Sylvia Plath feminism

Sylvia Plath 50 Years Later: What Modern Feminism Can Learn From Ariel


Sylvia Plath, who died 50 years ago this week, founded a style of feminist poetry that has almost completely receded. Arriving as she did at the head of the women's rights movement, Plath's poetry partly set the stage for the feverish experiments in consciousness that followed soon; it was comparable to, say, Malcolm X's militancy auguring the civil rights movement. Today, after 50 years of academic assimilation, one finds little poetry that stands up well to Plath's urgent retort to patriarchy, militarism and domesticity.

Is her most important book, still effective almost 50 years after publication? Does it feel dated or is there a message that still resonates? How does the poetry itself hold up, ignoring the understandable obsession surrounding the circumstances of her death and after image? What can poets today learn from Ariel?

Ariel has lost none of its freshness - or madness. It strikes a deadly blow at the justifications of commercialized post-war American domesticity in the same way that Guillaume Apollinaire's Alcools (1913) encapsulated the ennui immediately preceding three decades of European warfare.

The most effective poems in Ariel are those where Plath's consciousness of a persecuted self disappears into the background, so that the voice we hear is not one of complaint or unfulfilled desire as it is an unobjectionable elegy for a mode of living that is inhuman in its foundations. Ariel is not ultimately about Plath's pathologies; it is about the pathologies that have pushed Plath into a kind of ferocious poetry that scars her yet leaves her untouched.

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