The wonder is that marks upon a page,
Letters made by ancestors long gone,
Create the symphonies of peace and rage.
Untutored genius of primitives afraid;
To whom their many gods were never one
We wonder at the marks upon this page,
Let us not their memory degrade
Nor criticise them worshipping the Sun
We ‘plait together all our love and rage.
And if our growing up has been delayed
If we fear the Good as yet unwon,
We can leave our writs upon the page.
For we are often lost in shadowed caves
And effort may by shock be quite undone
We make embroidered cloths of wisdom aged.
Own our guilt so sinners are not shunned
Own our joy if happiness is won.
The wonder is that marks upon a page,
Can bear indignities of peace and rage.
Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.
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,
Berries cast dark
Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Hauls me through air—
Flakes from my heels.
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.
Am the arrow,
The dew that flies
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red
Eye, the cauldron of morning.
Sylvia Plath, “Ariel” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1960, 1965, 1971, 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Editorial matter copyright © 1981 by Ted Hughes. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
Source: Collected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1992)
“In Plath’s original version of Ariel, we see the creation of a persona that is at once ferocious, accusatory, and self-negating. The speakers in the poems (they are, of course, multiple) are capable of rendering both stark beauty and also of tossing out ugly racial and ethnic slurs. The voices are sometimes humorous and sly, often utterly unlikeable. Of course, the larger persona of the Ariel poet is an artistic creation, a part of the self and nothing like the self at all. When Ted Hughes altered Plath’s original manuscript, that persona was eroded, and a new figure began to take its place. That figure is not Plath the young poet, a person with an aesthetic and artistic vision that found form in poems, but Plath the suicidal destroyer. Frieda Hughes attempted to go back in time to restore and repair, but like similar efforts by characters in Shakespeare’s late romances, that restoration, though enacted, cannot recover all that has been undone.
It is, these fifty years later, nearly impossible to extract Plath’s poems and fiction from the life she lived, nor can we blot out what we have gleaned from the biographies that have mushroomed up from her grave. Reading and understanding poems is more difficult and requires a greater investment of time and intellectual generosity than does the consumption of a salacious biography. In the class I taught on Plath, my stated goal was to see if we could hold the work at some distance from the biography and see what the poems were made of. I think we succeeded, through care and attention, if only for a short while.”
“The Welsh word “cerdd” can be translated as either “verse” or “music”. It covers both meanings, because, as we know from history, when the great bards were performing their poetry it would be accompanied by music. The two were always intertwined and music, poetry, spoken word and performance have been a part of our society for centuries. The festivals called “eisteddfod” combine literature, music and poetry. These cultural competitions were not just for the rich or educated, but were held in pubs and other meeting places and brought everyone together. They are part of an oral tradition entrenched in Welsh society as it is in many other cultures, as diverse as the Somali tradition of oral storytelling or praise poetry in India and Pakistan.
The Poet in the City festival of Poetry and Lyrics is another way of bringing people together and highlighting the idea that poetry and music are not, and have never really been, separate. The events will delve into the nooks and crannies of many different genres to draw out this connection and show how it lives in unexpected places. Take punk, for example: with the exception of artists such as Patti Smith, it’s not usually associated with poetry. But Steve Lamacq, along with the Adverts’ TV Smith, Pauline Murray of Penetration and Crass’s Penny Rimbaud, will consider a less celebrated side of the movement: the lyrics about tenderness, love and social commentary that articulated a generation’s experience of the world. It is work that fits easily into a poetic tradition.
Elsewhere we only have to go to children’s poetry and nursery rhymes for more evidence. The playfulness of poetic language makes much more sense to them and provides a highly imaginative means of connecting with the world – they don’t question it, and the music sticks with them. John Hegley will be exploring this in his PO-NG (poem-song) writing workshop for families.”