Sylvia Plath Forum

Contributions from 10-28th February 1998

I am writing a research paper on Plath.I would really appreciate any help anyone can give me with a discussion of Plath's use of social concerns or her use of themes and images in her poetry. Thanks!

Jennifer Davidson
Tupelo,Mississippi, US
28th February 1998

I'd also love to take the easy way out. As much as I dislike Ted Hughes for destroying the Ariel journals, "Birthday Letters" is a work of art. The truths that emerge from Hughes' AND Plath's works confound me. Was Sylvia the sole proprietor of her own myth? Was Ted Hughes the cause of her death? There is no ONE way to answer these questions. A great literary drama has played itself out between these two people and, although we, as readers, are in no position to judge it, we ARE in a position to analyze the texts presented and thereby, form an opinion.

Dena Tooma
Toronto, Canada
28th February 1998

Jackie, you may find the following books helpful in discussing the relationship of Plath and Hughes. I only know the American publisher for one of them:-

Paul Alexander, "Rough Magic" (Penguin 1993) - Critical of Hughes and alleging domestic violence on his part. Not published in UK because of libel laws. But in my opinion, the best biography I¹ve read of Plath.

Ronald Hayman, "The Death & Life of Sylvia Plath" (1991) - Gossipy, tabloidish work but a good, light read.

Anne Stevenson, "Bitter Fame" 1989 - The Hughes/Plath story from the Hughes perspective.

Linda Wagner Martin, "Sylvia Plath" (1988) - Academic, feminist account.

Maria, I think the third suicide attempt to which you refer occurred when Sylvia ran her car off the road in the Summer of 1962 but was unharmed.

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge, UK
28thth February 1998

A Report on the Academy of American Poet's Symposium of Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters from

Stewart Clarke
New York, USA
27th February 1998

When I first became acquainted with the Internet, the first newsgroup I sought out was one about Sylvia Plath. There was none at the time, which I found quite surprising. And now there is...thank you so much, Elaine.

Ted Hughes can write ten books of poetry about his life with Sylvia Plath, but she's always have "the last word", so to speak. And that's ARIEL. Hughes must be painfully aware of this. There was never such a last word.

Susan Rossbach
Sedalia, USA
27th February 1998

I was wondering if anyone out there has been able to access Guardian article from Nov. 8. I've followed links to the Guardian web page several times with no luck. Does anyone out there know of a place where the article is posted on the web? Cheers!

Ann Arbor, MI, USA
27th February 1998

Does anyone realize that the feeling of the "Bell Jar" is with every woman?

Jessica Meyer
Wayne, USA
27th February 1998

Sylvia Plath is a genius, and her death was a tragedy for the entire world and anyone who appreciates literature. However, I think her ex-husband, Ted Hughes, recieves too much flack from critics and Plath fanatics. I personally would not want my personal life exposed to the media for open fire. And I definetly would not want my children to suffer through the horrible truths and secrets about their mother. I am also currently working on a research paper concerning Plath's works (specifically The Bell Jar and Ariel) My tenative thesis deals with the issues of doubles in Plath's work and her life. Similar to her own thesis at Smith.

Suzy Cohen
Urbana, USA
27th February 1998

Recommended: Seamus Heaney's powerful, insightful review of "Birthday Letters" in The Irish Times (available on the Net). He raises the interesting aspect of Hughes and Plath's roles as "mythopoeic" poets who "understood the world in terms of archetypes and omens, dreams and revelations." This occultism, as I call it, resounds throughout "BL"; for instance, in "St. Botolph's" he examines at great length their astrological aspects the night they met, their natal compatibility, etc. -- "That day the solar system married us --" and most horrifically in the poem "Portraits." His belief in forces, fate, destiny becomes a major theme in BL, and I don't believe this is a self-serving ploy to shirk "responsiblity," either, though undoubtedly it will be interpreted that way. In my opinion, this aspect of the book is one of the things that raises it to the level of a unified work of art that goes far beyond the inevitable "tabloid" interest the material holds as well. El! aine, I would be interested to hear your (and others') thoughts about the occult influences in Plath and Hughes' work, which I think connects them to the tradition of Yeats, Stevens, and even Merrill's "Changing Light at Sandover." Also, I will be in attendance at the BL Symposium in New York this evening and hopefully will be able to give a full report on the Forum. If I'm right, this should be an intense event!

