Analysis of the Poem Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Analysis of the Poem Ariel by Sylvia Plath

The title of the poem Ariel by Sylvia Plath, is very significant for the comprehension of the poem. It has different interpretations.

1- Ariel is the name of the poet’s horse. Plath rides a horse named Ariel, and the poem is often interpreted as describing an early morning horseback ride. However, Ariel carries additional layers of meaning, contributing to the poem’s complex symbolism.

2- In “The Tempest,” William Shakespeare portrays Ariel as a spirit of the air, which serves the magician Prospero. Ariel is a character in the play. This association brings forth ideas of freedom, air, and transformation.

3- Additionally, Ariel has a biblical origin and is an alternate name for Jerusalem. It is sometimes associated with the archangel Uriel.

4- In Hebrew, Ariel means “Lion of God.” This adds another dimension to the poem, hinting at spirituality, divinity, and power.

The name Ariel in Plath’s poem is a rich symbol. It evokes themes of liberation, transformation, and spiritual awakening. It is important to note that readers and critics have interpreted “Ariel” in various ways. These interpretations may shift the focus from the literal horse to the more abstract concepts.

Line-by-Line Analysis of the Peom Ariel by Sylvia Plath
Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.
Stasis
It refers to a lack of movement, while “darkness” suggests a lack of light and hope. Together, they convey a sense of inertia and depression, as if the speaker is trapped in unchanging darkness.
substanceless blue
It could be the sky, which appears to have no substance. It also represents a sense of emptiness or intangibility.
 then
The word suggests a transition from darkness to the sky’s more open and airy feel. It indicates a potential change or movement.
tor
It is a rocky hill or peak, often found in landscapes like the English moors. 
Pour
The word implies a flowing motion as if the landscape itself is in motion or the speaker is experiencing a sense of movement.

Distances

This can be understood as the vastness of the landscape or a metaphor for emotional or psychological distance.

These lines depict a shift from stasis and darkness to motion and openness. It also reflects the speaker’s emotional journey. She is about to begin the process of transformation.

God’s lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow

God’s lioness

Referring to Ariel as “God’s lioness” elevates the horse to divine or spiritual status, emphasizing its power and majesty. This phrase also refers to the meaning of Ariel, which is “Lion of God” in Hebrew. By connecting the horse to a divine figure, Plath implies that the experience of riding Ariel is transcendent and transformative.

How one we grow

This line suggests unifying the speaker (the rider) and the horse, Ariel. As they ride together, they become one entity, moving in harmony. This unity represents a deep connection and a sense of freedom for the speaker, who is escaping the constraints of her everyday life.

Pivot of heels and knees! 

This line refers to the physical act of riding a horse, where the rider’s heels and knees are crucial in maintaining balance and directing the horse’s movements. The exclamation mark indicates the speaker’s excitement and exhilaration in this moment of motion. 

The furrow

The furrow refers to the path or trail they create as they ride through the landscape. It also highlights the physical impact of their journey.

Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

In these lines from Sylvia Plath’s poem “Ariel,” the speaker continues to describe the experience of riding the horse and the dynamic landscape around them. 

Splits and passes,

Splits’ suggests a division or separation, while “passes” implies movement. This line could refer to the landscape dividing and shifting as the speaker rides through it.

Sister to

This indicates a connection or relationship between the elements described in this line and the following ones.

The brown arc

This phrase refers to the curve of the horse’s neck, which is likely brown. The word “arc” highlights the shape and movement of the horse’s neck as it gallops.

Of the neck I cannot catch,

The speaker describes her inability to catch the horse’s neck, which could represent the difficulty of fully controlling the horse. This line emphasizes the power and autonomy of Ariel, as well as the fleeting nature of the moment. It also shows the inability of the speaker to hold things.

Nigger-eye
Berries cast dark
Hooks—

The term “nigger-eye” was used to describe the appearance of dark berries in the landscape, but such language is inappropriate.

The description of the berries with this term suggests their darkness in colour and possibly their shape or size. However, using this term can be offensive, reinforcing negative racial stereotypes.

In the poem, the dark berries are the symbols or elements of the landscape the speaker encounters while riding Ariel.

These berries, with their dark hooks, may represent entanglement or danger, contrasting with the freedom and fluidity experienced by the speaker during the ride.

This contrast adds an element of tension and complexity to the poem. The landscape and its components reflect the speaker’s inner emotional state and transformative journey.

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Shadows.
Something else

In the poem “Ariel,” the speaker describes a vivid and intense experience. The poem is known for its surreal and confessional nature.

Black sweet blood mouthfuls

This line continues the description of the dark berries, emphasizing their sweetness and juiciness as if they were mouthfuls of blood. The imagery of blood could be interpreted as representing vitality and life, or it might symbolize violence and intensity.

Shadows.

The mention of shadows adds an element of darkness or mystery to the poem. Possibly it reflects the speaker’s inner emotional state or the uncertainty of her transformative journey.

Shadows often symbolize hidden aspects of oneself. It suggests the speaker might confront her internal struggles as she rides through the landscape.

something else,

The speaker describes an external force that propels them through the air. Certainly, this force is mysterious, referred to as “something else,” suggesting that it is beyond the speaker’s comprehension.

Hauls me through air—
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

Hauls me through air

This line indicates that the speaker is pulled by this force rather than moving under her power. This conveys a sense of helplessness, as she is at the mercy of this force.

This mysterious force has different interpretations.

