Jenna's Reviews > Ariel: The Restored Edition

Ariel by Sylvia Plath
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Sep 17, 07

bookshelves: english-language-poetry
Read in September, 2007

There are two adjectives commonly applied to this book by people who haven't read it: it is often said to be a "feminist" book, and a "depressing" one. I think these two not-quite-accurate labels arise so frequently because Sylvia Plath is, unfortunately, better-known to the general public for being female and psychologically troubled than for being an accomplished poet.

This is not an agenda-driven book, it is not a book aimed at only a select audience, and it is, above all, not a depressing book. "Ariel" contains poems of awe ("Morning Song"), poems of biting irony ("The Applicant"), and poems of exhilaration so intense that it blurs the line between wanting to live and wanting to die ("Ariel"), but in all of these poems Plath's fighting spirit is evident. The anger, the rage, the *bite* of the poems about her reaction to her husband's adultery seem to me to be the mark of someone who is fighting so hard to reclaim her life because she so desperately wants to live. These are *not* the poems of someone who has turned her face to the wall and resigned herself to defeat. "I am too pure for you or anyone," she asserts (with a defiant head-toss, perhaps) in one poem. In another poem, one that tells of a swarm of bees that kamikaze-attacked a man (to punish him for his "lies," it would seem), she says, "They thought death was worth it, but I/Have a self to recover, a queen." This "queen" of the bees is transparently a symbol for Plath's inner self, which had hitherto been lain dormant beneath the weighty tarps of depression, and it is described in language that is harrowingly alive, evoking metaphors of healing and resurrection: "Now she is flying/More terrible than she ever was, red/Scar in the sky, red comet/Over the engine that killed her--/The mausoleum, the wax house." In short, these are forcefully galloping, life-affirming poems. Just as some people lose their battles against cancer or other diseases, Plath ultimately lost her battle against depression, but these poems suggest that it wasn't for lack of trying. The final poem in this restored edition speaks of how the battle was a close one, whose outcome was still in question up until the very end: "This is the time of hanging on.... Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas/Succeed in banking their fires/To enter another year?/What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?/The bees are flying. They taste the spring."
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Conner Great review, I really like your way of looking at the poems you've selected to bring up here.


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