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Reading Ariel

In: English and Literature

Submitted By ND1081
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Craziness in Desperation
--Reading Ariel

Abstract: The American poetess Sylvia Plath with her short, yet brilliant life is a notable figure in the field of twentieth-century American poetry. Ariel is one of her late poems which marks her maturity in poetry and is of great importance to the study of her works. Through interpretation of Ariel, we can learn her psychological struggle which stems from the conflicts of the duality in identity.

Key Words: Sylvia Plath, poetess, identity, craziness

The poem Ariel is the title poem in the posthumous poem collection of the same name of the American Poetess, Sylvia Plath who plays a remarkable role in mid-twentieth American poetry, especially in the movement of Confessional Poetry. As a woman writer, Plath was always in conflict of her two identity -- a woman as a docile and domestic housewife, mother or daughter and on the other side a writer of independence and free mind. She was forever struggling all her life which she ended at the age of 31. Her suicide, which is often related to her disastrous marriage with English laurel poet Ted Hughes, alongside with her identity as a woman poet drew much public attention right after her death and has remained a contested topic until today. Her poems has been constantly reprinted in the UK and USA as well as in numerous translated versions. She is widely “recognized as one of the leading figures in twentieth-century Anglo-American literature and culture”.1 Her late poems which are often connected by critics with her struggle of identity and her suffering from failed marriage, blossom with maturity swelling with ambience of death, darkness, violence, horror and bloodiness. The poems of the collection Ariel were considered by Plath herself the best poems of her life, for in a letter of 16 October 1962 Plath calls them poems which “will make my name”2. I think Ariel stands for Plath’s maturity in poetry: its darkness and heaviness in connotation, and horror and violence in feelings all together successfully mimic the vivid conundrum the poetess had been facing, expressing her desire bordering on craziness to escape from the desperate situation.

Ariel is one of her most complicated poems. Its ambiguities start with the title “Ariel”, which may be interpreted in different ways. To any readers who are familiar with Shakespeare’s play The Tempest and unaware of Plath’s biography, “Ariel” would always remind them of the “airy spirit” who serves Prospero and symbolizes Prospero’s ruling over the elements. However, on a biographic or autobiographic basis, “Ariel” is the name of one of Plath’s horse which she rode, and according to this many critics assume “Ariel” to be the horse which the speaker of the poem rides. Yet there are still other possible interpretations. In the Old Testament “Ariel” means “lion of god” and is the name of Jerusalem. Plath’s obsession with Judaism and the Jewish people is clearly indicated in many of her poems. For instance, in one of her most well-known poems, Daddy, she makes a point of identifying herself with the Jews and their sufferings. As the second stanza begins with “Gods lioness”, this “Ariel” seems to have a direct connection with the Old Testament. With respect to the reference to Jerusalem and to “God’s lioness,” there are several parallels in the body of Plath’s poems which make clear her comparing a ride on her horse to references to Jerusalem. “In an early poem, The Companionable Ills, from The Colossus, she related imagery of God to horses.”3 In another poem Years, in the collection Ariel, Plath linked some sort of religious ecstasy with horse imagery. This ambiguity brings a mixed feeling, symbolizes the duality of Plath’s identity. However, they all represents the struggle of the speaker, expressing the desire for independence and freedom. It is the struggle and desire which are in stark contrast with the desperate conundrum that make the dilemma more desperate. While it is uncertain if the speaker in the poem is telling us an exhilarating horse ride, it is clear that the poem is full of incredible violent movement. It starts in still darkness: “Stasis in darkness.” The first line of the poem is the only line that exists by itself, with a period at the end, even though grammatically it actually is not a complete sentence since it lacks a verb. The lack of a verb means there is no action, which is exactly suitable for the situation, because the connotation here are about stillness. The poem starts without any movement in an overwhelming stillness, and by the second line we are confronted with a word, “substanceless,” and thus the stillness remains with the emptiness. This overwhelming stillness together with substanceless brings reader a hopeless sense of death – there is no motion mentioned; there is no substance contained; only darkness in stillness. Let’s view this desperate situation from a biographic approach. “In January of 1963 The Bell Jar was published in London under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas.”4 While many critics commented it favorably, Plath was disappointed that they all remained unaware of the primary focus on the main character’s recovery and rebirth. The poems she sent to publications at this time were slow to be received, also adding to her frustration. This situation was just like “stasis in darkness”—there was no answer, there was no one who understood her. People judged her works from the perspective of accustomed norms. Eventually, disillusioned from her crumbled marriage, burdened financially, struggling to care for two young children, and affected by the medication she was taking, Plath took many sleeping pills and allowed herself to be consumed by the fumes from the gas oven. She was announced dead on arrival at the hospital that morning of April 11, 1963. Back to the poem, the atmosphere of the first stanza of this poem is flowing with a sense of destruction and the conundrum the speaker is facing is desperate. Obviously and depressively, the poem greets its reader with a somber start. The heavy beginning here has a close connection to the situation Plath was facing during her late years.

