Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Ariel, Sylvia Plath’s most celebrated book of poetry, is credited as the first collection of poems in which Plath finds her unique voice. The forty-three poems are bound together by an overwhelming sense of urgency and common themes. Some scholars consider Plath to be one of the few poets to address the traditional female world without being trite, obvious, or unimportant. Even those who discount the content of her work as self-indulgent praise her marvelous use of language, her mastery of rhythm and use of sound, and her unusual sense of metaphor—in short, her poetic craft.

Ariel was compiled posthumously by Plath’s estranged husband, the English poet Ted Hughes. Most of the poems were written in the final five months of Plath’s life, sometimes at the rate of several each day, a frenzy of productivity reflected in the furious pace of the poems. According to Hughes, around Christmas of 1962 Plath selected the poems for Ariel, ordering them in a binder beginning with “Morning Song” and ending with “Wintering,” so that the work opened and closed with the words “Love” and “spring,” respectively. Hughes omitted twelve of the intended works in the published edition—primarily the ones that dealt with her anger about his extramarital affair. These poems were published later.

While Plath’s earlier poetry is controlled, showing a development of technical mastery, in Ariel she releases a torrent of extreme violence and passion. In “Daddy,” probably her best-known poem, the speaker confronts the fury that she feels toward her father, who died when she was ten. “Daddy” is written as a child’s poem, a nursery rhyme which uses playful words, rhyme, and repetition, all of which contrast sharply with the poem’s content. The sing-song cadence and use of the affectionate term “Daddy” convey the feelings of a grown woman who longs for her dead father. She expresses the desire to reunite with him, which is possible...

(The entire section is 818 words.)