Ariel Literary Elements

Ariel Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

The speaker is the unnamed persona who embarks on a dangerous early morning horse ride. The poem is written in first person simple present to convey actions happening to the persona in current time. The speaker undergoes a significant transformation during this poem.

Form and Meter

The poem is blank verse and is made up of 10 tercets (3-line stanzas) with one additional line in the final stanza. The dominant metre is alternating iambic dimeter and iambic trimester, often with an extra catalectic foot to create a sense of fast rhythm and chaos.

Metaphors and Similes

‘Ariel’ is rich with metaphors. The “dead hands, dead stringencies” are a metaphor for physical burdens, in particular, restrictive gender roles. Another metaphor is “I am the arrow”, which illustrates the persona’s growing sense of power. Furthermore, the “red eye, the cauldron of morning” is a metaphor and striking imagery to describe the sunrise. These metaphors are effective as they detach the poem from everyday reality and emphasize the sense of dislocation and confusion.

Alliteration and Assonance

The poem is full of alliteration, such as “heels and knees”, “pour of tor” and “”flies suicidal” to create a dynamic pace. There is also lots of assonance, such as “splits and passes, sister”, “black sweet blood” and “shadows, something else." In the first stanza Plath creates a feeling of stillness from the repeated 'S' sounds in the words 'stasis', 'darkness' and 'substanceless'.


It is ironic that the poem subverts the typical understanding of a horse ride as serene and relaxing, and instead portrays it as terrifying and chaotic. In this way, the entire mood of the poem is ironic.


Confessional poetry, as it draws upon a real life experience.


It is set in a lush countryside during the early hours of the morning.


The dominant tone is frightening and chaotic, interspersed with moments of exhilaration and joyful energy.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is the unnamed persona, while the antagonist is the frantic runaway horse, or perhaps the speaker's old life she is trying to escape.

Major Conflict

The major conflict is the chaotic speed at which the horse “hauls” the persona “through air”, and the fear the speaker feels as a result of this.


The climax is the moment during the chaos where the persona reflects on her identity and draws upon a deep sense of power. This is captured by the bold declarative “And I am the arrow, the dew.”


The rapid and unexpected change in pace from the first line “Stasis in darkness” to the second line “then the substanceless blue” foreshadows the dramatic and chaotic atmosphere of the poem and the frantic movements of the horse.


“At one with the drive” is an understatement as it makes the rider sound in control, when in reality she is overcome by the power of the horse and has no control over its direction or speed.


The poem contains a historical allusion to Lady Godiva, a beautiful Anglo-Saxon woman who rode naked on a horse. This parallels the persona’s situation and raises ideas of beauty, power and mythical connection between human and animal. There is also a literary allusion to the original Little Mermaid tale, where Ariel commits suicide. This is evoked in the line “Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas” and the symbolism of the title ‘Ariel’. This adds to the dark atmosphere of the poem.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

References to disparate body parts function as synechdoche, as they use individual parts to represent the rider’s form. “Thighs, hair” and “heels and knees” and “dead hands, dead stringencies” are key examples. These descriptions are also sexually charged, illustrating the erotic undertone of the poem.


“Shadows haul me through the air” is a key example of personification used to emphasize the fearful and chaotic mood of the poem. It also exaggerates the speed of the horse.


“The child’s cry melts into the wall” is a hyperbole which emphasizes how fast the rider is moving and how disconnected she is from everyday reality.


There is no onomatopoeia in the poem; however, the widespread use of assonance and alliteration contributes to the tonal quality of the poem.

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