So we ask ourselves, how does poetry gain its power? To answer this question, we examine the work of poets Harwood and Plath. ‘The Glass Jar’, composed by Gwen Harwood portrays its message through the emotions of a young child, while the poem ‘Ariel’, written by Sylvia Plath, makes effective use of emotions to convey artistic creativity and inspiration. Through my personal reading of Harwood’s poem ‘The Glass Jar’, I view it as an examination of maturation – the inevitable change driven by painful experience.
The title itself is symbolic of the fragility of childhood and innocence. The author believes that the destruction of the young child’s naive, beautiful world of ‘field and flower’ is inevitable. She believes that his simplistic, protected world MUST be surrendered to the uncertainty and pain of adulthood. We see that the child’s innocent idealistic world is contrasted with his fear of ‘dream and darkness’. This poem gains its power through the child’s fear, which he attempts to overcome by trapping sunlight in a glass jar.
The sun is used alongside biblical intertextuality as a pun to the ‘the resurrected [son]’ Jesus Christ, who throughout his life ‘blessed’ and ‘exorcised monsters’ and demons, together with ‘the [sons] disciples’. Biblical reference is further used throughout the poem to parallel the story of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection with the child‘s painful experience, causing maturation and his awakening the following day in a new consciousness. In the third stanza, brutal imagery of ‘pincer and claw, trident and vampire fang’ is used to describe the child‘s disturbing ‘mosaic vision’.
He awakens and reaches for his jar of light – his ‘monstrance’. Emotive words such as ‘fear’, ‘trembling’ and ‘sobbing’ are used to gain power as the child realises his loss, running to ‘the last clearing that he dared not cross’. Words throughout the poem including ‘pierce’, ‘grope’ and ‘embrace’ are suggestive of sexual activity, which the child views as ‘gross violence’, due to his innocence. The child then returns ‘to bed, and to worse dreams’. Imagery is again used to describe the child’s nightmares, ‘a ring of skeletons… the malignant ballet…this dance perpetual’.
Rhyming and further emotive language is used in the words ‘dreamed’ and ‘screamed’ to correlate the child’s dreams with fear, allowing the poem to gain power. In the final stanza of the poem, the ‘fresh morning’ is symbolic of a new day, new light and new understanding and consciousness. Biblical reference, ‘the resurrected [son]’, again associate a new day with a new awareness and maturation, as Jesus Christ was killed and resurrected so that his followers could be born into a new consciousness. Personification of the sun coming ‘to wink and laugh’ shows that the new day is mocking of the child, playing on his emotions.
Another poem which effectively explores emotions is a composition by Sylvia Plath. I view this poem in both a highly personal reading, but also a feminist reading. The title ‘Ariel’ is the name of the author’s horse. Throughout this poem, an early morning horse ride is used as a central extended metaphor for the journey of self discovery and awareness. Through my highly personal reading, I view this poem as an examination of the artistic process and the power of creativity to liberate the poet. The horse ‘Ariel’ is a spirit symbolic of this artistic process.
The poem begins with a full-stop at the end of the first line, immediately breaking the flow of the poem and indicating a lack in creativity. In the next line, ‘the substanceless blue’ creates a melancholy atmosphere. In the second stanza, the line ‘how one we grow’ indicates the beginning of spiritual and artistic unity. ‘Pivot of heels and knees’ upholds the previously mentioned extended metaphor of horse riding, while repetition of the ‘s’ sound in the third stanza increases the tempo of the poem, as she loses control of her horse and her creativity, ‘of the neck [she] cannot catch’.
Darkness is indicated in the following stanzas through words such as ‘nigger’, ‘black’ and ‘shadows’, alongside a brutal, frustrated tone created by harsh consonant sounds. Restrictions on the creative thinking process are represented by the metaphor of ‘hooks’. These hooks are then transformed into shadows, signifying liberation from these restrictions, by ‘something else’ in the metaphysical world of creativity. The persona indicates that she has become unified with the horse, and also her creativity through the line ‘flakes from my heels’.
The darkness of the start of the poem is later contrasted with words such as ‘white’, ‘wheat’ and ‘glitter’. Plath states, ‘I unpeel… dead hands, dead stringencies’, meaning that she is breaking free of her conscious unimaginative self, and connecting with her creative sub conscience. She emphasises how quickly she is extricating herself and hurdling towards artistic creativity with the imagery of an ‘arrow’. She also describes herself as ‘the dew that flies suicidal’, implying that her conscious self has died and surrendered to creativity.
Under my feminist reading, I see the poem as an attempt by the poet to exist as an independent autonomist woman by rejecting the traditional patriarchal ideology that women were subjected to at the time. Plath begins the poem with the line ‘stasis in darkness’, symbolic of the fact that women at the time were trapped in the darkness of patriarchal society. She uses the term ‘God’s lioness’ as a reversal of gender expectations to show her support for the rise of feminism.
Throughout the poem, the composer uses words such as ‘berries’, ‘sweet’, ‘unpeel’, ‘wheat’ and ‘melts’ to represent the traditional roles of women in society. However she also uses the word ‘I’ repeatedly from start to finish as assertion of autonomy, therefore signifying that she too wanted to challenge the accepted stereotypical roles of women. ‘Hooks’ are also used as a metaphor for restrictions in this reading, but these hooks represent the restrictions placed on women by patriarchal values.
Plath makes reference to the historical figure ‘Godiva’, who challenged patriarchal values within society. She then goes on to indicate these restrictions ‘melting’ and takes on the power traditionally given to males, through describing herself with phallic symbolism of ‘the arrow’, so that she becomes the dominant driving force. The poet also indicates patriarchal values as being fatal to women by using emotional words like ‘dead’ and ‘suicidal’. Towards the end of her poem, Plath uses the word ‘morning’ to signify the birth of a new era – feminism.
And so, through examination of the work of poets Gwen Harwood and Sylvia Plath we can answer our original question. How does poetry gain power? Harwood’s poem ‘The Glass Jar’ portrays the fear of a young child enduring the inevitable process of maturation, while Plath’s poem ‘Ariel’ looks at the frustration caused by both a lack in artistic creativity and restrictions placed upon women by patriarchal society. Therefore, it is fair to say that “Poetry gains its power through the effective exploration of emotions”.