Now at long last, we get the "Ariel" we deserve. Plath's admirers have been waiting a long time, since at least the early 1980s when Ted Hughes first revealed that he had changed the order of the poems in his wife's final manuscript. He had added some poems--the final, freezingly depressing ones--and then re-arranaged the bulk of the book to leave an impression of a woman gone over the brink into a chilling fugue state. Now Frieda Hughes, Plath's daughter, 2 when her mother killed herself, has performed a ritual act of atonement to her mother's memory, and given us the original, "happy" (relatively speaking) ARIEL which we have never been able to see.
At $24,95, the book's a little expensive, but it feels as though money had been spent on its planning and execution, so you don't feel rooked. In one section, the gray paper on which the facsimile materials are printed is easy on the eyes, aiding the eye as it struggles with Plath's numerous emendations. We get the notes Plath wrote for her own use when she had to do that reading at the BBC towards the end, the more-British-than-thou reading we have grown to love and hate at the same time. Frieda Hughes contributes an interesting and contextualizing introduction in which she seeks to reconcile the differing viewpoints of her mother and father--a challenging task, but she's up to it. The book ends up with four of the bee-keeping poems--and another in the appendix, "The Swarm," which Sylvia kept changing her mind about including. Should she leave it in? Take it out? The title is in brackets. Thus the book ends with a hopeful note, with the freshness of Devon instead of the bleak London winter. It ends, pleasantly enough, with the words, "They taste the spring."
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 December 13, 2002
"I am writing the best poems of my life... They will make my name." --Sylvia Plath, on the Ariel poems
It is a pity that Sylvia Plath is so underestimated--most people I know have never heard of her, and those who have dismiss her as an angry feminist who committed suicide. It is a sacrilege to sum up her person so: Plath is one of the most important poets of our century, and Ariel her most important work.
In it one can find the famous poems "Daddy", in which Plath shakes loose her restraints on her resentment for her father, who died when she was young: "At twenty I tried to die/ And get back, back, back to you... But they pulled me out of the sack / And they stuck me together with glue." ; "Lady Lazarus", a commentary of death and disappointment, which reflects her situation with terrible lyricism; and "Fever 103°", which, to me, is almost mocking; and "Ariel", after which the collection is named.
Ariel is fascinating--her skill with words, her wit, her self-control (for she obviously reigns herself in from being too emotional, too confessional, and yet one feels the pain and torment all the same, perhaps even more sharply), her ability to find Just the Right Words, is vivid and brilliant. When I finished Ariel, I was left with a feeling of vulnerability, pain, and enlightenment, as though I had seen what I had been missing all along and felt the absence of self-delusion deeply.
I have always been disturbed by the idea that Plath's creative energy seemed to stream from the destructive void that she felt inside of her soul and shared with the world, with skill and admirable lyricism... and yet I think that this is what made her such a *different*, unique poet. "Dying / Is an art, like everything else." She did it exceptionally well. -- K. Rivera
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 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 September 9, 2003
One day, in the middle of my honors English class, I saw the cover of my friend's poetry book. I remembered to find this title in the library. I happened to be visiting it that day, and I also happened to be doing a poetry project. I searched the dusty shelves of the old building and finally found a grey-covered, but slightly glowing collection of poems by someone unknown to me at that point. When I opened it up, I could see her. I saw who and what Sylvia Plath was.
"Ariel" is my first Plath exposure. I am planning on reading her diary entries and, hopefully, the movie that is based on her life with her husband, Ted Hughes. I cannot wait. I am anxious for one reason: I have never been more affected by a collection of poems than this book. Every line was dripping in her emotion, in her feeling. I was shocked. I was blown away at her passionate hate towards one thing and complete adoration for another. It was beautiful, but sad at the same time.