Stewart Clarke
New York, USA
26th February 1998

The thread on Hughes' possible "terminal illness": Ted Hughes has been writing the poems over a rather long period of years (see previous posts), and from all I know it is very unlikely that any "terminal illness" was the reason for their writing or publication. It should be "temporary illness", really, the rest is just rumours.

Libby Purves' article in The Times, Jan 20, is enlightening on the aspect of some of the whys of the publication, and it contains further information for all who are wondering about Hughes' children. The article in The Guardian, Nov. 8, on Frieda Hughes should further clarify, as well as Frieda's poem published with it (you can find it on Anja Beckmann's Sylvia Plath pages) -- a must read, I think.

I do not understand on what basis anyone feels in the position to judge and condemn Hughes or Plath for anything they do/did in their lives - after all it is/was their life and we do not own any of it. Some events are, no doubt, sad for the enthusiast (like the loss of the journals) but cannot be helped now and should not (imo) provide the grounds for condemnation.

For further information on Ted Hughes' work you may visit the Ted Hughes Pages .

Sorry about the length and thanks for your time.

Claas Kazzer
Leipzig, Germany
26th February 1998

Does anyone know where a BBC recording with the following description can be found today?

Peter Orr, "The Poet Speaks: A Reading and Interview with Sylvia Plath," recorded 30 October 1962.

For a time it was available in the States through Credo Records, now long gone. It's important to re-loacte this recording because of Sylvia's magnificent reading voice and her fascinating interview with Orr.

Jack Folsom
Sharon, Vermont, US
26th February 1998

Can anyone tell me EXACTLY when the Ariel poems began? What is the very first poem in the published edition of Ariel? I have Plath's collected poems, however, there are no indicators between different books of poems, just in the year they each were composed in. Help, please?

Dena Tooma
Toronto, Canada
26th February 1998

For this long-time SP afficionado, reading "Birthday Letters" is extremely eerie and almost uncomfortable. It's as if I'm snooping in a friend's journal. For those up on their Plath biographical data, almost each poem causes a gasp of recognition --- the poems are written in a personal code between TH and SP (who is palpably alive in these verses), and yet thousands of stangers have access to the code as well . . . it's a very strange experience. I find them almost unfair to judge them as poems. Particularly the poems that deal with the days between The Elm and her suicide --- was it Oscar Wilde who said, "All bad poetry is sincere?" The poems I preferred were the ones that deal with their courtship, honeymoon, early travels and life together -- these have a detachment and objectivity that make them much more successful for me, much more moving. He is a very brilliant man. Read his book of essays and criticism, "Winter Pollen." Incredible insight, wild ideas! , laced with his peculiar brand of occultism. And a heartbraking analysis of SP's "Sheep in Fog." His villification in the US for the last thirty years has always struck me as extremely narrow-minded and naive. I am grateful to him for these poems. Now if only JD Salinger would publish all those novels he's been working on for years . . .

Stewart Clarke
New York, USA
25th February 1998

In response to those who criticize Hughes for not publishing every shred of Sylvia's work and wish to in some way blame him for her tragic death, I ask would you want every aspect of your personal relationships made public? To many of us Sylvia is a type of mythologized being, but she was also a Mummy, a daughter, a sister and a wife. Ted Hughes had Sylvia's children and family to protect and I find it rather disheartening that some feel they are entitled to be so damn intrusive in the name of literary scholarship or just simple morbid curiosity.

