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Friday, 2 March 2012

Ariel, by Sylvia Plath, Reviewed


Mostly incomprehensible. For me, at least, that encloses in a nutshell the bulk and content of this overly personal poetry. Oh, the mood of depression and despair is thick enough to be tangible and some of the imagery even peers through the gloom in a form that I can recognise. But much of this self-indulgent outpouring of grief, bitterness and bile is so utterly personal to the poet that, without those essential notes used by the students of literature, I find I'm lost in a morass of meaningless references.

The exceptions are the poems about the bees. These, at least, I can understand and therefore appreciate. There is life and light and some understanding of both the insects and their keepers here.

As for the rest; I'm at a loss to understand the poet's reputation as foremost amongst those of her time. Whilst accepting that poetry is necessarily a personal experience set in the form of words employing descriptive language and often obtuse references that make for metaphor, I do expect to be able to take something from the verse apart from utter incomprehension. I read Dylan Thomas and know where I am and what it is I'm being told. I need no interpreter, no student's notes, no back history about the writer. But, without such guidance, these poems are, for me, just so many words.

If the poet intends to communicate feeling, mood, impressions in any manner that her readers will understand, then surely density, obfuscation and abstract reference must occasionally bow to clarity, mustn't they?

I fully understand that the disciples of these works and their creator will label me a philistine, an ignoramus, perhaps even a fool. In my defence, I would simply say that I read the entire anthology and was able to comprehend around ten of the eighty pages. That the poet was mostly living a troubled and despairing life is evident. But what she actually meant by the mass of the work presented here will remain a mystery to me.

I wonder if this is another of those writers who ranks with James Joyce and a few others as an object of admiration because the critics are terrified of appearing foolish should they admit to finding the work unintelligible. I recognise that the failing may well lie with me, but I'm unable to quite avoid the impression that somehow the literary world has allowed itself to be fooled in much the same way as the art world has accepted Damon Hirst's  biological specimens as works of art rather than the anatomical samples they are in reality.

Not a poet I shall read again. Disappointing and ultimately deeply unsatisfying. 

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