One poem that stood out to me was "Daddy." In this she expresses her anger towards her father, comparing him to the Nazis. "I thought every German was you." I could just sense her passionate dissapointment and dislike. She really showed us all through this work that she really is one of the classics of this century. Other poems that stood out to me include "Tuilips", "Death & Co." and "Poppies In July."
Bottom Line: By far my favorite poet and this is of course my favorite collection of poetry in existance. (I give it an A+)
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
as the publisher's weekly blurb states, these are not new poems, so don't get swept up in the "what plath fans have all been waiting for...". all of the poems shown here were published in the 1981 edition of Plath's Collected Poems by the devilish Ted Hughes.
So, why this edition? It's interesting to see someone's own manuscripts -- but interesting to whom? Plath fans. people mildly interested in Plath or new to her may feel a strain in deciding which version to read much like a confused customer i helped at a book store once displayed when I tried to explain that there are multiple versions of Leaves of Grass...
But which one should a reader new to Plath read? her version or Hughes's version? A purist (like me) would argue that her version is what to read. But someone interested in Ariel in an academic setting would be best served picking up the Hughes' version.
It is important for readers (academic or not) to realize that editors have often been the unseen geniuses (and villains) behind great works. I'm not calling Hughes a genius -- I'm just suggesting that perhaps both versions can teach us something about Plath -- regardless of our interest level.
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 April 7, 2006
This is actually the third version of the landmark Ariel, the second being the noteworthy British edition which differs in some significant aspects from the American. The new book is of course a radical difference -- based on Plath's last intention insofar as it can be documented, in accordance with now generally accepted rules for scholarly editions.
This text is therefore closed some months before Plath's death, and does not contain the late batch of very tough edged poems where the topic of suicide comes frankly into the open. How she might have collected these is left to guess; they were apparently not intended for Ariel, based on any surviving evidence. Rather, the restored Ariel ends with Plath's remarkable cycle of bee-keeping poems, which provide a deep naturalistic metaphor for personal transformation and survival amongst tough circumstances. Taking on Ted Hughes on his own chosen turf of nature poetry, she gives him a real run for the money in these memorable bee verses, which also harken back to her girlhood and her father's avocation. It does not take a Plath partisan to see the accomplishment of the bee verses as ahead of Hughes at this stage of their commingled development, by more than a photo finish. It leaves the last, more overtly confessional stage of her final months a discreet new phase of experimentation -- which may, or may not be the "Ariel voice" as some call it. That tag now needs be seriously rethought.
The whole subject of Plath and Ariel is open to all kinds of questions and controversies, and here her daughter Frieda weighs in with some commentary appended to this edition. It is refreshing not only for being a new personal perspective, but especially because of her ability to be objectively distanced on the whole subject nonetheless. Simply, Frieda is a new generation and poetic voice in her own right, having already turned in sound, tersely paced work in her Waxworks. Her commentaries on Ariel will not be summarized here; they are worth a new book in their own right and anyone who has followed the Plath/Hughes saga should just sit down and read them straight. This material plus the generous reproduction of actual typescript and examples of Plath's editing add the fifth star to the rating.
The volume as now published is a reminder of the dimensionality of Plath's talent that legend and controversy have obscured. Rage -- harnessed like a racehorse breaking at the bit -- and suicidal illness -- frankly and memorably front and center in the best tradition of the confessional poets -- were there, as important aspects. But there was also sheer poetic inventiveness, suppleness, and a density of imagination that found objective correlatives for the inner world in the outer worlds of nature and human society. The very late, untitled set now cut loose from Ariel was not of course a retrogression, but it can now be seen as a sort of conscious minimalist experiment where certain things are at least temporarily set aside. On its own, the new Ariel brings to mind two earlier, now obscure posthumous collections put together by Hughes -- Crossing the Water and Winter Trees -- major poems after her breakout The Colossus, but pre-Ariel. These too have strong echos of the natural world, the life-cycles of death and rebirth, to which the bee poems now stand as the fully flowered end product -- and intentionally so -- not the accident of posthumous editing.