A Red Red Spirit

March 4, 2019 by Essay Writer

Life and death, beginnings and endings. The death of one person: the ending of two lives, or the beginning of both? Sylvia Plath, tumbling through madness toward suicide, created a collection of poems titled Ariel, and used the theme poem to express the revelations she had while planning her own suicide. Thirty years later, the man who was blamed for her madness and death – her husband, British poet Ted Hughes – finally responded to the accusations with a set of his own poems he called The Birthday Letters. His poem Red is a direct response to Ariel. The two poems seek to present opposing views of Plath’s madness and the “revelations” she found within insanity. One sees her death as a beginning, an entrance into a new state of consciousness. The other looks at it as an ending, as the loss of something unique and priceless. Sylvia Plath seems to suggest that her entire life had been meaningless, flat blankness, but that her madness had opened her eyes to a new world. Ted Hughes appears to look upon her death in a distinctly different way. He sees it as violent, as an enormous loss, as a fallacy that ruined everything Plath had.Plath states her feelings in the first stanza of Ariel: “Stasis in darkness. / Then the substanceless blue. / Pour of tor and distances.” Her words suggest that she believes her entire life had been meaningless, flat blankness, but that the outpouring of emotion that went into Ariel allowed her to see things differently. She speaks of “substanceless blue.” Blue – the color of the sky, representative of light and knowledge. The “pouring” of lava – which forms tor – suggests that the enormous number of poems she created in a very short period of time allowed her to gain knowledge she had never had access to before.Even the title of the poem seems to suggest an evolution within the author. The name Ariel has two different meanings. First, it is the name of a spirit in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. This spirit, near the end of the play, is released from her servitude to Prospero, and becomes a being of pure energy, free and beautiful. There is a direct connection between this image, and the image of Plath gaining some new revelation near the end of her life, causing her to view the world in some new and wonderful way. It is easy to believe that Plath saw herself as being tied down, restrained, and that she saw insanity as a release from those fetters.Further, in Hebrew, Ariel means “lion of God.” Plath makes that connection quite clearly, with the phrase “God’s lioness, / How one we grow” in the second stanza of her poem. Again, there is an idea of growth. She seems to be saying she has grown from a meek, unimportant human to something much greater, much more powerful.Ted Hughes seems to view her death in a different color: “…red / Was what you wrapped around you. / Blood-red. Was it blood? / Was it red-ochre, for warming the dead?” From the title on, Hughes drowns his readers in red. He speaks of death, of gashes and bleeding, of weeping and wounds. Unlike Plath, Hughes appears to see her death as a violent and unnecessary end to something beautiful. He describes Plath as being clothed in blood, and reveling in it. He, too, seems to believe Plath’s earlier life was dark, but it is not the same darkness. Where she sees nothingness, stillness, he sees something much more violent and destructive. When she states that she has grown into something greater, become something more, he suggests that she has in fact lost something more precious than she could ever find. He begins to talk about the color blue near the end of the poem, saying:Blue was better for you. Blue was wings.Kingfisher blue silks from San FranciscoFolded your pregnancyIn crucible caresses.Blue was your kindly spirit – not a ghoulBut electrified, a guardian, thoughtful.He suggests that what she spent so much time and emotion looking for, she already had. He ends the poem by saying, “But the jewel you lost was blue.” The blue that she seemed to believe she had found, the “substanceless blue” her revelation allowed her to enter, was in fact everything she already knew.These two poems allow the reader a glimpse into the philosophies of the respective poets. Plath suggests that death is not an ending. It is a new beginning, an outlet for energy, and a source of knowledge. Hughes spent thirty years trying to understand her death, and learned to live with his role in it. The conclusion he eventually came to was very different from hers. He looks at her death as an ending. She had everything she could have ever wanted, in life, if she could only find it, and she chose to give that up.Works CitedPlath, Sylvia. “Ariel.” Ariel. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.Hughes, Ted. “Red.” The Birthday Letters. New York: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1999.

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