Study Guide

Ariel Quotes

  • Transformation

    The brown arc
    Of the neck I cannot catch, (8-9)

    At the beginning of the poem, the speaker's ride on Ariel is terrifying. She "cannot catch" the horse's neck; she's lost control. And she doesn't like it. (Can't say we blame her—this horseback ride sounds super-scary to us, too.)

    Something else

    Hauls me through air— (15-16)

    Here, we can once again sense the speaker's fear. We see that she has no power, that she's "haul[ed]" through air by the uncontrollable Ariel.

    I unpeel—
    Dead hands, dead stringencies.

    And now I Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas. The child's cry

    Melts in the wall. (17-22)

    In these lines, we can see the speaker's transformation. When she "unpeel[s] / Dead hands, dead stringencies," she lets go of the things that tie her down in life. The cry of a child (or perhaps her own childlike cry of fear) melts away. She's letting loose, and she likes it.

    And I
    Am the arrow,

    The dew that flies
    Suicidal, at one with the drive
    Into the red

    Eye, the cauldron of morning. (23-28)

    In this final, transformative moment, the speaker embraces the fact that she's now "at one" with the crazy, galloping drive of her horse. She's submitted to the experience of the wild ride. She's a free and unencumbered woman, and she's transformed (metaphorically) into an arrow. There's a lot of deathly imagery in these final lines, but death here seems like freedom, like a new start.

  • Power

    The brown arc
    Of the neck I cannot catch, (8-9)

    In this early moment of the poem, the speaker has lost her grip—for reals. She cannot "catch" Ariel's neck. She has nothing to hold on to. She is completely powerless.

    Hauls me through air— (15-16)

    Again, we see the speaker in a position of powerlessness. She is "haul[ed]" through air by Ariel. She is the object, not the subject, in this stanza. She has no control, and thus, no power.

    Godiva, I unpeel—
    Dead hands, dead stringencies.

    And now I
    Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas. (20-23)

    The speaker's transformation to a position of power happens in these lines. She "unpeel[s]" the things that are holding her back in life. She compares herself to the powerful sea, which overwhelms the wheat of the fields that she's passing on her wild ride. Note that her ascension to power is all in her head; nothing changes physically. It's all mental.

    And I
    Am the arrow,

    The dew that flies
    Suicidal, at one with the drive
    Into the red

    Eye, the cauldron of morning. (26-31)

    The speaker is ultimately able to gain power by submitting to the drive, to the will of Ariel. In giving up her attempts to control her situation, the speaker is set free. Her drive into the sun is couched in morbid language—it's "suicidal"—but the suicide here is the death of her former self. This "suicide" gives her the power to be united with nature, to harness Ariel's awesome power.

  • Man and the Natural World

    The brown arc
    Of the neck I cannot catch, (8-9)

    In this moment, the speaker is trying to get a grip on Ariel. She's trying, desperately, to rein in nature. It's an epic fail, though.

    Berries cast dark
    Hooks—

    Black sweet blood mouthfuls, (11-13)

    It's not just Ariel who represents the wilds of the natural world in this poem. Even the berries are threatening. We're gonna think twice next time we reach for those blackberries in the supermarket aisle.

    I unpeel—
    Dead hands, dead stringencies.

    And now I
    Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
    The child's cry

    Melts in the wall. (20-25)

    In this moment, the speaker begins to transform. She throws off her human cares—those "dead stringencies" and "the child's cry"—and imagines herself as "a glitter of seas." She's finding peace with this wild ride by seeing herself as a part of nature, not as something opposed to it. This is some radical acceptance of the world that we're witnessing.

    And I
    Am the arrow,

    The dew that flies
    Suicidal, at one with the drive
    Into the red

    Eye, the cauldron of morning. (26-31)

    In this final, crazy moment of the poem, the speaker imagines that she and Ariel have become one. Her horse's drive is her drive, and they ride off as one into the sunset, sharp as an arrow. The "suicide" is the death of her former, human-bound self. The speaker is now a horse-woman. Awesome sauce.

  • Death

    Stasis in darkness. (1)

    The poem begins with a still, even deathly still image. Nothing is moving. All we have is quiet, still darkness.

    Berries cast dark
    Hooks—

    Black sweet blood mouthfuls (11-13)

    Nothing is innocent in this poem; even berries have a sense of foreboding to them. The speaker imagines her mouth filling up with blood as she tastes the juice of the berries. This lady's got a pretty serious dark streak.

    I unpeel—
    Dead hands, dead stringencies. (20-21)

    In this transformative moment, the speaker imagines herself stripping away the "dead" aspects of her former life—she strips away the body and the rules that are holding her down. After this, she'll be free as a bird (or… horse).

    And I
    Am the arrow,

    The dew that flies
    Suicidal, at one with the drive
    Into the red

    Eye, the cauldron of morning. (26-31)

    In these last few lines of the poem, the speaker imagines that she's shed her body, that she's become an arrow, that she's at "at one" with the power of her horse. This isn't a real, body-buried-six-feet-under-ground kinda death. She's imagining a more metaphorical death, one in which she transforms. To put it in happier terms: it's kinda like the death of the caterpillar who becomes a butterfly.