Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Click the image above for one National Poetry Month tour stop, and visit Life’s A Stage for a second today.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath is a collection that she crafted near the end of her life, before her suicide, according to the forward by Robert Lowell (Check out “Ariel“).  These poems are what Plath has been best know for, other than The Bell Jar, and these poems are by turns blunt and dark as she refers to death at nearly every turn and the fleeting nature of life.  Her poems are not only confessional in nature about her emotions and life, but they also examine the bittersweet nature of life and being a woman.

In “Elm,” the narrator speaks of having no fear, a fear of the unknown or a fear of loss, particularly in relation to love.  There is that fast movement forward, a moving onward to the next experience and next moment in time.  Many of her poems reflect this urgency to move forward and to stay in the moment — to enjoy it.  Her poetry, like many have said of her own personality, burns brightly and intensely, making no excuses for rawness there — like the predawn light on the horizon not marred by expectation or perception.

She talks of motherhood in a way that is unvarnished, speaking, “These children are after something, with hooks and cries,//And my heart too small to bandage their terrible faults./” in “Berck-Plage.”  In spite of the parasitic nature she ascribes to children, the title of the poem tells the tale of how joyous motherhood can be, with plage being a beach or a sunspot and the echo of France’s Berck-sur-Mer.  She also displays a bit of whimsy in her portrayal of “Gulliver” as he is over-run by the citizens of Lilliput.  Plath is hindered by the confines of society and expectation, and in these poems there is by turns the holding back or the tying down of narrators or images that dream of release or are released.  The push and pull of these images run throughout the book and probably echo the feelings Plath felt herself after her divorce and the onset of her single-motherhood.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath is a collection full of tension, explosions of release, and a search for balance between constraint and freedom.  Death is not necessarily death in the demise of the physical self, but a release and return to the freedom that is desired.

About the Poet:

Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother, Aurelia Schober, was a master’s student at Boston University when she met Plath’s father, Otto Plath, who was her professor. They were married in January of 1932. Otto taught both German and biology, with a focus on apiology, the study of bees.

In 1940, when Sylvia was eight years old, her father died as a result of complications from diabetes. He had been a strict father, and both his authoritarian attitudes and his death drastically defined her relationships and her poems — especially “Daddy.” Photo Credit Rollie McKenna.

This is my 10th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.


  1. A few years ago I taught a women’s studies class for undergrads at a state university–and not a good one. Most of the students were women who had been told by their mothers never to write anything down. And most of them never read. But I decided to read them Ariel. They went wild. It unlocked their voices. I got incredible poems by e-mail every day. I was surprised that her voice still held up, but it transcends all the “confessional” poets that people identify her with. It strikes an enormous universal resonance. Thanks for this, Serena. ps. I wouldn’t judge Plath by The Bell Jar. I know a lot of people like it bue she wasn’t a writer of prose in the way she was a poet.

  2. I read The Bell Jar when I was in college and for some reason never picked up any Plath after that. I really do need to revisit her work.

  3. I’ve had The Bell Jar on my shelf for years. I really should bring it out and read it. I wouldn’t mind this one either at some point.

    • I haven’t re-read The Bell Jar in ages, but I might just have to now that I’ve started on a Plath journey this week.

  4. I love Plath! I haven’t read this particular book but I have a collection of her most famous poems that I dip into every now and again. And The Bell Jar was worth reading and re-reading.


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