Interpretation of Ariel, by Sylvia Plath

Ariel. A luscious red haired mermaid sadly isn’t included in the identification of the namesake. Rather Sylvia’s husband, Ted, influenced many of the readings through adding that Sylvia rode at a Dartmoor riding school. Having engaged in several long and enduring treks over Dartmoor hill and heath, I’m thoroughly surprised that one shaggy haired moor pony ever bolted in its lifetime. My experience tends to surround hammering the oblivious sides of the beasts, and trying to blindly tear their mouths away from the nearest fern. This all takes place in spitting cold rain, in sodden castoff jeans considered weathered enough to feel the fury of three hours in the saddle. Not quite the ‘substanceless blue / pour of tor and distances’ (you can’t quite see for the next tor through the muggy Dartmoor smog, let alone the great distances. Prayers be with the ten tors volunteers). The spondees ‘stasis in darkness’ and ‘pour of tor’ amplify quite the pace at which the trail pony must have taken up, static scenery turned to a blur of Dartmoor colours (which have a regrettable tendency to revolve around grey and green).

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(my friend aboard a trusty Dartmoor steed)

Some claim the horse to ignite the symbol of male sexuality. I’m not quite sure. We may indeed have fallen so low as to include ‘stud’ or ‘studmuffin’ in the endless list of endearments, or Tinder profile labels, but horses can just as easily be assimilated in the female sense. I was never quite sure on the gender of Falada, my favourite fairytale mount, I don’t suppose they gelded in those days. The words murmured by poor Falada’s head ‘if this your mother knew / her heart would break in two’ do otherwise take the tone of a gentle, doting mare.

Jerusalem was also referred to as ‘Ariel’, as predestined to be destroyed by flames. Another interpretation of the title of choice, tying in to the concluding stanza, and line – ‘suicidal, at one with the drive / into the red / Eye, the cauldron of the morning’. Perhaps the pony has truly taken a turn for the worst, and with the wind up its tail bolted straight through the night until the rising sun brightens Plath’s world – if she has not already plunged off the careering animal in rather a few nightly hours. Otherwise, this reference could indeed be Jerusalem’s flames, come to plague. Much like Troy, you could ascertain. Cities tend to go down in flames.

I’m not necessarily a hardcore feminist. I don’t think this poem sees Plath paving the gender-war either. The allusions to female strength and powder are obvious; ‘God’s lioness’, as if embodying the almighty powder of a Lord within the sleek coat of a female predator. ‘Godiva’, too, the woman who paraded the streets of Coventry, nude and on horseback, to boycott taxation, is an emblem of female strength, on horseback (lets hope Plath herself wasn’t too unclothed, sitting astride her Dartmoor pony. It gets rather nippy in Winter).
Yet, ‘I unpeel – dead hands, dead stringencies’, suggests rebirth and shedding of restrictions. When related to ‘the child’s cry / Melts in the wall’, the mention of an adolescent could possibly be the internal child, in the narrator, or rather Plath, herself. Sitting astride a bolting horse is rather frightening (my mother bought me an ex racehorse in place of a trusty furry Shetland, so I can advise you justly). Perhaps Plath has indeed located her inner sophisticated goddess whilst straddling a wild horse. I just question the feasibility of reaching great epiphanies when grappling for the reins.

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,

Nigger-eye
Berries cast dark
Hooks—

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Shadows.
Something else

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

White
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.

-Sylvia Plath, 1962

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