Statically dark, night then there is blue, so the time setting is the night to morning. From this point of view, setting moves from darkness to the light. The first words of the poem: “Stasis in darkness”. This could well be a reference to her depression. That she is held in its darkness. She suffered from depression for most of her life and committed suicide when she was thirty years old.

Plath quotes ―

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free—

― Sylvia Plath|Tulips

The speaker is in the stable, especially on the horse back. The horse starts galloping and the speaker hardly manages her balance. As she goes on she remembers Lady Godiva, the legendary figure who fought against her husband for the welfare of the society. Like Godiva she wants to challenge the dead hands and dead laws of the society. By riding in the horse she wants to fight against the patriarchal culture.

Although Plath criticized and opposed socially prescribed roles, she did live in a period when the image and the roles of women promoted by popular culture were highly stereotypical. Nevertheless, it is true that Plath invents and reinvents herself in her work, gaining power, but she never really ‘wins’, since most of the times her game is one of self-irony.

A “tor” is a craggy hill, and together with the berry bushes and furrows of a ploughed field, it depicts the English landscape through which she rides at breakneck speed. The exultation of oneness with the raw power and dynamism of the horse hurtling forward produces the words “God’s lioness.” Is the lioness the rider, the horse, or—as the next line suggests—both, united in a “Pivot of heels and knees”? Actually, “god’s lioness” is a literal translation of the Hebrew word “Ariel” which in Isaiah 29:1-3 and 5-7 is an admiring epithet for Jerusalem, a city both favored and cursed by God.

She is no longer aware of the horse as a separate being but as a pure force that “Hauls me through air.” She has become Lady Godiva, a heroine riding naked but for her long hair. Then, characteristic of Plath’s style, in the midst of this frenzy of description comes a coldly intellectual observation as she considers her own body from a strange distance: “Dead hands, dead stringencies.”

The separation of subject and object that is usual to acts of observation has disappeared by this point in her ride, and she becomes one even with the landscape: “And now I/ Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.” As the pace of the poem and the galloping of the horse pick up speed, wheat fields appear in her field of vision like waves of sea welling up into view.

Much of the poem could be about that horse ride, but when the reader gets to the eight stanza mood and pace changes; she is somewhere else. It is as if she were remembering the event with the horse and reflecting on her life. Then suddenly she is brought back to the present by a child’s cry. In the ninth stanza, the cry:

"Melts in the wall.   
 And I
 Am the arrow" 

The child in question is most likely one of her children. She is at home and the sound of the cry melts into the wall and she is the arrow. This is a metaphor for how her attention is immediately drawn from her thoughts to the child’s cry which becomes a final pure experience of self uniting with sensation as she feels that she and the horse are a single arrow shot into the eye of the sun, dissolving there, as dew dissolves in the morning light.

In the concluding part of the poem, she compares herself with the arrow that’ll shoots and the dew that commits suicide at the sunrise. That is to say, she wants to shoot in the eyes of the patriarchy by committing suicide. Suicide is a mode of protest through which she shows her existence. From this point of view the red eyes do not merely stand for the sun but also for the patriarchal social structure. So it is the suicide note of Sylvia Plath in a sense; it is the confession of suicidal thought.

The entire poem can be taken as the imagination of the speaker. In which she wants to go away riding in the horse and commit suicide. The horse shown in the parts supports this argument because imagination functions in the parts not in the whole.

Structurally speaking “Ariel” is composed of ten three-line stanzas with an additional single line at the end, and follows an unusual slanted rhyme scheme. Literary commentator William V. Davis notes a change in tone-and break of the slanted rhyme scheme in the sixth stanza, which marks a shift in the theme of the poem, from being literally about a horse ride, to more of a metaphoric experience of oneness with the horse and the act of riding itself.

Contextually, it has been speculated that, being written on her birthday as well as using the general theme of rebirth,”Ariel” acted as a sort of psychic rebirth for the poet. The poem, written just five months before her eventual suicide, thus, not surprisingly given its name as well, is one of her Ariel poems. “Ariel” was the name of the horse on which she went riding weekly.

Ariel

BY SYLVIA PLATH

Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue   
Pour of tor and distances.

God’s lioness,   
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to   
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Nigger-eye   
Berries cast dark 
Hooks—

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,   
Shadows.
Something else

Hauls me through air—
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

White
Godiva, I unpeel—
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

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

Melts in the wall.   
And I
Am the arrow,

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

Eye, the cauldron of morning.

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