The following post is a guest post by Julia Gordon-Bramer...
Plath was the Bomb! Notes on my poem, "Studying 'Ariel'"
By Julia Gordon-Bramer
My poem, "Studying 'Ariel'," recently published in the WomenArts Quarterly Journal, reflects my work decoding Plath's great poem "Ariel," as it fits within the Qabalah. The Qabalah associates the placement of "Ariel" as Plath's fifteenth poem (number 14 in the Qabalah, starting from 0) with uranium (the alchemical facet of the poem). "Ariel” is one of the planet Uranus' moons, which lead me to the word aerial and its association to uranium…
Unlocking Plath through this Qabalah key, "Ariel” directly relates to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And of course, like all these Plath miracles I have been discovering, it's all there: flying over the country in the darkness where it is merely a "Pour of tor and distances”. Originally targeted as well was the sister city of Kokura, at the thin "neck” of Japan—however we were unable to reach it due to weather. We see the "Pivot of heels and knees!” as the Japanese people run; the "hooks” of shrapnel, radiation peeling skin and death; and of course, the red eye as the flag of Japan. When this, the historical facet to the poem "Ariel,” was revealed to me, I broke down in tears. Plath, of course, was very much anti-war and had even written of attending a "Ban the Bomb” protest with her infant daughter, Frieda. My full interpretation of the poem is as of yet unpublished, but friends: you heard it here first. The historical facet of "Ariel,” at least.
As a poet myself, there are some poems I work hard on, and others that come effortlessly, almost in minutes and with little revision. "Studying 'Ariel'” was one of the latter. My head was full of Plath and you can see some of her words and sounds as they had quite simply taken me over. When had I ever said "torpor”? Ha. The "twenty sentinels stacked” are the books I pored over at my university library, reading the notations from previous readers as they had their own epiphanies ("little atom bombs”). The "Twenty-two to my zero” is a reference to the tarot and the twenty-two paths of the Qabalah, which both begin at zero—the Fool, the innocent, the naïve child. Me.
I'll confess here that there is a greater meta-aspect to my "Studying 'Ariel'” poem, especially in my lines, "Your dew tears rise to burn / from their water sign, then turn / toward my arrow.” It's no secret that I've had fun playing with the fact I was born nine months after Plath's death in 1963. And as she was a Scorpio, a water sign, I am the next in line, as a Sagittarian, the fire sign whose symbol is the arrow.
There is much more I can't say just yet about Plath's "Ariel” poem --and every other in the Ariel collection. Keep in mind that each Ariel poem has six different interpretations, based upon the six-sided Qabalah Tree of Life (reread "The Munich Mannequins” if you don't think she was interested in the Tree of Life). Even after years of work, it continues to astound me how Sylvia Plath was able to layer so much meaning into these small, perfect sets of words, over and over again. Her genius was beyond compare. This is the reason why Plath lasts, why her words continue to speak so powerfully to new generations. She has structured them on a divine template and loaded them with symbolism and archetype in ways that cannot be ignored, if not consciously understood.
It probably won't come as a surprise, then, that all of Plath's 'greatest hits' such as "Ariel,” "Daddy,” and "Lady Lazarus” have some of the best stories, history and mythology built into them. How to find it? The Qabalah is our map and key. Or just wait for my next publications.
My in-depth revealing of the poem "Daddy” is slated to appear in the Left Bank Review this spring (www.leftbankreview.com). My analysis of "Thalidomide” will appear this year in the new Plath anthology, Fat Gold Watch, and my explanation of "Fever 103°” is coming to Plath Profiles 4. As for my own poetry, I write almost constantly, and publish when I can. My thesis chair, Nanora Sweet, once referred to me as a "Happy Plath,” using Plath's sounds, milking words for their every meaning, and breaking lines to mean more than one thing. I like that. I believe that Plath has taught me everything I know about poetry and writing.
Over these four years, I have been working almost nonstop and quite obsessively, decoding and watching each Ariel poem unfold its beautiful gifts. It's been one of the greatest joys of my life to be the one to discover this. It has also been very hard, with instant dismissals from those who will not take this seriously. Oh, but I know that there will always be skeptics; those too set in tradition and within the narrow frame of academia to even give it a look. New ways of thinking have never been easily accepted. I ask no one to believe. Just look.
I can't wait to show the world everything.
If you have some Sylvia Plath news of your own, or an interesting Plath story, consider submitting a Guest Post!
Publications & Acknowledgements
- BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
- Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
- Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
- Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
- Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
- Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
- Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
- Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
- Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
- Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
- Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
- Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
- Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
- Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
- Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
- Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
- "Banking on his passion for Plath" by Melissa Davis Haller. UMW Today. Spring 2005.
- "Sylvia Plath's Three Women to be staged in London" by Alison Flood. The Guardian. 3 December 2008.
- "FBI files on Sylvia Plath's father shed new light on poet" by Dalya Alberge. The Guardian. 17 August 2012.
- "There Are Almost No Obituaries for Sylvia Plath" by Ashley Fetters. The Atlantic. 11 February 2013.