Mary Poole
Covington, KY, USA
24th February 1998

I wanted to just inquire about others who are well-familiar or are just getting familiar with this mysterious, beautiful and ingenius woman named Sylvia Plath. I just discovered her in a artcle in The New York Post. I am beginning her journals and I have read the Bell Jar, which got me hooked and intrigued. Wanna talk?

Albuquerque, USA
24th February 1998

I don't see what all the flurry over the to-be-released journals is. . .the most important one was destroyed following Sylvia's suicide. In my opinion, however small and insignificant, Plath can never be fully understood without some first-hand insight into her mindset during the Ariel period. Here's a hand for Ted Hughes. Thanks for obstructing insight into the mind of one of the greatest poets ever, you pompous, self-serving wanker. Have a great day everyone!

Dena Tooma
Toronto, Canada
24th February 1998

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and what you know about Sylvia Plath because she is one of my idols. I just started reading up on her not to long ago when i was doing a poetry section on deppresion and death. She helped me out a lot on my project and I'm also a teenager who has thought about committing suicide.

Fredericksburg, United States
24th February 1998

Since once has to wait for a month when ordering a book from the U.K., my copy of "Birthday Letters" arrived only four days ago, and I still feel completely mesmerized. I keep rereading the book, with Sylvia's "Collected Poems", her Journals and Letters Home on the other hand. Well, I'm not sure whether "Birthday Letters" is Ted Hughes's "best" work - "Crow" is fierce competition in that department - but many of the Birthday Letters poems are certainly the most beautiful and intense poems he has ever written. I was also struck by the tenderness - e.g. in poems like "Daffodils, "Fingers", "Drawing" - which, it seems to me, was something none of his previous poetry evoked. Most importantly: For me, all the biographies of Sylvia Plath have been unsatisfactory in a way which has nothing to do with research. Somehow, they never made her come alive as a person, they fell flat when compared with her own words. Now you can agree or disagree with T.H.'s view on Sylvia, but ! one thing is sure - here she comes alive, vibrantly, painfully. And I think this is the greatest gift a poet can give to poet, or a husband to a wife.

Something on the sidelines: Does anyone know who "Susan" - mentioned in the poem "18 Rugby Street" - is? I couldn't place her in the Plath-Hughes-context.

Tanja Kinkel
Bamberg, Germany
23rd February 1998

I would greatly appreciate any insight anyone has on Sylvia Plath's relationship with Ted Hughes, or a point in the right direction as to where I could get some in depth information.

Stuttgart, Germany
23rd February 1998

In school, we were doing one of Ted Hughes poems and our teacher was giving us a short biography of his life as well as of the life of Sylvia Plath. From what I know, she had attempted to commit suicide three times, and on the third time she succeeded. That was the one with the cooking gas, then the other suicide was the one with the slleping pills. What was the third one? Could anyone please inform me?

Sharjah, U.A.E.
22nd February 1998

On Thursday, February 26th at 7 pm, the Academy of American Poets and The Cooper Union will hold a public symposium on Ted Hughess *Birthday Letters* at The Great Hall at Cooper Union, 30 Cooper Square, in Manhattan (right near the number 6 train Astor Place stop). For more information call: (212) 274-0343, ext. 12). The event is free.

Laura Reynolds Adler
New York City, USA
21st February 1998

Several people have asked why Hughes called his latest collection "Birthday Letters". My own thoughts on this is that it's an allusion to Sylvia's "Poem For A Birthday" which marked a change in direction in her poetry at the time. It was her first directly autobiographical work, just as "Birthday Letters" is a new development in Hughes' poetry - the first time he's written about himself so personally and directly.

Another idea is that perhaps it's also related to astrology. One of the poems "St. Botolph's" deals in some depth with their respective astrological charts. A central tenet of the book seems to be that Hughes believes Plath was fated to die as she did and he could also be suggesting that her natal chart had a large part in it. In terms of the "he said/she said" aspect of their relationship I think "The fault lies in ourselves not in our stars" but I've always bordered on scepticism/cynicism!

