Sylvia Plath Forum



Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.

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

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

Berries cast dark
Hooks -

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Something else

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

Godiva, I unpeel -
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child's cry

Melts in the wall.
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.

I think there is an underlying notice here as to the meaning of the title of the poem. Even though we know it's about her horse Ariel, we should think about what the name means itself. My name is actually a derivative of the name "Ariel" which means " lion goddess" wich is noted in the poem "God's lioness" . Also the true story of the little mermaid whos ending was a lot more substantial than that of the Disney's version. The mermaid ends up jumping into the ocean to kill herself and become foam of the sea because she can't stand the idea of killing someone she loves. "And now I Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas". Both of these insights I think may help tie together the theme of the poem, her freedom on her horse as she rides, and how she lets go to achieve the "re-birth" or ending that is not necessarily the suicides that are ever so popular with the crowd.

Centreville, Va , USA
Wednesday, July 5, 2005

I will dwell a bit on Jack Folsom's comments; although overall it is an acceptable comment, there are some parts and opinins to which I disagree.

First of all, I don't think biographical criticism should used and applied extensively when discussing Sylvia Plath's work, and neither when dealing with literature in general. Especially since there is no need for biographical information to justify Plath's art; it stands on its own and speaks for itself. So Mr. Folsom's side-info about Plath writing the poem on her b'day, "in a psychic rebirth" after her marriage failed is unnecessary and with no relevance for the perception of the poem. Not to mention that this "psychic rebirth" is highly questionable.

Moreover, the reference to Plath's breaking free from "the shoulds and oughts of a woman's role in that time" - that time being her childhood- is again false. Feminism as a movement and critical trend emerged and developed in the late 1960s and 70s, after Plath's death, and I think the goals of the movement were never fully attained. Although Plath criticised and opposed socially prescribed roles (some even argue that she was a feminist avant la lettre), she did live in a period when the image and the roles of women promoted by popular culture were highly stereotypical . Nevertheless, it is true that Plath invents and reinvents herself in her work, gaining power, but she never really 'wins', since most of the times her game is one of self-irony.

Another passage, "The dew that flies/Suicidal". But hold on there, you Plath suicide fans! It is the dew that is suicidal, not the woman--why? Because the dew evaporates into the heat of the sun as the morning progresses." is not acurate, since she says she is the dew:

"And I/Am the arrow,/The dew that flies/Suicidal, at one with the drive/Into the red/Eye, the cauldron of morning."

Another reproach to the comment above is that it attempts to be more an explanation or a retelling of the poem rather than a critical opinion, reaction or perception. I mean, literature should not be explained and retold in other words, but experienced and felt.

Daniela Floca
Bucharest , Romania
Thursday, September 23, 2004

This poem, written on Plath's 30th birthday, is about a woman breaking free from the psychological fetters that had bound her from childhood--the "shoulds and oughts" of a woman's role in that time. Now in October 1963, Plath is emerging from the trauma of her failed marriage, rediscovering and redefining herself in a psychic rebirth.

Ariel was the blithe spirit who yearned for release in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Ariel was also the name of the horse she sometimes rode on Dartmoor near the Devon village where she and Ted Hughes had bought an old church rectory the year before. In addition, "Ariel," as Plath herself wrote on a typescript draft of the poem, also means "Lion[ess] of God" in Hebrew. It is to be her new identity, as an agent of apocalypse and revelation when she is unleashed.

"Stasis in darkness" is the beginning point: no light or motion on the moor until "the substanceless blue" sky of the pre-dawn begins the apparent motion, the "pour" of the emerging "tor," a craggy hill, crowned in this dream-like vision with a sacrificial altar, as if it were the Altar of God and she the lioness, urging herself forward and already transformed, fused as one with Ariel, the male horse with the female rider, and also joined in a "pivot of heels and knees" in sexual consummation. The "furrow" of earth underneath the horse and rider "splits and passes" (ready to be seeded), likened ("sister to") the arc of the horse's neck. There is sexual excitement in the woman-become-lioness as she surges forward.

Now the tone and focus shift. Black ('Nigger-eye") berries "cast dark/ Hooks--": literally the blackberry bushes have sharp thorns, as in an earlier poem ("Blackberrying"), but both there and here in this poem the "hooks" stand for all the fetters that have grasped and even entrapped the speaker for so many years. The "Black sweet blood mouthfuls" of temptations proffered by others (her dominating mother's expectations and praise of success, for example) are now "Shadows," left behind in that pre-dawn darkness. Now, "Something else/ Hauls me through air," and that is the force-spirit of Ariel!

"White Godiva" she is now, a disguised form of the mythic White Goddess of Love and Death, and a type of Godiva, who in the legend defies her husband. In her new identity, she says, "I unpeel--/ Dead hands, dead stringencies" that have dominated her (Plath wrote "shedding dead men" in an earlier draft). "And now I/ Foam to wheat" she declares, literally the image of a horse's mouth feeding, but also the sexual foam of a woman's "mouth" (the source of life, emerging from the darkness). This vision becomes also "a glitter of seas," from whose foam the Goddess (Venus) was born.

What else? "The child's cry/ melts in the wall." She is released for a time from the mothering role, and she is transformed, now become an arrow, launching forth into the sky, immediately re-named metaphorically as "The dew that flies/ Suicidal." But hold on there, you Plath suicide fans! It is the dew that is suicidal, not the woman--why? Because the dew evaporates into the heat of the sun as the morning progresses. The arrow/dew is "at one with the drive/ Into the red// Eye, the cauldron of morning." That is the cauldron of re-birth and re-illumination described by Robert Graves in The White Goddess (p. 88).

Finally, then, we're looking at a transcendence, a mystical union with the Oversoul, what T.S. Eliot called "the still point of the turning world," beyond time and space. We seem to be witnessing a ritual death of the personal self through absorption into the universal spirit of the Goddess. Quite a few of Sylvia Plath's later poems show this anagogic interest--almost a yearning, you might say, for union ("fusion," you might call it) with the ultimate spiritual dimension of Existence.

What that dimension contains cannot be told because there are no words, only intimations. The challenge for the poet who seeks that spiritual dimension is to move her poetic vision and her audience, through words, to a point beyond words. For example, the most wrenchingly tragic moment in Shakespeare's King Lear comes when Lear appears on stage with the dead Cordelia in his arms. For a moment, there are no words, only the chill down the spine.

One of Sylvia Plath's last poems before her death she called "Words" Here's how it ends:

Years later I
Encounter them on the road--
Words dry and riderless,
The indefatigable hoof-taps.
From the bottom of the pool, fixed stars
Govern a life.

Jack Folsom
Sharon, Vermont, USA
Thursday, March 4, 2004

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