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Symbol Analysis

Though "Ariel" is a poem about a life-changing, transformative horseback ride, it's not a sunny poem filled with rainbows and dreams of the future. It's actually incredibly dark, and it's more than a little morbid. "Ariel" is haunted by death throughout, and it even conceives as the transformation at the end of the poem as a kind of death. Beware: you may need a pick-me-up after reading these morbid lines. Keep a kitten handy.

  • Line 1: The poem begins in a dark moment of stasis. Everything is still; nothing is moving or even breathing in these first moments.
  • Line 13: Even the berries that Ariel passes are painted with dark words—they're described as "black sweet blood mouthfuls." We think we'll pass on these berries after that description, Ms. Plath. 
  • Lines 18-20: The speaker says that she "unpeel[s]." She strips away "dead hands, dead stringencies." It's a moment of transformation, but it's marked with morbid words. Even this rebirth has a dark tinge to it. 
  • Lines 26-31: The speaker imagines herself as a suicidal arrow, heading toward the red sun (which seems to us a whole lot like a red bullseye). She's driven, she's become at one with the horse, she's all energy, and she's headed toward that "cauldron of morning," which sounds to us a whole lot like the cauldron of "mourning." In this transformed state, our speaker is speeding toward death.

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