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Comparing Suffering in Plath’s Ariel, Stings, Lady Lazarus, Wintering, and Fever 103°

Portrayal of Suffering in Plath’s Ariel, Stings, Lady Lazarus, Wintering, and Fever


Sylvia Plath’s poems evoke the worst of subjective fallacies. Probably some of our charged reactions are symptomatic of the times and the culture; but more of them seem to stem from the always-too-easy identification between troubled poet and what might be the tone of imagery and rhythm of the poem considered. Because Plath worked so intensively in archetypal imagery (water, air, fire as bases for image patterns, for example), many of her poems could be read as either “dark” wasteland kinds of expressions, or as the reverse, as death-by-water, salvation poems–destruction implied, but also survived, phoenix-like.

“Ariel,” the title poem of the collection that made Plath known to the reading world so soon after her 1962 suicide, is a similarly ambiguous poem, rich in its image patterns of movement-stasis, light-dark, earth-fire. The progression in the poem is from the simply stated “Stasis in darkness,” a negative condition as Plath indicates in the very similarly imaged poem “Years,” to the ecstatic transformation-through-motion of the closing. That this is a poem about motion is clear from the second image, which seems to be a depiction of the faint light of morning (“substanceless blue pour of tor and distances”) yet also stresses the movement of the image–pour, distances. The eye of the reader, like that of the poet, is on what is coming, and the scene that appears is always couched in imagery that includes motion words or impressions. Even the furrows of earth are moving (“splits and passes”).

The antagonistic forces in the poem are those contrary to the motion that is so passionately evoked. Set against the unity of…

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…e close of “Ariel” suggests the same benizon, “I / Am the arrow, // The dew that flies / Suicidal, at one with the drive / Into the red // Eye, the cauldron of morning.” “Then to the elements be free” . . . “at one with the dew.” Plath’s drive to motion, that sheer impact of energy and force, beyond the “Dead hands, dead stringencies,” is the power behind not only “Ariel” but also “Stings,” “Lady Lazarus,” “Wintering,” and “Fever 103°.” That she, with Shakespeare, found such violence as the gale winds “auspicious” is an important index to these passionate and sometimes difficult poems, poems important enough to us that we must learn to read them with an insight closer to Plath’s own emphasis, and to her equally personal thematic direction.

Works Cited

Linda Wagner, “Plath’s ‘Ariel’: ‘Auspicious Gales,'” in Concerning Poetry, Vol. 10, No. 2, 1977, pp. 5-7.

Salvation and Meaning in Elementals

Salvation and Meaning in Elementals

At least one of Byatt’s messages, possibly the overriding one in Elementals; is that art, curiosity, and stories save us. I would also agree with the philosophical premise that they do, in fact, give our existences meaning. Since these two facets are linked, I shall be pursuing both threads in my essay.

There is ample evidence in this volume that aesthetic expression and desire play an important role in the makeup of characters’ lives. Think of Patricia Nimmo in Crocodile Tears, and her distraction of shopping; “a classical column of falling white silk jersey pleats … a pretty pair of golden slippers, and a honeycomb cotton robe, in aquamarine. These things gave her pleasure.” (p18) Equally, the long, descriptive passages Byatt is given to using are a decadent revelling in capturing the essence of a thing; they are works of art in their own right.

“Here were beauty and danger flat on a wall … She stared … How do you decide when to stop looking at something? It is not like a book, page after page, page after page, end. How do you decide?” (p52) It seems clear that when Byatt writes a phrase such as ‘It is not like a book, page after page, page after page, end’, she is seeking to make an exception of her own work. Byatt’s writing invites continual re-inspection, it can be viewed on many levels of meaning, and some of the images which she describes hold the same qualities as a particularly striking painting. When she writes of ‘beauty and danger flat’, therefore, she is also discussing the metaphor of life and its potential to be captured within a work of art. For Bernard, interpretive art is what gives existence meaning. The scintillating butterfly at the end of A Lamia i…

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…ciations) Byatt writes extremely expressively, bridging the gap between flat text on a page and vivid mental imagery; her short stories are compelling in a way that makes the reader curious, engaging our interest in what is to come. This is the essence of the storyteller’s art. Even were it not to be her message, one could not come away from this collection of Byatt’s work without the feeling that here, within these words, stories and constructs of art that there was an internal logic which offered a positive alternative to the negativity which seems to be a feature of this dispossessed age; a sense of purpose and innate meaning that channels and releases us, “as though the [emotion] was still and eternal in the painting and the [soul] was released into time.” (p230) And be touched by it.


Elementals, A.S. Byatt, Vintage: Random House, 1999.

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