Ariel's relation to Stevens first is apparent from "The Planet on the Table," in the first line, where the poem begins, "Ariel was glad he had written his poems." In looking at Stevens's letters, though, the story of Ariel becomes a little more interesting. In one of his letters to Elsie, his then fiancee, he says he most enjoys writing when "the young Ariel" perches atop his pen and whispers to him "fancies" and "occasional music." He then tells Elsie about an occurrence in Central Park with a Walter Butler, when they chased ducks, were chastised by the police, and then promptly went back on their way, saying, "The police are as thick as trees and as reasonable. But you must obey them. --Now, Ariel, rescue me from police and all that kind of thing."
This is a puzzling letter indeed, and the reigning theory is that Stevens saw Ariel as a muse. Whether or not Ariel was an actual person, no one seem to know. Perhaps Stevens's feelings for Elsie were starting to wane, and he imagined a younger, more attractive woman to be the one providing him with inspiration. Others believe that Ariel is poetry itself. In this view, some feminist reviewers and critics want to "rescue Ariel" from what they consider to be patriarchical perception of Stevens's poetry, taking Ariel to be a metapoetic representation of Stevens's poetry as a whole--as the planet on the table.
Sources and Further ReadingEdit
Ariel and the Police: Michel Foucault, William James, Wallace Stevens by Frank Lentricchia