Written in the weeks leading up to Plath’s suicide, Ariel is characterised by a desire to restore her broken self through death, and often, rebirth. A foreboding presence lurks over Plath’s final collection, a desperation to shed her skin and recover a new identity.
Tim Kendall claims that the Ariel poems are ‘poems of becoming rather than being. Their cycle of becoming, through death and rebirth, is inexorable, and must be constantly repeated, without ever settling on a stable, monolithic identity.’
Furthering the theme of physical abandonment in the previous Plath post, ‘Getting There,’ conveys a narrator actively searching for a recovered sense of self through death. A long and ambiguous poem, the length of ‘Getting There’ reflects the journey undertaken by the narrator to achieve spiritual wholeness. The poem, in which the narrator dies and is resurrected, could almost be seen as a precursor to ‘Lady Lazarus.’ The speaker asks ‘how far is it? / how far is it now,’ repetitively emphasising her determination to arrive at an unknown destination. She ‘drags’ her body towards rebirth, again displaying feelings of detachment:
How far is it?
It is so small
The place I am getting to, why are there these obstacles –
The body of this woman
Charred skirts and deathmask.
The female body which must be overcome is her own, already wearing its deathmask. In Ariel, Plath writes herself dead. The words echo Freud’s concept of the death drive, a mechanism by which ‘everyone at some level (consciously or unconsciously), is driven by the desire to die, to self-destruct, to return to a state of inanimacy.’ In her journals, Plath wrote ‘I am I, with all the individuality of an earthworm.’ Despite the complications associated with autobiographical readings of Plath, the journal entry reinforces the message within the poem – a desire to be more than ordinary.
Stepping from this skin
Of old bandages, boredoms and faces
Step to you from the black car of Lethe
Pure as a baby.
The resurrected woman in the poem steps from one life to the next, abandoning one earth-bound identity for another, more ethereal one. Kendall claims that Plath’s poetry is ‘ambivalent, often resisting distinction between body and mind’, suggesting that her narrators are united with their physical bodies. On the contrary, ‘Tulips’ and ‘Getting There’ demonstrate the speaker’s determination to establish herself through escaping the body. Similarly to ‘Lady Lazarus,’ ‘Getting There’ suggests a delusional belief that death will result in a better life, a recovered sense of self, and elevation to a religious state of being.
Continued with ‘Medusa’.