ariel author biographer Hal Hager notes the “paradoxical union of the self-destructiveness and creative energy that was the core of (Plath’s) personality”. This is especially evident in poems such as Lady Lazarus or Tulips that recall personal trials with attempted suicide or hospitalization. Plath’s metaphors in general are frequently stark; for example, her use of Nazi imagery in Daddy or the way she seeks out the hurt within an otherwise beautiful thing, as in this poem about poppies:

Little poppies, little hell flames,
Do you do no harm?

You flicker. I cannot touch you.
I put my hands among the flames. Nothing burns.

(Poppies in July)

And yet there are glimpses of love and joy in her poems too. Sylvia Plath drew inspiration from motherhood and wrote some heartwarming poems to and about her children; for example, You’re and Morning Song with its most endearing of opening lines (“Love set you going like a fat gold watch.”) In Balloons she captures the sweetness of the “guileless and clear /oval soul animals” floating about the house after the holidays. Even in Nick and the Candlestick, a poem for her son that is more typical Plath in its imagery, there is a touching tenderness. She writes to her son:

O love, how did you get here?
O embryo

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

In you, ruby.

(Nick and the Candlestick)

Just prior to her death in 1962 Sylvia Plath took up beekeeping, a fact which I found fascinating. Her father Otto Plath (of Daddy fame) had been a well-known entomologist at Boston University and was considered a bee expert in his field, which likely accounted for some of her interest. This new pastime formed the foundation for a series of bee poems clustered at the center of Ariel. The poems are quirky, unconventional, and at times humorous, and show another facet to her personality. They may be my favorites of the entire book. Here she writes of the newly arrived bee box:

I lay my ear to furious Latin.
I am not a Caesar.
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.
They can be sent back.
They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.

(The Arrival of the Bee Box)

In another passage she expresses so perfectly the curiosity of a woman trying to relate to her all female hive of bees (“Will they hate me/ These women who only scurry/ Whose news is the open cherry, the open clover?”). The entire collection left me in full appreciation of the genius that was Sylvia Plath. It is a pity to think we lost her at only 30 years of age to the suicidal depression that had haunted her for most of her life. Highly recommended for all lovers of poetry.

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1 vote averybird | Dec 28, 2015 |
I love Sylvia Plath's long, thin poems. Although often dark, death-obsessed and sometimes nasty, I love the way she makes the ordinary feel quite extraordinary with her great artistic way with words. Although many of the poems seem very strange, if you know anything of Sylvia Plath's life, they can also be seen as quite autobiographical. Her preoccupation with her lost father can be seen in Daddy and in her bee-keeping poems. Her suicide attempts are explored in poems like Edge and Lady Lazurus. Marriage is examined in The Applicant and motherhood is in poems like You're and Morning Song. I studied Sylvia Plath as a teenager and still find enjoyment and further discoveries when reading Ariel. ( )
  AmiloFinn | Jun 13, 2015 |
Back in December I pledged my intent to bring poetry back into my life. Poetry was something I read much more of in my late teens and early twenties, but it is a habit that I grew out of somewhere along the line. Perhaps because of my own youthful flirtation with poetry part of me associates it with grumpy teenagers wallowing unsociably in back bedrooms.

Back then, still living at home, typically monosyllabic and unimpressed by life, I read Sylvia Plath’s autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, following that up with Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams – I may have to revisit these books one day – they made an enormous impression on me at the time. I went on naturally enough to read some of Sylvia Plath’s poetry – I always found it challenging – but there was so much in the imagery of her language that spoke to me back then, that Sylvia Plath has remained somewhere at the back of my mind ever since. A couple of months ago – I treated myself to a lovely little hardback copy of Ariel – I suspect I once had a paperback copy at some time but where these old books disappear to nobody knows.

I am very aware that I haven’t a clue how to review collections of poetry – I have never done so before. Perhaps all I can do is share some of Sylvia’s beautiful imagery – and some of my own thoughts about it.

