Critical Analysis of Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel”
“Ariel”, like other poems of Sylvia Plath is highly autobiographical, psychological and confessional poem. It was written on October 20, 1962 and also recorded for BBC ten days later. The problem of ambiguity is dominant in this poem. In fact, it is the most ambiguous and complex poem of Sylvia Plath. Numerous conclusions have been drawn by the critics from the title of this poem. The readers, who have knowledge about Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” know that Ariel is the name of a spirit, who is responsible for the control of fire and air. It may be the name of something else, if we read the autobiography of Sylvia Plath but most important meaning, which can be obtained from it is the name given by Biblical Hebrew; meaning of Ariel in this sense is “lion of God”. Perhaps, the poet has used the name “Ariel” in sense of Biblical Hebrew as depicted from initial lines of the poem when she says “God’s lioness”. “Ariel” may also be the name of her horse as mentioned by Robert Lowell and Ted Hughes, after reading the poem and life-history of Sylvia Plath. Both are sure that Sylvia has used this title because of her horse on which she went riding weekly when she was the student of Cambridge. Robert Lowell, however, agrees about several meanings of the title. He says that it is not necessary that she is talking just about her horse. Jon Rosenblatt also comments that, in this poem, Sylvia Plath talks about her horse. Most importantly, the poem is autobiographical and can be included in the confessional poems of Sylvia Plath, therefore, there are chances that she is using this name for her favourite horse. Considering the detail mentioned in the poem, it seems that the poet is talking about the horse which she has ridden in her teenage life.
What may be the meaning of title of poem but one thing is sure that the poem is about unity between the rider and horse. When she rides it, she goes to a world that is full of mystery. Here we find the mastery of Sylvia Plath and look upon the technicalities of the poem. The depth of its imagery is very much clear and praiseworthy. When she talks about her journey towards the world of mystery, she is actually referring a journey towards death. Her presentation is remarkable in this regard. Psychologically, she is talking about an unseen fact i.e. death but from image to image, she clears each and everything to the readers. Of course, she is talking about psychological problems, which she has faced in her whole life, therefore, she prefers a peaceful journey which leads her towards death. It may not be peaceful for many of us as the concept of the death is dreadful but for Plath, afterlife is the only peaceful place for a human who is suffering mentally in this world. She rides her horse in the darkness to find peace. Darkness here symbolizes inner dusk of the poet, which de-illuminates heart and mind.
Theme development in this poem is extraordinarily convenient. The poem also reveals the sad and gloomy attitude of the poet towards life. It is about pessimism and sufferings. Theme of loneliness dominates all other themes so far as thematic concept of the poem is concerned. The poet feels loneliness, which increases her hatred towards her father and husband. Her father left her alone in this cruel world to suffer and her husband first give her hope of new life but subsequently put her mind in a complex condition. Her husband, like her father, also left her alone to face the difficulties of life. Hence, it is clear that, in addition to death, she also talks about loneliness in this poem.
Second meaning of the title suggests that she is talking about the name “Ariel”, which means the lioness or lion of God. It gives her hope; a hope which is necessary to go on and spend life. Ironically, she could not find hope in her life and after five months of this poem, she ended her life while committing suicide. She found an option which increased her easiness and that option was to accept death by open arms.
Another interpretation of the title is that “Ariel” may be the name of poetic spirit, which is obviously considered as the highest spirit in literature. It gives enthusiasm to the writers and every poet gets inspiration from it. As we know that the poet does not directly talks about horse; she is indeed talking about a spirit; it may be assumed a horse, a poetic spirit or any other thing which may seem best to the mind of the readers. It is only Sylvia who knows what does “Ariel” means in this poem. Critics can take help from her autobiography are they can linguistically interpret the meaning of this poem but what exactly the poem is about? It is only known to Sylvia Plath. Hence, an interpretation of the poem is: there may be chances that she is talking about the spirit of poetry to get inspiration.
Sylvia Plath’s imagery, her diction level and style are very expressive in this poem. The most important element, which is appreciated by many critics, is the use of imagery; the poet knowingly and willingly used this imagery in order to put her inner conflicts in front of the readers.
In short the poem is highly imaginative but it is psychologically true to nature. The poet’s personal pain and corporate sufferings are evident in this poem. She talks about the relationship of rider with the horse and the horse can take her to a place, where there are no more pains and sufferings. Undoubtedly, when she talks about darkness, it means that hope has been faded in her life. She deliberately wanted to go in darkness as it gives peace to her mind. Her heart is full of loneliness because of her father’s earlier death and her husband’s departure from her life. Sylvia Plath has spent a very short life and even in this short life, happiness was occasional episode, for her, in general drama of pain.
Many critics have interpreted the meaning of this poem as per their knowledge and experience but A. Alvarez has exact idea about it. A. Alvarez commented:-
“The difficulty with this poem lies in separating one element from another. Yet that is also its theme; the rider is one with the horse, the horse is one with the furrowed earth, and the dew on the furrow is one with the rider. The movement of the imagery, like that of the perceptions, is circular. There is also another peculiarity: although the poem is nominally about riding a horse, it is curiously substance less’—to use her own word. You are made to feel the horse’s physical presence, but not to see it. The detail is all inward. It is as though the horse itself were an emotional state. So finally the poem is not just about the stallion ‘Ariel’; it is about what happens when the states in darkness ceases to be static, when the potential violence of the animal is unleashed. And also the violence of the rider.”