Yet quickly after its heavy beginning, however, the pace of the poem picks up. There comes the motion, though the atmosphere is hardly light up. The mountains are moving and the distances are changing in a quick speed. God’s lioness takes the speaker moving towards the place of escape and ecstasy. The speaker is running away from the conundrum. As for the outcome of the escape, we do not know yet. But from the quickness of the speed and the suddenness of the motion, we can feel clearly the intense desire of the speaker to escape from this desperate situation. Her determination to break through the conundrum is evident. Then, the motions become quicker and more violent and the speaker merges with the lioness. The heels and knees of the rider press against her mount, guide its direction, and also allow the rider to keep a steady position. Already we are coming to an exclamation point. But it is still in the middle of a line, so we cannot stop for long. The exhilarated riding, sexual allusions, and pure physicality continue as the speaker reaches for “the neck I cannot catch” and gets hauled “through air— / Thighs, hair.” Up until this point, though, there is still darkness and also an ominousness. Besides, out of desperation, a bit of craziness begin to arise. These violent motions could be suggesting lovemaking, giving off a smell of craziness before death, for berries are not just black and sweet but are “Nigger-eye / Berries,” full of blood that “cast dark / Hooks” and shadows. Even this assumption is not appropriate, the craziness can still be felt from the violence of the motion and “mouthfuls” of “blood”. The situation described in the previous stanza is so hopeless and depressive, while the speaker is dying for a way out, thus the perception of the madness behind these lines of violence and ecstasy would come out easily. The escaping speaker is trying so hard, that her emotion is burst with such excitement (as can be seen from the violence of “The furrow/Splits and passes”, “Of the neck I cannot catch” and “Hauls me through air”), which brings an upsurge in the atmosphere between the lines bordering on carnal passions. And behind all these ecstasy we cannot help but touch its inner side of madness and desperation hidden in the “stasis in darkness”.

Back to the poem, the speaker/rider gets pulled through the air by “Something else,” into a world that is very different from that of darkness and “Nigger-eye / Berries.” The seventh stanza reads:

White
Godiva, I unpeel—
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

“White” on its own line stands in stark contrast to the previous blackness, then, even more so because the speaker has become a white Godiva, showing even more white in her intentionally exposed nakedness. In the legend of Godiva, the success of her naked ride to relieve the town of her husband’s unjust tax relies on that it is an unseen spectacle. Her body is modestly veiled by her hair, and her chastity is protected by the town’s willing refusal, except for “Peeping Tom”6, to look. The unfailing influence of the daring lady in the popular imagination, however, does not come from its inscription of female purity and its function to validate communal norms of propriety, but precisely from the repressed content of the legend, that is, our fascination with the forbidden image of the unclothed female body as a gesture of female daring and an object of male desire. In her transformation of Godiva, Plath exploits the erotic daredevil charge of her self-display and yet refocuses our attention on Godiva as independent subject rather than spectacle for men. Godiva is an erotic, daring female, yet in this poem, unlike the original legend, no male onlookers are mentioned. Plath omits any reference to the male gaze, so prominent in the legend because “she would free her speaker even more unequivocally from this dependence”3. Here, Plath recklessly (out of desperation) enact her poetics through the transformation of the female subject. Even here creative liberty is expressed through figures that are emphatically carnal and excessively sexual. I sense defiance here. The image of Godiva here definitely differs from the original. This Godiva of Plath focus solely on self-definition and is absolutely antisocial. The speaker now exerts some control. She gets to unpeel the death rather than just grapple to hold on for the ride. This is the only stanza that stands alone. It is the beginning of the change. The focus is more on light, more on “I.” The long “I” sound occurs repeatedly through the rest of the poem, starting with “White” at the beginning of this stanza. The strong “I”s indicate that the speaker becomes more self-aware. At this point, the speaker puts more emphasis on herself. She begins to show an activeness which will eventually grows into boldness and defiance. Even from here, the rebellion against the overwhelmingly dark situation – could be the social norms, the stereotypes of woman, the conflicts between different identities of a woman writer or the misery caused by her broken marriage and burdens of living, all of which put the poetess in endless torment – overflows. The conundrum still remains, the madness still exists, but there is more to come – defiance and boldness.

