Ariel by Sylvia Plath | Summary, Analysis and Explanations

Ariel by Sylvia Plath | Summary, Analysis and Explanations

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

The poem, Ariel was written on October 20, 1962 just five months before Sylvia Plath committed suicide. It appeared posthumously after her death in 1963. The word Ariel means “God’s lioness”. The speaker in the poem is a woman in the person of Sylvia Plath by the end of Ariel. The woman has fused into a new being, a short of woman horse both in body and mind.

The basis of the poem is Sylvia Plath’s horse ride. It blossoms her fast riding on the horse whose name was Ariel. When Sylvia Plath was in England, a student of Cambridge University, she used to ride a horse every day which has been described by Ted in the following abstract:

Ted Hughes, writing about the genesis of Ariel reveals that:

Ariel was the name of the horse on which she went riding weekly. Long before, while she was a student at Cambridge (England), she went riding with an American friend out towards Grantchester. Her horse bolted, the stirrups fell off, and she came all the way home to the stables, about two miles, at full gallop, hanging around the horse’s neck.”

It is this suicidal 1956 horse-ride, at “full gallop, hanging around the horse’s neck”, that Sylvia Plath recalls and narrativizes in Ariel. Perhaps it is because of her allusion, in Ariel, to this incident (accident?) that Sylvia Plath had provisionally entitled the poem: “Horse”.

Summary of the Poem Ariel by Sylvia Plath

In this fast driving Plath is reborn. Now she is mixing with the Almighty and reaching the red eye, the sun in the Cauldran of morning.

In the last two stanzas Plath feels that she has become an arrow which is flying towards her target, the sun.

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The poem is mystical in the very first stanza. Sylvia Plath has described her condition of degeneration in darkness. She refers to endless space of blue colours. She thinks of rocky hill top and distances. In the following three stanzas, she refers to the fast ride on a horse. The stanzas are given below:

“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 are

Of the neck I cannot catch”

Elliptical Nature of the Poem Ariel

In the first three stanzas, Sylvia Plath has described her flight by horse but in the following three stanzas she describes the dangerous ride on the horse back to her home. These are the following stanzas:

“Nigger eye

Berries cast dark


Black sweet blood mouthfuls


Something else.

Hauls me through air –

Thighs, hair

Flakes from my heels.”

The name of the horse on which she is riding is Ariel and the images used in the above stanzas refer to the dark red juice of the berries would have the sweet taste of blood mouthful in her race on the horse back she is living behind all that a vampire feet on. A vampire lives on the blood of his victim, sucked from the side of the neck.

In the last three stanzas, Sylvia Plath, describes her fast flight with all her limbs. She has composed herself with Lady Godiva who made naked through country, she has a legendary kitchen (cf. “Mary’s Song, “Cut”). Plath’s “disgust” is not only with the embourgeoisment of Western life but also with the inequities and hidden cruelties, not to speak of inanities, of patriarchal culture. The “red” Eye of the sun, towards which the speaker in Plath’s poem rushes headlong in the end, is at once a figure of Death which the speaker suicidal wants to embrace (this would make her a kind of female Phaeton) and the fiery sun of a new morning heralding an apocalypse, i.e., a New Heaven and a New Earth.


Godiva, I unpeel-

Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I

Foam to wheal, 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.”

A similar flight into purity is presented by “Ariel”, the title poem of the volume. It is not about the “desolate realization of the plunge into death” that Rosenthal and other critics would have us believe. On the other hand, it records a transformation from one state of being into another-higher and purer. Ariel is the name of the actual horse Plath rode. She enjoyed riding and on 14th December, 1962, she wrote to her mother, “I seem to get on with the horse, I must say……….you can imagine what a relief riding has been through all this trouble.”

The relief and exhilaration, associated with riding, become the source of heightened experience presented in the poem. What happens to Plath in this poem is very much like what Keats records in “Ode to a Nightingale“.

The horse’s name reminds one of the city of Jerusalem which was named “Ariel” (Meaning “God’s lioness”) by Isaiah. It also calls to mind Shakespeare’s character, Ariel who is neither male nor female but a creature of air and fire. The poem begins with a ride at down with the animal (male) air and fire and the rider (female) increasingly losing hair distinct identities as the animal gathers momentum. The animal and the human become one. “God’s lioness, How one we grow/Pivot of heels and knees.” This oneness has sexual connotations and the reference to “God’s lioness” makes the horse to be a kind of deity remorselessly carrying her off “Out of her sense of personal identity and into a unity with itself.”

