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Ariel By Sylvia Plath Essay, Research Paper

The Ariel-period poems of Sylvia Plath demonstrate her desire for rebirth, to escape the body that was “drummed into use” by men and society. I will illustrate the different types of rebirth with examples from the Ariel poems, including “Lady Lazarus,” “Fever 103,” “Getting There,” and “Cut.”

“Lady Lazarus,” the last of the October poems, presents Plath as the victim with her aggression turned towards “her male victimizer (33).” Lady Lazarus arises from Herr Doktor’s ovens as a new being, her own incarnation, “the victim taking on the powers of the victimizers and drumming herself into uses that are her own” (33). Linda Bundtzen also sees the poem as “an allegory about the woman artist’s struggle for autonomy. The female creature of a male artist-god is asserting independent creative powers” (33). Plath confronts Herr Doktor:

Herr God, Herr Lucifer



Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air. (Plath 246-247)

Lady Lazarus after her psychic death became stronger than her creator: ” Male- female antagonism ends with the woman defiantly asserting power over her body and releasing its energies for her own ends” (Bundtzen 233). While the outcome of the poem is positive, “Plath turns on herself, identifying with her oppressor, and sadistically punishes her body in the process of

recreating it” (Bundtzen 237).

Plath did not see the rebirth process as a pleasant experience, but one that is expected of her “I guess you could say I’ve got a call” (Plath 245). She, however, sees the benefits that come from her suffering and continues the process again and again. Fever 103″ is also about a women releasing herself from a man, but in a different manner she desires to have androgyny. She realizes she cannot enjoy sex because her body is being drummed into use by a will that is not its own. During the multiple orgasms of “Fever 103, ” “the delirious woman sublimates a body sick with desire into an acetylene virgin flame and thereby rids herself of any need for men to complete herself sexually; ” Thus, Plath freed herself from male dependency (Bundtzen 236).

Two Ariel poems “Cut” and “Getting There” do not exhibit a full rebirth but rather exploit “the female body’s victimization to mover towards new self-perceptions (Bundtzen 247).” In both poems the female body “remains passive, acted upon by the mind’s transforming powers” (Bundtzen 247). In “Cut” the amputation of the thumb “is a symbol of female castration;” she became a “dirty girl,” unable to be a pure female any longer. “Plath understands her self-amputation as an acting out of her self-hatred as a woman, she is deficient by virtue of her female wound” (Bundtzen 247-248). The speaker is cut while doing her duty and she unconsciously tries to stop it by cutting off her finger.

In “Getting There,” the speaker is a Jew in a box car on her way to a concentration camp. She identifies with all the wounded and dead: “The tent of unending cries” (Plath 248). “What gives the speaker this solemn sympathy with the casualties of war is her female body. She knows these atrocities as a part of her very being, her genesis” (Bundtzen 249):

There is mud on my feet

Thick, red and slipping. It is Adam’s side,

This earth I rise from, and I in agony.

I cannot undo myself, and the train is steaming. (Plath 248)

She feels sympathy for these people because she was born out of what they are experiencing,and this gives her hope for the people. In the beginning of the poem she was a victim, by the end she is a savoir. She creates a place of refuge for the victims, “a nursery for the “pupas” she buries – and in a bodily sense, it is the woman’s birth canal – the “bloodspot/ The face at the end of the flare” – that all these bodies hurtled down” (Bundtzen 251).

Plath has once again triumphed, reborn and strong. She questions “And the men, what is let of the men” (Plath 248). She has succeeded and there are no men to be the gods. The manner in which the woman uses her body to save the people, a man could never do, because it is biologically impossible. “The woman of the poem is finally a mother-god, raising the dead, her body the divine vehicle for human salvation from history” (Bundtzen 251).

The many allusions to the Holocaust are not uncommon in the Ariel poems, according to A. Alvarez. Dying and rebirth themes were “necessary to her development, given her queer conception of the adult as a survivor, an imaginary Jew from the concentration camps of the mind” (197).

The most positive transformation poem is “Ariel” because the rebirthing process is consummated without harming another party. “Ariel” “represents one pole of Sylvia Plath’s poetic vision; the opposite, the mode of angst” (Perloff 117). The Ariel poems such as “Lady Lazarus” and “Fever 103″ involve taking over the old useless body and making it superior.

In “Ariel” she is possessed by and in possession of the instant when the word is incarnated, when the world becomes a vision of energy unfettered by mortal substance, and in Plath’s development as a poet, freed from the carnal sting. She is, in this moment, the presiding genius of her own body (Bundtzen 256). “Ariel” has themes similar to those poems mentioned in this essay, such as in “Lady Lazarus,” where creative energy is not exclusively the property of the male of the species.

The allusion to Shakespeare’s Ariel is the key to “Ariel”, where Ariel is neither male nor female, and neither is the “divine activity of the poet” (Bundtzen 255). “In the moments when the woman is given over to the apocalyptic fury of her muse, she is also not subject to her feminine roles” (Bundtzen 255). In contrast, in the poem “Kindness,” another Ariel poem, “Plath feels she must respond to the “child’s cry” – “What is so real as the cry of a child?” – to put her poetry aside and respond.”

In “Ariel,” “The child’s cry / Melts in the wall,” forgotten in the flight that takes her to revelation” (Bundtzen 255). In “Lady Lazarus” one gender emerges superior, whereas in “Ariel” the genders do not matter for poetry does not have “a sexual prerogative” (Bundtzen 255). In “Getting There” and “Cut,” there are no images of carnage, nor is there a war motif, rather just the shedding of “Dead hands, dead stringencies, ” things that prevented her transformation.

The Ariel poems “do seem to leave no way out” except another transformation and that is perhaps what Plath thought she was doing when she killed herself, or perhaps not (Pollit 72).

Plath’s genius can be fully viewed in the Ariel poems; it was not the experiences that wrote the poems but rather the “true poet” that wrote them. Sylvia achieved in poems what she thought she could not or did not achieve in life: the ability to do as she wanted, to be a mother and wife but not constricted into a domestic hell or to be pinned down by the oppressive society which did not accept her for being a poetess. She was able to “still speak from within her “deeper self” through her writing” (Kinsey-Clinton 1).


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