The Ariel poems were so remarkable because women poets had never written like this before: they are personal, raw, incantatory. But they are also informed by Plath’s talent, and years of hard graft: her virtuosity is on display throughout. Poems such as the unforgettable “Daddy” used the rhythms and imagery of a nursery rhyme to reject, defiantly, the father figure who would infantilise her. Imagining marriage as being shackled to yet another “Fascist”, the speaker symbolically kills off the men who have held her back: “If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two/ … 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.” In 1965, this was electrifying stuff, a call to feminist arms, and Plath became a heroine, giving voice to women’s frustration – but also to their tenderness, and maternity. If the Ariel poems vibrate with outrage, they also seek an escape hatch, trying to rise above the meanness of rage.
more from Sarah Churchwell at the FT here.