The Colossus, Ariel
Sylvia Plath's best-known collection of poetry, published posthumously in 1965. Although her preceding volume, The Colossus (1960), was accorded a favourable reception, the magnitude of her poetic talent was not apparent until Ariel appeared. Its forty poems, mostly in precisely cadenced stanzaic free verse, display remarkable technical assurance; an abundance of acutely vivid visual and tactile imagery gives substance to the directness of statement which forms the basis of much of the poetry. ‘Lady Lazarus’, strongly informed by her history of attempted suicide, and ‘Daddy’, a poem alluding to her father's death and her troubled marriage, are notable among the highly dramatic treatments of personal experience which led critics to classify Ariel as confessional poetry. Psychological alienation is powerfully expressed by the estranging accumulations of imagery in ‘Tulips’ and ‘Berck-Plage’, two of the collection's most deeply disquieting poems. The feminist critique of social conformity implied at many points is clearest in the blackly humorous commentary on marriage in ‘The Applicant’. Elsewhere, Plath writes with brilliant unconventionality of her responses to landscape, as in ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’ and ‘Letter in November’, the latter approaching the purity of lyrical affirmation evident in ‘Morning Song’ and ‘Balloons’, poems deriving from her experience of motherhood. Unremitting imaginative energy confers a compelling unity on the collection's varied contents, making it one of the most memorable volumes of poetry to appear in the post-war era.