Steve's Reviews > Ariel: The Restored Edition

Ariel by Sylvia Plath
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Feb 27, 11

bookshelves: poetry, 2d-readings-the-good-stuff
Read from February 19 to 27, 2011

Since about 1980 I have probably read Ariel six times, and once again I step back from it thinking, My God! It remains for me the most powerful collection of poetry that I’ve ever read. However, I should probably scratch that word “remains,” since my previous readings had me in awe of numerous poems within the collection. But with this new edition, I am reading for the first time, Plath’s arrangement, which jacks things up considerably (How could that be possible?). I have no side in the Hughes / Plath wars. He cheated on her; she was high maintenance. As an outsider, it’s impossible to know much more beyond that surface story. On the poetry side of things, I have always thought that Hughes (a superb poet), with his violent and powerful imagery (see Crow) provided an assist in Plath’s own growth as a poet. And being the smart girl that she was, she would not be outdone in savage imagery, especially when Hughes provided her, though his adultery, with a red hot core of poetic purpose.

And I don’t think this can be downplayed in any way. Frieda Hughes, the couple’s daughter, says so clearly in her (indispensible) Introduction, acknowledging (what we all know) that Ariel is an act of revenge. For Frieda, this is a difficult and sensitive subject. She loved her father, she loved her mother. She does try to recycle – though she doesn’t necessarily agree -- the old Hughes argument that the earlier arrangement was done for Art’s sake. Not so, not even close. There are a few poems that could have been dropped as weak (“Barren Woman” and “Magi” being agreed upon examples), but overall the restored poems are very strong. Moreover, it’s their placement that matters. If Plath’s collection was an act of literary revenge, Hughes' editing was an also an act of literary violence. He deliberately muddied the waters, blurring the impact of the collection as a whole. You see this in both the beginning and ending of the collection. The new edition follows an arc, an arc that, with all its ferocious savagery, strangely enough becomes transcendent with the last grouping of poems, which ends with “Wintering.” In the earlier edition of Ariel, Hughes has these poems (starting with “Daddy”) in sequence, but then tacked on a monkey’s tail grab bag of poems that robs the reader of the sense of closure that Plath’s arrangement provides. (It also helps to dilute the impact of the accusatory “Daddy.”)

But it’s the beginning that really shocked me. The dropping of “The Rabbit Catcher,” a very strong poem, and one that must of burned Hughes' ears right off, is where the violence to Plath’s purpose is most obvious. It’s a key poem, since it establishes a foundation for the recurring accusatory poems (“A Secret,” “The Jailer,” “Daddy,” and I’m sure others), and these poems are part of an intended tapestry. I have no doubt that this restored version of Ariel will be the one that will now be studied, argued over, etc., from now on. Hughes' deceptive version will also be studied, but it will exist now as a footnote. It’s a testimony to the power of Plath’s poems that Ariel can exist in both forms, but there is no doubt which is the better version.
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Karen (new)

Karen Wow, Steve. Great review!


Steve Thanks, Karen.


message 3: by Paul (new)

Paul Yes, great stuff !


message 4: by Manny (new)

Manny Thank you... you've convinced me I need to read Plath's arrangement. I had no idea the difference was this large. And a great review in general.


message 5: by Robert (new)

Robert Convinced me, too - I'm a bit irritated 'cos I already have the Hughes edition but it remains unread. Now should I not bother and get this instead?


message 6: by Steve (last edited Mar 02, 2011 05:54PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Steve As I was reading the Plath arrangement, I went downstairs and pulled out the older version, and was surprised at the differences. I was also surprised at the level of Plath's order that she imposed upon the collection. Surely Hughes saw this. In the second to last poem in her arrangement, "Strings," Plath herself (chillingly) assures us:

"It is almost over.
I am in control"


Those lines appearing near the end of the collection have a lot more impact than they do with the earlier effort, where there are still 13 poems to go. "Wintering," the last poem, was the perfect endpoint for the collection. Thanks to all of you that have stopped by.


message 7: by D. (new)

D. Pow brilliant review.


message 8: by Paul (new)

Paul It's like the Director's Cut then!


Steve No Pan & Scan. Letterbox edition. (Thanks, D.)


message 10: by Felicia (new) - added it

Felicia I think this is one of the most amazing reviews of Plath's poetry I have ever read. Thank you!


Steve Felicia wrote: "I think this is one of the most amazing reviews of Plath's poetry I have ever read. Thank you!"

Thank you!


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