Sylvia Plath much has been written: on her repeated suicide attempts and eventual success, on her brutal
relations with her father, on the brilliance of her poems, on her marriage to England’s now poet laureate, Ted
Hughes. To speak of Plath and sex, especially regarding “Ariel” (her famous poem about riding her childhood
horse), is to risk vulgarization, to risk that recently popularized English department insult of decoding
sexuality from the tea leaves at the cup bottoms of famous lives. Yet I am reprinting “Ariel” here not to
scandalize the dead, but to revisit an oasis of untroubled passion in Plath’s great poetic expanse of harrowing dissatisfaction.
Of course, Ariel the horse could be, like Freud’s proverbial cigar, simply what it is and nothing* * *
more. But ultimately it does not matter if the sex is intended or merely perceived. Reading poetry is not so
much a process of finding what the poem is supposed to be about as finding how you, the reader, are able to
experience it. Horse, lover or both, we should feel in “Ariel” the rush of a body transported. And that this
body lived but briefly and painfully should serve only to foreground the speed and beauty of its flight.
From “Ariel” by Sylvia Plath
Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.
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
Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Hauls me through air —
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.
Am the arrow,
The dew that flies,
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red
Eye, the cauldron of morning
©Harper and Row