27 October 2019

The Site of Sylvia Plath's "Ariel"

This is a blog post I started several years ago (in 2013!!!) but never posted for a variety of reasons. Today seems like a good day to publish it…

In the morning before a Sylvia Plath archives talk Gail Crowther and I gave at Plymouth University in England---please see the March 2013 Blog archive for a bit about that presentation.---Gail and I did a bit of Plathing in the villages of Belstone and Corscombe in Devon. Belstone is were Susan O'Neil-Roe lived at "Pear Trees" cottage. (For more on Belstone and "Pear Trees" please click here.) It took two trips to the village to find the house, but thanks to the marvel that is Google we were able to locate the house.

From there, we went onto to nearby Corscombe, where was Plath took horse riding lessons on an older, docile horse called Ariel. Being there, the poems "Ariel" and "Sheep in Fog" take on a whole new meaning, as does her December 1962 introductions that she wrote about the poems. (The broadcast was never-realized her then new work.) These introductions are reprinted in Ariel: The Restored Edition (both) and in The Collected Poems (just "Sheep in Fog"). Tellingly, the order in which Plath introduced the poems had "Sheep in Fog" first, followed by "Ariel". For "Sheep in Fog" Plath wrote: "In this poem, the speaker's horse is proceeding at a slow, cold walk down a hill of macadam to the stable at the bottom. It is December. It is foggy. In the fog there are sheep." For "Ariel", she said, "Another horseback riding poem, this one called 'Ariel', after a horse I'm especially fond of."



Plath's visited Miss Redwood, her riding "mistress", regularly in the autumn of 1962. Miss Redwood lived at a farm called Lower Corscombe (top left). From Lower Corscombe one can go up that hill of macadam (top right -- the camera's point of view looks downhill towards Lower Corscombe) where the road makes a sharp right turn and then goes higher still before plateauing and continuing further on with one or so turns, directly to North Tawton. From the plateau here you can see several Dartmoor tors including Cawsand Beacon and Yes Tor (lower left), as well as the valley below. The Dartmoor rail line runs quite close to these farms though when we were there, there were no trains running (lower right).


In the map above the red line is the train line, the white arrow points approximately to Lower Corscombe farm; and the yellow arrow is the hill of macadam. That is the train line that rain through North Tawton.

Among other things on her 30th birthday, 27 October 1962, Sylvia Plath had her charwoman Nancy Axworthy over from 10:15 to 12:15. From 11 to 12 that morning, Plath was at Miss Redwood's for her horse riding lesson. That morning, also, Plath wrote "Poppies in October" and "Ariel". Later on she picked apples, baked bread. She also ironed and washed a sweater.

As you should know by now, I find being in or at a place Plath wrote about enhances the experience of reading the poem. This is a different form of interpretation than a biographical reading which is a sound approach, but which has come under intense scrutiny and criticism over the years. Plath was influenced by a place or a thing almost as much as she was by the events of her life and both undergo a beautiful transformations from the lived-experience to the art of the creative work. This is, in part, the living archive, a concept Gail and I developed in our papers and subsequent book, These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath.


All links accessed 21 March 2013, 19 June 2019, and 26 October 2019.

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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.
  • 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.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (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, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • 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. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • 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. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • 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. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.

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