If we take Ariel to be Shakespeare’s creature of air and fire, then the rider may be assumed to have merged with the elements. In this moment of ecstasy she cannot differentiate between the furrow and the brown neck of the horse. The new identity has been so completely assimilated that she disregards the physical frame and its attributes-hair and thighs – and like Lady Godiva she rides in a state of spiritual trance casting off her former physical self, “Dead hands, dead stringencies.” Or what she calls in “Lady Lazarus” a million filaments”. This fusion of the horse and the girl, or the deity and the material or the physical elements is seen in terms of an arrow or “The dew that flies/Suicidal Into the red/Eve, the Cauldron of morning.” The word “suicidal” has given rise to the notion that the girl is drawn towards death. Probably a more meaningful way of looking at the poem would be to see it as expressing the idea of the death of the physical self (ego) in order to achieve fusion with the Sun (“The red/Eye the Cauldron of morning”) or Apollo, the father of the Muses.

By association of ideas, the horse in the poem could well be pegasus, the winged horse which arose from the blood of the Gorgon Medusa when she was slain by Perseus. Pegasus was caught and tamed by Minerva and presented by her to the Muses. Consequently, it symbolizes poetic inspiration. Against the background of this information, the poem may acquire another reading. Having killed her father in “Daddy” and her bridegroom in Purdah,” and having dismissed her mother in “Medusa Plath felt free of those family ties that stifled her and cramped her creativity. She could now ride the Pegasus (otherwise called Ariel in the Poem) in to the domain of Apollo, the patron of music and poetry. The merging of the horse and the girl would imply total commitment to poetry.

Analysis of the Poem Ariel by Sylvia Plath

What is the meaning of the poem Ariel by Sylvia Plath?

(a) Ariel is the name of a horse on which Sylvia Plath used to ride. The poem recalls an incident of horse riding, Sylvia Plath was fond of horse riding and this poem relates to the incident when Plath used to ride the horse to the neighbouring places, Once she was riding back to home, the horse became furious and Sylvia Plath was off the saddle but she caught the hold of neck of the horse and came home with the horse at a high speed. This incident has been celebrated in this poem.

(b) In ‘Hebrew’ language, the word Ariel means God’s lioness when Sylvia Plath was returning on the fast horseback she was figuratively riding God’s lioness. The symbolism of lioness has been used by Plath to show that she was going to be united by the end of the poem ‘Ariel, the rider has changed herself into a new being, a sort of woman-horse both in body and mind. Sylvia Plath believes that she is going to be one with God.

(c) Ariel is also name of the spirit in the Shakespearean play in the name of The Tempest it is sprite air and fire which has been imprisoned by the Bestial Caliban and his mother the witch Sycorax. The Ariel of Shakespeare could go roundly whole world in no time. Sylvia Plath also imagines that her horse is nothing but the Ariel spirit of Shakespeare.

The Sources of the Poem Ariel

(a) The first source of the poem “Ariel’ is an autobiographically event of horse riding by Sylvia Plath. Ted Hughes has mentioned that Sylvia Plath used to go riding Ariel weekly. Long before she was the student of Cambridge she went riding with an American friend towards a particular city ‘Grant Chester’. This event forms the basis of this poem.

(b) The mystic interpretation of the poem. Sylvia Plath’s interest in alchemy, the Cabla, the occult, the Seance (one of her poems is entitled ‘Ouija”), theosophy and the Tarot pack (recalling William Butler Yeats) is also a significant factor contributing towards her writing of the poem.

Reading Ariel as one of several of Plath’s “Triumphant Women Poems” (the others, according to her, are “Lady Lazarus”, “Purdah”. “Fever 103″” and “Applicant”), Linda Wagner Martin refers to Mary Kurtzman’s essay, “Plath’s Ariel and Taror”

Kurtzman’s reading of Ariel depends, line by line, on those benefits as generated from Tarot card #14. Art or Temperance on which a black-white woman is doing alchemical work over a cauldron, with a lion and an eagle at her feet. Associated with this iconography is the number 60, the Hebrew letter S, the sign Sagittarius, the God Jupiter, the Goddess Diana, the colour blue, the horse, the Arrow, the hips and thighs, the Centaur and the Path of union with one’s Higher Self or Holy Guardian Angel, symbolized by the sun.

