Critical Summary of Ariel, a poem by Sylvia Plath, a confessional and autobiographical poetess, is known to us for her extremely subjective poetry. Most of her poems focus the fears and psychological problems she has had. “Ariel” is one of her posthumous poems. This is a complicated poem rich in imagery and meaning. In ‘Ariel’, the experience of riding a horse becomes a metaphor for the process of writing a poem… “Plath’s attainment of poetic mastery”. “Ariel” draws its own myth of transcendence through the ecstasy of physical motion, an ecstasy which is seen as transitory and self-destructive.
The poem is highly metaphorical in that “Ariel” is the name of her favorite horse; it can be the “Ariel” in Shakespeare’s “Tempest” with aerial powers beyond human imagination. Ariel” in Hebrew means “lion of God.” The poem moves from “Stasis in darkness” to the “cauldron of morning”. It is the journey from scratch to accomplishment; a ride into the eye of the sun, a journey to death, a stripping of personality and selfhood. Like her other poems, she puts down her grievances and resentment for her family and friends as well as society at large.
Ariel is in a state of inaction. There is complete darkness, an image for hopelessness. She visually creates an altar “pour of tor”, probably, there for her crucifixion. She is “God’s lioness” all ready to surge forward passionately. She and the “Ariel” are unified. They are moving forward making their way through soft and hard soil. She finds it difficult to hold onto the neck of the fast moving horse. The proposed favors and incidents of past have cast much gloom over her but she has resolved to shake them off.
She has freed herself like “Godiva” who rode “naked on a horse” so that her husband would reduce taxes on the public. She is tired of the “dead stringencies” and limitations that life brought to her. She is in a state of ecstasy and pleasure that she foams creating a “glitter of seas”. She is unable to decide whether she is an arrow which is to kill or dew that is to be killed. However, she is expecting to reach the destination i.e. light in “red” or perhaps “death” in the “red”.