At the start of the next stanza, we read, “And now I / Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.” The concentration on the speaker continues; the unpeeling has produced this new “I” that is light and glimmering, both dry and wet. “The child’s cry / Melts in the wall” we are told at the end of the stanza and the beginning of the next. This could be the child that the parent hears while having sex in the next room, whose sound diminishes as the parent becomes more involved with her partner. Ariel could be an attempt to imagine sexual interaction in terms so transcendent that underlying sexual conflict is resolved in cosmic level.7 The imagery of horseback riding mixes with and then gives way to the imagery of morning lovemaking and orgasm. Or the child could be any possible interruption that might seem to need attention but that disappears after all. The child could also be the young, undeveloped self within the “I” speaker, who now melts into the background as the speaker is transformed. Such is the ambiguity of the poem. However, I prefer this to be the continuation of the image of Godiva, expressing her defiance against social norms and traditional women paradigms to a greater extent. The Godiva ignores the child’s cry that melts in the wall. She escapes from her maternal obligation and indulge herself in the exhilaration of the ride without a sense of guilt. She is defiant and independent. The speaker devote herself to the ride of escape, and abandons many things that are interwoven with womanhood. Due to the ambiguity of the image here, this could be her maternal obligation or the purity of her girlhood. From either perspective, we can see the devotion of the speaker to the escape, her willingness to abandon things which are considered a vital part of womanhood by social norms. This emphasize her determination to struggle in such a “stasis in darkness”, and pave the way for an even greater sacrifice in the following stanzas.

Near the end of the poem, the speaker becomes “the arrow, / The dew that flies / Suicidal,” only to evaporate as the sun rises. The use of the arrow in this poem can be compared to the reference to the arrow in Plath’s novel The Bell Jar. In the novel, the female teenage narrator quotes her boyfriend’s traditional mother, “What a man is is an arrow into the future and what a woman is is the place the arrow shoots off from.”8 Later, the young woman (whose life in various ways mimics Plath’s) thinks to herself, “The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the coloured arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”9 Here the speaker transform into an arrow and then even becomes a flying dew that will eventually evaporate when morning comes, which expresses an intense desire for freedom and independence. The speaker has abandoned the social norms as pointed out in the previous stanza, and now for freedom and independence, she is going to sacrifice more – even her life. Having rid herself of all the burdens and ignored the social norms, she becomes the arrow. This is a declaration of independence from a woman in desperation. It’s brave, defiant, hysteric and solemn. The speaker wants to be the subject. The statement “ I am the arrow” and the word “suicidal” makes it crystal clear that speaker willingly assumes the role of “Arrow” which is generally considered masculine and she is not afraid of the consequences and the heavy price to pay – she embraces it.

As the poem progresses, the speaker is “at one with the drive /Into the red / Eye, the cauldron of morning.” The escape from the desperate conundrum seems to require coming dangerously close to destruction. The speaker in the poem becomes “at one with the drive” (emphasis added) into the red eye, not at one with the actual red eye. The poem ends just on the edge of destruction. Its last lines—“the cauldron of morning”—again point to the mix of destruction and rebirth. Morning traditionally is thought of positively, as a new beginning. Yet here it is a huge, boiling vat, presumably causing destruction as parts of its self are boiled away. At the same time it is an image of cleansing, since boiling traditionally is used as a disinfecting process also. Since morning is the start of day, the poem ends, then, with a beginning and the implication of further movement toward more and more brightness. At the same time, however, the poem ends on what can be seen as a path of suicidal destruction, with the assumption that the speaker will be annihilated by the sun. It is not an accident that “morning” (the last word of the poem) sounds exactly the same as “mourning”—reinforcing the poem’s duality and promoting the idea that something must die in order for something new to be born. Or maybe it is not death, but the “moment of courting death”10, that is the poem’s focus and what fulfills some poets such as Plath. This is the end of the experience which the speaker shares with us. The ending surely doesn’t stray away from death, be it death or courting death. The suicidal destruction must be the destination of the escape, the ride throughout the poem. Till this moment, the defiance is expressed to its utmost and the craziness out of desperation is most evident. The sense of death is so strong, but the speaker is not afraid.

