“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.”