Here She Comes Again

 

 

Ariel : The Restored Edition, Sylvia Plath

(201 pp, Faber, 16.99)

 

 

This venture has been welcomed as an exercise in setting Plath's version of Ariel in place of that originally edited by Ted Hughes after her death in 1963. The difference is that Hughes incorporated ten later poems and excised some pieces originally listed by Plath in the MS. This new edition, somewhat like an expanded CD or a 'Director's Cut' DVD, returns as closely as possible to Plath's running order, but readers of the 1981 Collected Poems will find little new here to interest them apart from thirteen pages displaying the drafting process of the title poem. This edition is, however, sanctioned by Plath's daughter, Frieda Hughes, who contributes an interesting and personal foreword.

 

Frieda herself seems weary of the Plath/Hughes industry and it remains to be seen whether this strategy will clear those muddied waters. What the legions of Plath/Hughes scholars (and filmmakers) have done has undoubtedly stoked up competing fires, but by the light of these it becomes increasingly difficult to focus just on the poetry. Reading Ariel throughout is an exercise in suffocating intensity: was she always like this? Elm tree roots ('I have been there'), tulips ('through the gift paper I could hear them breathe'), a fever ('I / am a pure acetylene / virgin')... on it goes, tacked to a deadening solipsism and a circulating sequence of private symbols.

 

Is it any surprise that Platholatory is an adolescent symptom? Reading these poems in any kind of ordinary (ie : non-heightened) situation harshly reveals an exhaustion and a clamour pervading even the punctuation and syntax. Beside Plath, Hughes seems rooted and solid; beside Ariel, Robert Lowell's Life Studies seems remarkably suffused with a sense of an exterior world. Even in Plath's famous sequence of bee poems ('The Bee Meeting', 'The Arrival of the Bee Box', 'Stings', 'Wintering' and the non-canonic 'The Swarm', all here), the apiarists are bit-part players whilst Plath is 'the magician's girl who does not flinch'.

 

In some of the more restrained pieces here, 'You're' for instance, there is a sense of balance and poise, and 'Daddy' and 'Lady Lazarus' remain truly terrifying, but such fervid apprehension of the self all the time? I direct the reader instead to Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (Faber, 1977), the wonderful collection of Plath's short stories, where the bee-keepers reappear in some journal extracts, but this time as real human beings.

 

       M.C. Caseley 2005