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Ariel by Sylvia Plath
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Ariel (original 1965; edition 1966)

by Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell (Introduction)

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2,607252,297 (4.08)29
Member:EnriqueFreeque
Title:Ariel
Authors:Sylvia Plath (Author)
Other authors:Robert Lowell (Introduction)
Info:Harper & Row / New York
Collections:Your library, Poems
Rating:*****
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Ariel by Sylvia Plath (1965)

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Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
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 |
It feels like Sylvia Plath’s life overshadowed her literary value; her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar was like a confessional and people tend to read it for all the juicy bits. Ariel is a collection of poems published posthumously, just a few years after her suicide. It is true that we have Plath to think for advancing the confessional poetry form and exploring topics previously taboo like suicide, mental illness and domestic abuse.

I would like to thank Meg Wolitzer’s book Belzhar for pushing me into reading more of Sylvia Plath. The book explores a struggling student that was sent to a private school that put her in a special English class. This class spent the semester journaling and reading Plath, most importantly The Bell Jar but also Ariel. That book made me want to re-read The Bell Jar which I loved but instead decided it was time to give her poetry a go.

However I am very aware that I don’t know how to review poetry let alone a whole collection, so this is more about my experience with this book. I feel like I am becoming a better reader but if you ask me to read out loud I am going to struggle. So I decided this is an issue I needed to work on and I read Ariel to my wife (she read some of it to me as well). This may seem like a romantic and intimate thing to do with your partner but Plath has a way of killing any sexy moods.

I loved the experience but I am struck with a sense that Sylvia Plath might have been a poor choice to begin with. She has a very strong sense of imagery and plays a lot with metaphors; some of which I picked up on but there was some stuff that went over my head. Poetry is meant to be read out aloud and I thought this would help with my understanding as well as develop my skills. However I found it extremely difficult to work out punctuation in these poems. Some sentences span over a few stanzas but my natural impulse was to pause after ever line.

Having said that, this was a wonderful experience and while the poems are often dark and depressing I am glad I shared this moment with my wife. Ariel kind of reminds me of those people on the internet that overshare about their lives and you can’t help but be glued to what they write even if it annoys you. Sometimes I think, that is too much information but Sylvia Plath seems to get to the heart of that raw emotion.

Sylvia Plath was an incredibly intelligent and complex woman; I can’t help being fascinated by her. I want to learn more about her life, and understand the emotion behind her writing. Take for example her poem “Daddy”; there is this anger toward her father as well as some holocaust imagery that I just want to understand. I am going to have to find a biography on Plath’s life because I think this places a big part in her writing. Can anyone recommend me a good biography?

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2014/12/05/ariel-by-sylvia-plath/ ( )
  knowledge_lost | Dec 7, 2014 |
Favorites: Morning Song, The Applicant, Lady Lazarus, Tulips, The Arrival of the Bee Box, Edge. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
Ariel is the collection of poems written in the final months of Plath’s life, as selected and published posthumously by her estranged husband, Ted Hughes. They are of course somber, but have the honesty important for any type of writing, and are executed with skill.

There is a starkness and a pervasive sense of isolation here, and while Plath describes the world around her so well, it’s with detachment and there is a sense that she already has one foot out the door. Many have stared down into the same abyss at varying distances from the edge, and while reading these poems I couldn’t help but feel what a shame this is. Perhaps the depth of feeling and depression are inseparable from Plath and part of what made her great, but it doesn’t make it any less a tragedy.

There are hints of feminism, as in “The Applicant” where she describes the view of a wife, provided she is “our sort of person”: “A living doll, everywhere you look. / It can sew, it can cook, / It can talk, talk, talk.” And in “Lesbos”, to a girlfriend she has other thoughts about, while “doped and thick from my last sleeping pill”, filled with hatred of marital life with an “impotent husband”: “I should wear tiger pants, I should have an affair. / We should meet in another life, we should meet in air, / Me and you.” But then later, sadly: “I say I may be back. / You know what lies are for. / Even in your Zen heaven we shan’t meet.”

Plath speaks through her poems and yet one feels hopelessness and frustration, and the idea that she feels like this line from “The Munich Mannequins”: “Voicelessness. The snow has no voice.” She has not lived up to her own high expectations or society’s; from “Sheep in Fog”: “The hills step off into whiteness. / People or stars / Regard me sadly, I disappoint them.”

The denial of one’s attachment to the world is a recurring theme, starting with “Morning Song”, this about her own babies: “I’m no more your mother / Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow / Effacement at the wind’s hand.” It continues on when she’s part of a group in “The Bee Meeting”, and yet so removed, an isolated observer, starting with a question “Who are these people….”, and ending with another, “why am I cold?” Later in “Paralytic” she writes of her wants and desires gone from the perspective of a paralytic in an iron lung. Everywhere it’s stepping back, stepping back, floating upwards, drifting away.

This ain’t cheery stuff, folks. What was a bit shocking was her “seeing herself” as a concentration camp victim more than once, the ultimate dehumanization, including in the poem “Daddy”, which sears on the page and ends with this line: “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.” Plath’s father died when she was eight and she never got over it, and apparently pours out her anger here not for having been abused in some way, but for the simple fact that he died and left her. I won’t excerpt that one in its entirety, but it’s the poem I would recommend starting with.

Quotes:
On action, from “Years”:
“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.

What I love is
The piston in motion –
My soul dies before it.
And the hooves of the horses,
Their merciless churn.”

On love, from “Elm”:
“Clouds pass and disperse.
Are those the faces of love, those pale irretrievables?
Is it for such I agitate my heart?”

On purity and fragility, from “Fever 103”:
“I am too pure for you or anyone.
Your body
Hurts me as the world hurts God. I am a lantern –

My head a moon,
Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin
Infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive.” ( )
1 vote gbill | Nov 3, 2013 |
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Sylvia Plathprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lowell, RobertForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Young, SarahCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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