There is a striking resemblance between these figures and the imagery in Ariel. Since it is well established that Plath was into the occult and tarot packs in her last years. Kurtzman perhaps correctly concludes that the speaker in Ariel is Plath, “a person neither suicidal nor insane.” Kurtzman adds that this speaker

“…is a mystic using her own, always idiosyncratic, version of the ancient language of mysticism. Like H.D., she renames the patriarchal myths reclaiming Ariel as feminine and declaring her independence from the “hooks” of male definitions of woman. She becomes the Goddess of the cauldron of poetic inspiration-autonomous, creative, fertile, the very voice of the Angel Ariel.”

In the very first line in the poem the word stasis has been used stasis in darkness means a period of an activity and stagnation. In this poem Sylvia Plath has shown her occult she is mistick, the poem is the recalled of the flight of the Plath to the eye. The Cauldran of morning”. Hence the poem is the mistick experience of Sylvia Plath wherein Plath mingles with universal God.

(c) Another source of the poem is the influence Boudelaire (1821-1867). Sylvia Plath is inspired by the poem ‘Voyage’ composed by Boudelaire, in this poem the eighth section seems to be the source of the poem.

What is the theme of Ariel?

Sylvia Plath, in the poem Ariel recaptures and reproduces a strong desire.

“To find something new in the depths of the unknown” Sylvia Plath is much attracted by the spiritual knowledge of vary cast. She wants to grow into the reason of death and nothingness.

The precipitate flight of the speaker in Ariel towards the East, to the source and origin of light and life, the sun, takes place even as she clings to the neck of the “God’s Lioness” while riding on its back. In a blur of blinding speed, it looks as if the speaker and the horse (mare?) were fused into one, new, mythic being :

“How one we grow

Pivot of heels and knees.”

Half woman, half horse, a sort of female centaur, the speaker now takes off. As she does so, she leaves behind, on the muddy ground, a mark, (brown ?) “furrow” (a “narrow groove made in the ground, especially by a plow”, or a “narrow, trench-like depression in any surface”) that is “sister to” (is akin to resembles ?) the “brown arc/of the neck I cannot catch”, perhaps the “neck”, not of the horse that now hauls her through the air Ariel in Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, is the sprite of air and fire, once imprisoned by the bestial Caliban and his mother, the witch Sycorax] but of the “Nigger eye” dark “berries”, representing yew-berries, symbols of sorrow and death. Style and Diction of the Poem ‘Ariel

This poem is most elliptical. The reader has to plain the guess by his perfect knowledge of the words used in the poem for cite the use of the word ‘Godiva’ is a legendry word Godvia is the Sylvia Plath herself is Lady, who of Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry who, according to a legend first quoted by the monastic chronicles Roger of Wendover (d 1236) pleaded in vain with her husband to receive the people of Coventry from heavy taxes, till one day he promised to grant her request if she would ride through Coventry naked. This she did not one soul of the place, peering through a window at her sane peeping Tom, who paid for his curiosity by being smilted with blindness.


Thus the poem, Ariel is autobiographical, confessional, spiritual, occult, suicidal and very imaginative. Sylvia Plath shows her wonderful command of occult imagery she has surpassed Emily Dickenson in the thematic presentation of death.

Explanation 1

“Stasis in darkness.

Then the substanceless blue

Pour of tor and distances”


This is the first stanza of the poem Ariel composed by Sylvia Plath just five months before she committed suicide. This poem is the premonition of her death. She believes that she is riding a fast horse taking her to the East where she will mingle with Almighty


So far in her life she has been stagnating there is nothing but darkness around her. She is surrounded by the vast space and ocean but her horse Ariel taking her fast to target with Almighty.


Substance less blue-the image of vast ocean and space Pour of tor – this image means endless range of his top which express the difficulties of the world.

Explanation 2

“Hauls me through air—

Thighs, hair;

Flakes from my heels.”


In the previous stanzas Sylvia Plath has left behind all terrible things of this world such as the vampire that has suck her blood. All the terrible things have been left behind.


The Ariel is pulling her and flying at a very high speed. She remembers very faintly her limbs of her body such as high hair and heel which has became very thin. Plath has been completely forgotten herself and become one with the horse, after becoming one Plath became an arrow which is shooting itself to the target with Almighty.

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