Prodigy of Rebirth in Sylvia Plath’s Ariel

November 17, 2023 By Isabelle Sophie Martinet

I am in limbo between the old world and the very uncertain and rather grim new( Wagner Martin120)

In quest of an ideal ego, the poetess in spite of living in a world of haphazard and menacing events has courageously undergone a kind of renaissance both in her life and works to exhort the gratification of her own self. Longing for real fulfillment, Sylvia Plath finds it inescapably unavoidable to initiate a metabolism which has been turned out to be the Rebirth motif in most of her Ariel poems later on. She as “the Goddess of the cauldron of poetic inspiration” (Wagner Martin 114), pioneers the process of Rebirth by summoning the resurrection into her new collection poetry, Ariel. The poems with open-ended suspense that have been derived from their creator’s inner being are appropriate spectacle to be deconstructed. The moral investigation of this new challenging world of poetry offers the essential scope for the persona to extinguish her repressed shrieks and agonies of her past. The arduous persistence over details furnishes the poems with such vitality that the readers are trapped in the participation of both objective and subjective atmosphere presented in these frameworks. In Ariel, Plath correlates the notion of Rebirth with maternity and motherhood. Old self could be exemplary of maternal dominance and contamination by others while the new emerged self is free and liberated in contrast to the early dependent one.

Clashes of Maternity and Motherhood

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.

The midwife slapped your foot-soles, and your bald cry

Took its place among the elements. (CP 156)

When one recalls the notion of Mother, the first projection to be impressed by is the devoted act of love and mercy. Knowing the fact that Plath’s bipolar disorder and post-partum depression intensified after her pregnancy, thus this matter could be looked upon as her agonized attitude towards coition and conception. It demands contemplation that pregnancy equals losing identity in some sense. Reproducing a creature that sucks one’s own blood and inherits some genetic characteristic is accurately the same so-called otherness that was discussed fully in the second chapter of this thesis. In “Metaphors”, Plath applies kind of metaphoric language to portray the pregnancy of persona. She indicates an elephant as a weighty pregnant woman and water-melon as fetus. The cumbersome act of pregnancy has been grotesquely described in a riddle-like poem of “Metaphors” in nine syllables.

This uncontrolled outpouring of affection as discussed in the previous chapter could occasionally hinder the progress in child as the mother is severely fostering the otherness within the child by nurturing her own unfulfilled expectations and repressed desires. To establish the independent personhood, the child has to kill the parenthood inside.

Mother’s breast is desiccated and stiff in Ariel poems. Her milk is the evident source of otherness injected to child’s body by means of sucking it. On the other hand Plath associates the idea of abortion to maternity and motherhood, when the embryo’s life as otherness is taken and ended deliberately or unintentionally.

Hence the parasite and host relationship of Mother and Child play the dual role in a way that one time the mother is host when the child is embryo as the otherness simultaneously getting the nutrition from mother’s blood means allowing the otherness to enter within its body and the other time is when the child is host and the parasite-like mother feeds the baby with her milk as otherness.

The old self is like a mother who suffers from fatal disease and giving birth to a new baby as the new self and true one would lead to her death. This idea of mothering and being reborn covers most of Sylvia Plath’s poems when at the same time the mothering concept and its fertilization, patriarchal power and creation would be summoned to challenge. Since this birth is free from any intercourse and meditation and moreover giving birth and pregnancy is the mere right of production, acceptable for female entities in factual norms, seemingly this is what Plath might pose the question and sarcasm of Almighty’s productive power and his culpability and determination in creation of lord of creatures, human. In ‘Lady Lazarus’ she cries out:

“Out of the ash/ I rise with red hair/ And eat men like air” (Collected Poems 246).

This rising from the ash is the parody of the Resurrection day, but she has not done it under her creator’s will and permission but just spontaneously derived from her own yen and urge. Again somewhere else in ‘Lady Lazarus’, the narrator assembles her body parts as God has sworn and guaranteed in the Holy book to do the same on the Resurrection Day:” These are my hands/ My knees. / I may be skin and bone,/ Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman” (Collected Poems 245).

If to ridicule such magnanimous act of Rebirth and resurrection in a kangaroo court of a poem like ‘Lady Lazarus’ is not an act of challenging and supremacy, what it could be called then?

To call Plath atheist or consider her poetic style and theme profane would be beyond the area of this discussion and turn towards theological and religious doctrines and principles.

On counteractions of two competitive competitor Selves, in the previous section it was argued that the old self is an adult and a mother but here on the contrary one could consider the childish aspect of the old False Self and mature portrait of the new True one. What actually matters in this metamorphosis are the process and phase the persona has gone through and the freshness of soul and entity with a white-board within, removing all black spots of the past.

The early Self and the new reborn Self

Ariel apparently embodies Plath’s response to oppressive modern society. The selfof the artisthas the capacity to be promoted and therefore it should necessarily be fed to be reborn.The counteraction between the selves, the early and the new one, would be of special interest to so many critics:

While in the early poems the selfwas often imaged in terms of its own possibilities for transformation, in the post-colossus poems the self is more often seen as trapped within a closed cycle. One moves–but only in a circle and continuously back to the same starting point. Rather than the self and the world, the Ariel poems record the self in the world.The self can change and develop, transform and be reborn, only if the world in which it exists does; the possibilities of the self are intimately and inextricably bound up with those of the world [Italic mine] (Pamela J.Annas171)

The self encounters kind of buffering effect of the world to define itself and come to recognition. Evidently the self finds its validity and meaning in the external world and its elements. Contemplatively speaking, the world and environment shape the form of self as the pottery does the clay.

The idea of Rebirthhas come in the last lines of ‘Love Letter’ in The Collected Poems edited by Ted Hughes to testify such metamorphosis within the persona:

Tree and stone glittered, without shadows.

My finger-length grew lucent as glass.

I started to bud like a March twig:

An arm and a leg, an arm, a leg.

From stone to cloud, so I ascended.

Now I resemble a sort of God

Floating through the air in y soul-shift

Pure as a pane of ice. It’s a gift. (CP147)

‘An arm and a leg’ here would connote the biblical allusion to Resurrection Day that all limbs would be associated as before. The repetition of ‘…an arm, a leg’ simply signifies the persona’s assurance and simultaneously astonishment of such recreation and Rebirth. Above and beyond, more to the point is that ‘An arm and a leg’ could refer to something costly and expensive. This Rebirth has cost Plath ‘An arm a leg’ for certain. She ought to pay exorbitant sums to obtain such precious Rebirth.

‘From stone to cloud, so I ascended’ specifies the moral elevation and loftiness of such Rebirth. It could be construed that the persona’s soul has joined the divine entity that childishly and customarily believed to be located in the sky and behind the clouds.

‘Cloud’ also habitually sparkle the notion of fertilization and fertility as pluvial clouds are pregnant of rain and bring freshness and Rebirth to the whole nature.

‘Now I resemble a sort of God’, in Greek mythology there are various symbols of God which exist for every element, better to mention God of wind, Goddess of fire and so on. But here due to the act of creation, the persona gallantly parallels himself to Almighty by applying bold statements and therefore calls the whole creation in requisition and takes it for fatigue work.

The persona’s comparing and describing himself ‘to bud like a March twig’ could be as if he claims to challenge the nature with his own Rebirth and metamorphosis potential and aptitude that under the following section would be argued fully.