Before MM’s iconic book, there was this one, the book she left behind, stacked neatly on her desk in manuscript form. In school I once heard a lecture in which my teacher positioned Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath as opposing elemental forces. While most of the vernacular escapes me now (aside from one of them being the “dada whoosh”), the crux was that Sexton was the structured, orderly, intellectual impulse, while Plath was the emotional, uncontrolled, innate impulse. The description has stuck with me.
While the poems in Ariel are very structured, they feel almost uncontained to me. Like “Lady Lazarus,” the way it brims over with energy, or “Daddy,” with its goosestomped rhythm that threatens to silence to poem outright. Alongside quieter poems like “The Moon and the Yew Tree” and “Blackberrying,” the collection vibrates at different frequencies–it is truly uncontrolled, inconsistent, alive, animal.
And throughout, the silhouette of Plath herself flickers as if behind a scrim. The story around the book is as iconic as the book itself, and difficult to separate. But the poems endure and remain to mentor us on the ability of poetry to resonate at emotional levels far beyond the simplicity of its language.
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