Analysis of ‘Ariel’ by Sylvia Plath


Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1932. She lost her father when she was eight and it is at this age she started writing. Her father was authoritative in his parenting style. His death would have been the main reason that pushed Plath into writing. The poem ‘Daddy’ was one of the earlier poems which became very popular too. She battled suicidal tendencies all through her school. After graduating from Smith College she moved to Cambridge, England and soon married a fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1960. Her attempt to suicide in February 1963 proved fatal. Meanwhile she had published many of her works and had become very popular during her lifetime. She was mostly known for her poems, novels and short stories.


‘Ariel’ describes a woman riding a horse in the countryside at the break of dawn. It elaborates on the frenzy felt during the ride. The poem begins with the description of darkness which is immobile. It is frozen and blue and as the rider moves other sights throw up as dawn has moved into daylight. It might be the colour of the sunrise and the power of light that make her feel as if she was the ‘God’s lioness’. She soon becomes one with the horse as her knees and heel are entangled. The ploughed fields ‘splits and passes’ indicating that she was riding real fast; she could hardly hold on to her steed’s brown neck.


As she rides she sees black berries and many shadows and there is ‘something else’ that pulls her through the air. She feels the powerful wind on her thighs and hair and her heels flake because of that force. She then compares herself to Lady Godiva who rode the streets on a horse, naked. She must have felt very powerful on this ride that she could cast off all things that were of no consequence. She saw herself as the ‘foam to wheat’ and a shining light on the sea. She hears a child’s cry through a wall but chooses to ignore it. The morning dew is falling off as if in suicide and she feels like a powerful arrow being one with the horse. The rider and the horse have become one and they ride to the horizon which is depicted as ‘red eye’.

‘Ariel’ is also the title of the volume of the poetry and this poem has been hugely acclaimed for its style and theme. There are thirty one lines. Thirty lines are in ten tercets and the last line stands alone. The lines are very short and do not have any particular rhyme scheme. However it is filled with rhyming consonants and assonance and half rhymes.  Alliterations are seen in these lines.

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,

Dead hands, dead stringencies

There is constant use of enjambment in which the lines move to the next line and end there. Since the poem who is about a rider, a sense of rush is created through these enjambments. At the surface it seems like a horse ride of a woman but it is full of sexual imagery. The mention of body parts heel, knees, hair and even the thighs aid in this imagery. Then there is the imagery of the phallic arrow. The rider is a woman who is completely identified with the horse, a symbol of masculinity. She ignores the stereotype woman when she says she ignored the cry of the child. On such a high she ignores all the rigidities that she generally would have been worried about. ‘Ariel’ is not a violent one trying to destroy men but it lies outside gender. As she rides she loses herself and desires to shed her rigidities and become a new person. She ends with her movement into a new future indicated by the ‘red eye’ sun.