It represents an emotional or psychological force that compels the speaker to move forward. For instance, it could symbolize the inner turmoil, personal struggles, or mental health issues that Plath herself faced.

This force can also be seen as the creative impulse, pushing the speaker (and Plath) to explore the depths of their psyche and give voice to their experiences through poetry.

The image of being “hauled through air” also conveys a sense of speed, urgency, and disorientation. It suggests that this force is sweeping away the speaker. She cannot control its direction.

This evokes feelings of vulnerability, as the speaker must surrender to the transformative power of this mysterious force, whatever it may be.

Thighs, hair;   

This line focuses on the physicality of the experience, highlighting the speaker’s body as they are being propelled through the air. “Thighs” and “hair” refer to vulnerability and exposure.

Flakes from my heels.

This line evokes an image of the speaker shedding something as they move forward. The “flakes” could symbolize the identity that she is leaving behind.

This line also creates a sense of movement and speed, as the “flakes” seem to be falling away quickly.

White
Godiva, I unpeel—
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

These lines from Sylvia Plath’s poem “Ariel” contain vivid imagery and references to both history and mythology.

The word “White” can represent various things: purity, innocence, a blank canvas, or even the cold light of morning. It can also be seen as a contrast to the darker elements of the poem, such as the “black sweet blood mouthfuls” mentioned earlier.

Godiva, I unpeel—

The reference to “Godiva” invokes the story of Lady Godiva, an English noblewoman. She rode naked through the streets of Coventry to protest the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband on the townspeople.

In the poem Ariel by Sylvia Plath, the speaker’s identification with Godiva suggests a sense of liberation and defiance. The word “unpeel” is a metaphor for revealing one’s true self. 

Dead hands, dead stringencies.

In this line of the poem Ariel by Sylvia Plath, the speaker continues describing her transformation and liberation process. The phrase “dead hands” might symbolize the constraints and obligations holding the speaker back.

These “dead hands” also represent past influences that no longer serve the speaker as she undergoes this transformative experience.

“Stringencies” refers to strictness, rigid rules, constraints, or limitations. These can be societal expectations or psychological barriers restricting the speaker’s freedom, creativity, and emotional growth.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child’s cry
The speaker describes a metamorphosis in these lines, turning from “foam” to “wheat.” The “foam” refers to the sea, often associated with mystery.
The transformation to “wheat” suggests a connection to the earth, growth, and fertility. This change signifies the process of self-discovery the speaker is experiencing.

The phrase “a glitter of seas” evokes the image of sunlight reflecting off the ocean’s surface, creating a sparkling effect. This image also symbolizes hope, light, and clarity amidst the intense and mysterious journey.

The child’s cry
This line introduces a new element to the poem Ariel by Sylvia Plath: a child crying. This can represent several things in the context of the poem:

1- Innocence and vulnerability
A child’s cry often symbolizes innocence, vulnerability, and a need for protection. This cry in the poem might signify the speaker’s feelings of vulnerability or emotional exposure during their transformative journey.

2- Connection to the past
The child’s cry also connects to the speaker’s childhood or past experiences, suggesting that their transformation is mandatory for reconciling with the past.

3- The birth of a new self
Additionally, the child’s cry symbolizes the birth of a new identity as the speaker undergoes a metamorphosis.

Melts in the wall.
And I
Am the arrow,
The cry melting in the wall also symbolizes the merging of the past and present or the blending of different aspects of the self. 

And I / Am the arrow,

In these lines of the poem Ariel by Sylvia Plath, the speaker identifies herself as an arrow, a powerful symbol of purpose, direction, and momentum. This metaphor represents the speaker’s sense of forward movement and determination during her transformative journey.

As an arrow rushes forward by an external force (such as a bow), it also suggests that an external or internal force drives the speaker. 

The dew that flies
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red
Eye, the cauldron of morning.

The dew that flies / Suicidal

The description of dew flying “suicidal” creates an image of the dewdrops consumed by the sun’s heat in the morning, evaporating into the atmosphere.

The word “suicidal” emphasizes that the dew vanishes entirely, losing its identity as it merges with the atmosphere.

The phrase “at one with the drive” implies that the dew is connected to a more significant force or purpose. The “drive” is also the speaker’s transformative journey.

The red / Eye

It refers to the sun rising in the morning, often associated with the start of a new day.

The colour red, in this context, may symbolize passion, intensity, or even danger.

cauldron of morning

By describing the sun as a “cauldron of morning,” Plath uses a metaphor that evokes the idea of transformation. Cauldron is also associated with alchemy or the process of change and creation. 

In the lines “Into the red / Eye, the cauldron morning” from the poem Ariel by Sylvia Plath” the word “eye” can be interpreted as a pun

Eye as a symbol of perception and awareness
The word “eye” can be associated with sight, perception, and awareness. In this context, the “red / Eye” might represent the speaker’s heightened awareness or altered perception as they undergo their transformative journey.
Eye as a homophone for “I”
The word “eye” is a homophone for the pronoun “I,” which suggests that the speaker identifies herself with the rising sun.

This interpretation emphasizes the renewal, growth, and beginning of a new day, aligning the speaker’s transformation with the cyclical nature of the sun’s daily journey.

In “Ariel,” the speaker’s intense connection with the powerful and untamed horse symbolizes her desire for freedom. This theme resonates with the themes present in “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus,” where the speaker confronts the dominant and oppressive figure of the father.