A. Alvarez: On "Ariel"
The difficulty with this poems lies in separating one element from another. Yet that is also its theme; the rider is one with the horse, the horse is one with the furrowed earth, and the dew on the furrow is one with the rider. The movement of the imagery, like that of the perceptions, is circular. There is also another peculiarity: although the poem is nominally about riding a horse, it is curiously 'substanceless'--to use her own word. You are made to feel the horse's physical presence, but not to see it. The detail is all inward. It is as though the horse itself were an emotional state. So finally the poem is not just about the stallion 'Ariel'; it is about what happens when the 'states in darkness' ceases to be static, when the potential violence of the animal is unleashed. And also the violence of the rider.
From The Art of Sylvia Plath: A Symposium. Ed. Charles Newman. Copyright © 1970 by Charles Newman and the Estate of Sylvia Plath.