Ariel; published posthumously in 1965, two years after Plath’s suicide – was her second collection of poetry – and it is deeply personal, often intimate, and frequently challenging. Her themes are those of marriage and motherhood, sexuality, depression, death and suicide. Plath’s poetry is lyrical and though often dark there is a strange luminosity to many of her images.

“The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed in
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anaesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are”
(from Tulips 1961)

Hospitals feature several times, not surprisingly – and I do love how Plath captures the white, stillness and other worldness of a hospital room. The speaker has yielded her identity to the nurses and doctors, the violent colour of the tulips – presumably a gift – interrupting the white calmness of the hospital environment.

One of her most famous poems ‘Daddy’, with its images of war and holocaust appears an angry railing against her father, a Nazi sympathiser who died when she was a child – scholars apparently differ on just how biographical it is.

“Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time ”

(From Daddy)

Probably her most famous poem in this collection is Lady Lazarus, a poem I must have read dozens of times in my teens. It is a poem that talks about Plath’s own previous suicide attempts, and her subsequent resurrections, it is also another poem containing images of the holocaust – looking back I find myself a little disturbed at my seventeen year old self’s fascination with it.

“I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it –”
(From Lady Lazarus -

I particularly discovered, how one reads poetry entirely differently to prose – I hadn’t thought about that much before, but it is inevitable though; poetry is such a different art form. I enjoyed dipping in and out of this collection, most of the poems I had to read over and over – allowing the language and the imagery to wash over me. I realise I probably chose a quite challenging collection to begin my renewed poetry reading – but I enjoyed the challenge, although I don’t pretend that I understood completely every word – sometimes I suspect I only gained a vague sense of what lies behind Plath’s words. I have to admit that the title poem Ariel remained a frustrating enigma – despite re-reading it countless times – I looked it up on Wikipedia for some enlightenment – it’s about a horse.

One of my favourites – another one concerned with death – is Edge – it isn’t cheery stuff, although strangely perhaps I don’t find it depressing – but the imagery is perfect, the lines flow into each other effortlessly.

The woman is perfected.
Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare

Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.
(From Edge -1960)

Sylvia Plath was a complex, intelligent, damaged woman, and this is very much reflected in her poetry. ( )
2 vote Heaven-Ali | Mar 9, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sylvia Plathprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lowell, RobertForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Young, SarahCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Frieda and Nicholas
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Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060931728, Paperback)

Sylvia Plath churned out her final poems at the remarkable rate of two or three a day, and Robert Lowell describes them as written by "hardly a person at all ... but one of those super-real, hypnotic, great classical heroines." Even more remarkable, she wrote them during one of the coldest, snowiest winters (1962-63) Londoners have ever known. Snowbound, without central heating, she and her two children spent much of their time sniffling, coughing, or running temperatures (In "Fever 103°" she writes, "I have been flickering, off, on, off on. / The sheets grow heavy as a lecher's kiss."). Pipes froze, lights failed, and candles were unobtainable.

As if these physical privations weren't enough, Plath was out in the cold in another sense--her husband, Ted Hughes, had left her for another woman earlier that year. Despite all this (or perhaps because of it), the Ariel poems dazzle with their lyricism, their surprising and vivid imagery, and their wit. Rather than confining herself to her bleak surroundings, Plath draws from a wide array of experience. In "Berck-Plage," for instance, clouds are "electrifyingly-coloured sherbets, scooped from the freeze." In "The Night Dances," the poet stands crib-side, reveling in her son's own brand of do-si-do: "Such pure leaps and spirals--Surely they travel / The world forever, I shall not entirely / Sit emptied of beauties, the gift / Of your small breath..."

Though at times they present the reader with hopelessness laid bare, these poems also teem with the brightest shards of a life, confounding those who merely look for the words of a gloomy, dispassionate suicide. Plath rose each morning in the final months of her life to "that still blue, almost eternal hour before the baby's cry" and left us these words like "axes/After whose stroke the wood rings..."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:47 -0400)

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An acclaimed anthology of vivid and emotionally shattering poems, written during the last months of Plath's short life, is accompanied by a brief author profile and an incisive foreword by Robert Lowell.

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