The poem Ariel, on an abstract level, represents the struggle of modern women intellectuals. The conflicts of identity, the desire for freedom and independence, and moreover the craziness hidden behind the desperate situation. To be more specific here, this poem vividly depict the psychological changes of a poetess who is under deep pressure, continuously troubled by her desire to assume the role which is generally considered masculine and endlessly tormented by the cruel reality that she must sacrifice in order to escape from the conundrum set by stereotypes and social norms. She has to pay a heavy price, that is, craziness bordering on the verge of self-destruction, or self-destruction itself. Yet she never stop fighting: From the beginning, she runs from the “stasis in darkness”. Then she accelerates and become a whole with her mount, the “lioness”, charging with the violence of motions. Boldly she turns into Godiva, defiantly announces her self-awareness and independence to the world, and is determined to taking control of her destiny. She devotes so fully to her escape that she becomes an arrow and even a flying dew, flying towards the “red eye” and the “cauldron of the morning”, destruction or the rebirth through self-destruction. The craziness can be felt throughout the poem, reflecting the speaker’s fierce struggle out of desperation.

Notes

1. Jo Gill, The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath (Cambridge: the University Press, 2008), p.155. 2. Aurelia Plath, Letters Homes: Correspondence 1950-1963 (London: Faber and Faber, 1971), p.64. 3. William V. Davis, Sylvia Plath’s ‘Ariel,’ (Modern Poetry Studies 3, no. 4 ,April 1972): p. 176 4. Eileen Aird, Sylvia Plath (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1973), p.158 5. Susan R. Van Dyne, Revising Life: Sylvia Plath’s Ariel Poems (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1993): p. 121. 6. Wikipedia, Peeping Tom [EB/OL], http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Godiva#Peeping_Tom, retrieved Jan.20, 2015 7. Anthony Libby, God’s Lioness and the Priest of Sycorax: Plath and Hughes, (Contemporary Literature 15, no. 3 Summer 1974): p. 402 8. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar(London: Faber and Faber, 1966), p.134 9. Ibid., p.241 10. Andrew Brink, Sylvia Plath and the Art of Redemption, (Alphabet 15, 1968): p. 48…...

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...F Reading Strategies Worksheet Identify two reading goals, one short-term and one long-term. * Long-term reading goal: To learn to enjoy reading Short-term reading goal: Read and understand all of the readings for my classes Write a 100- to 150-word response to each of the following questions: * How do you currently approach the weekly readings in the course? I approach the weeks readings by previewing it early in the week. Then going back over it when a discussion question is asking for input on what was read. I do this to give more detail and convert it to my own words. Then depending on what the assignment is I will go back over it again to make sure that I have a complete understanding of it. I also refer back to the readings while doing my assignments to make sure that what I am answering is correct. How might you incorporate three of the suggestions covered this week into your study time? I plan on reading the first and last sentence in each paragraph and paying attention to words listed in bold and italics. I do this to an extent now but I plan to do it more in the future as it has helped me to understand what the readings are about and grasp what is trying to be taught. I also plan on setting goals for myself for the weekly readings since I do not like to read. These will help me to achieve my academic goals I have set for myself. How might this plan help you accomplish your reading goals? This plan will help me get my readings......

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...Extensive Reading: Why? and How? Timothy Bell timothy [at] hsc.kuniv.edu.kw Kuwait University ------------------------------------------------- Abstract An extensive reading program was established for elementary level language learners at the British Council Language Center in Sanaa, Yemen. Research evidence for the use of such programs in EFL/ESL contexts is presented, emphasizing the benefits of this type of input for students' English language learning and skills development. Practical advice is then offered to teachers worldwide on ways to encourage learners to engage in a focused and motivating reading program with the potential to lead students along a path to independence and resourcefulness in their reading and language learning. ------------------------------------------------- Introduction: The Reading Program An extensive reading program was established at the British Council Language Center in Sanaa, Yemen. An elementary level class of government employees (age range 17-42) was exposed to a regime of graded readers, which was integrated into normal classroom teaching. Students followed a class reader, had access to a class library of graded readers, and had classes in the British Council library, which gave them access to a collection of 2000 titles. Questionnaires were used to examine students' reading interests, habits and attitudes, both prior to, and following the program. The class library contained 141 titles in the published readers of some major......

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January 3, 2019 | Ch.28 : Tough Noodles Full of Oil Bit Spicy and Some Veggies | HD Reversing Roe