Re-Reading Ariel

Lady Lazarus, Daddy are the poems that stick out, are remembered, beloved.

I always hated Ariel because of them.  Because they are racist, anti-semitic.  They are no doubt amazing, striking poems, full of beauty and strength.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

[…]

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

Lady Lazarus

Anti-semitism, racism, and pure ignorance are part of of Lady Lazarus, Cut, Ariel, Lesbos, Mary’s Song, Daddy.  It is impossible for me to ignore and simply go on with the poems, as much as I want to chant with Sylvia “Daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”

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–
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.

–Tulips

There is so much to love about this collection.  The imagery that repeats is amazing: water (the sea, shells, pearls), plants (trees, flowers, leaves), the body (flesh, veins, blood), the cosmic (moon, stars, comets).  It’s beautiful and the sentiment is so strong, such as the anger of Lady Lazarus, and it’s easy to see why it’s so beloved for that anger alone.

I do not stir.
The frost makes a flower,
The dew makes a star,
The dead bell,
The dead bell.

Somebody’s done for.

Death & Co.

But the argument that Plath takes up imagery of the Holocaust to look at the woman’s place in society is absurd.  Those who believe that have obviously not met Jewish women.  Intersectionality has to exist.  She made beautiful, strong poems, with contagious anger, but to appropriate this struggle is offensive.  It also doesn’t account for something like Ariel or Cut, which are flat out racist, not just appropriating inappropriately the Holocaust to look at her own pain/anti-semitism sublimated into gendered oppression.

In any case, you are always there,
Tremulous breath at the end of my line,
Curve of water upleaping
To my water rod, dazzling and grateful,
Touching and sucking

I didn’t call you.
I didn’t call you at all.

Nevertheless, nevertheless
You steamed to me over the sea,
Fat and red, a placenta
Paralyzing the kicking lovers.
Cobras light
Squeezing the breath from the blood bells
Of the fuchsia.  I could draw no breath,
Dead and moneyless,

–Medusa

Yet the emotion is contagious.  I want to love Lady Lazarus.  But I can’t.  I get to the anti-semitic, ignorant, racist lines and I’m brought out of the poem like  having a bucket of water thrown on  you or running into a brick wall face-first.  So is it a good collection?  Yes.  But still anti-semitic.  Racist.  That needs to be discussed at the same time as we talk about the feminist outrage present in the poems.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two–
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now

There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

–Daddy

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