A recent article by Al Alvarez in "The New Yorker" said that Hughes had been writing the poems over the years since Plath's death. It would be rather romantic to think that he's been composing these poems for years maybe on each anniversary of her birth? The poem "Freedom of Speech" contains strong hints that it was written on Plath's birthday itself. It opens with: "At your sixtieth birthday" and goes on to refer to her "Mummy/ .. laughing in her nursing home." This suggests that it was written in 1992 when Mrs. Plath was still alive. Thanks to Rick Callahan I have learned that Mrs. Plath died in 1994. Thanks Rick. He may well have left publication to further spare her feelings, although in many ways he's never been number one contender in any compassion competitions. As he's said himself: "There is no sophistry in my body/My manners are tearing off heads./The allotment of death."

Miriam, you ask what happened to Frieda and Nick. Frieda has worked for a greetings cards company, as a tax officer, went to art school and is now an artist mainly living in Australia. She has had a couple of exhibitions which have been quite well reviewed. She has been married twice, her second marriage is apparently happy. In recent photographs of her she bears a strong physical resemblance to Sylvia. Nick works as a scientist in Alaska - I don't know anything about his personal life. I think that they saw their grandmother quite regularly. Whilst I expect they probably have the right to American as well as British citizenship, I haven't heard that they've taken it.

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge, UK
19th February 1998

Does anyone know the date for Robin Morgan's poem "The Arraignment"? It's the one that begins "I accuse/Ted Hughes" of murdering Sylvia Plath. I think it was in Morgan's l972 collection "Monster" -- but was it published in a magazine before that? If anyone can answer this question before the end of the day Wednesday Feb 18, I'll be most grateful! After that I will have missed my deadline.

katha pollitt
New York City, USA
18th February 1998

I am studying Plath as an A-level text at an all boy's school. Can you imagine the total ignorance towards this woman's wonderful, moving poetry that can be found there? It is a shame that many of us 18 year old boys find it difficult to understand what she is trying to say. In fact, even the teacher is often confused. Surely we must come to an agreement that up until 62, Plath wrote some of the greatest poems of all time. Then in late 62 until she took her life, her poetry went downhill, suffering at the hands of some mental illness or deep-rooted problem. Please someone help also with the meanings behind Plath's fascination with death. What are the roots behind it? E-mail me please at the address given. Thank you.

Luke Best
Bournemouth, England
18th February 1998

I would be most interested to know how Sylvia's children turned out. Not necessarily their exact whereabouts, but what professions they entered; whether they married; any interviews they may have done. I have heard they often visited Aurelia Plath in Mass., at least while they were young. Do they have any identity as Americans? I believe Sylvia still had a US passport at the time of her death.

Miriam Korshak
Houston, Texas, USA
17th February 1998

Ted Hughes was the catalyst for Plath, for the genius of Plath, for Ariel; in his absence she would have found another god, another revelation, but not the voice that began in "The Moon and the Yew Tree." The confessional tone of Birthday Letters humanizes its author in the way the Old Testament humanizes God, revealing vulnerability and anguish and inescapability. It's a beautiful and haunting book.

Melissa A. Dobson
Newport, R.I., USA
15th February 1998

Curiously I had bought Sylvia Plath's collected poems and that eery tape of her reading the famous poems about a week before news broke of Ted Hughes book. My reading and listening of Plath helped my understand some the scenes and images in Hughes book. It doesn't take long of reading into his book to become riveted by the history, the drama and the compelling poems, written simply and magnificently. Definitely a must read.

Alex Pepple
Cupertino, CA, USA
14th February 1998

I think the most disgusting thing is that readers are falling in Hughes' trap. We should not feel sorry for his lucrative attempts to cash in on Plath's name once again. Sure he cares, but where's the original Ariel? the journals...etc..... think about it.....

Sara Prichard
Eugene, Oregon, USA
13th February 1998

I found many of the poems very moving. They surely were a cliché-busting couple when it comes to gender -- female rage and male tenderness. Most striking to me was the impression that HE IS STILL MARRIED TO HER. Know what I mean? Hope the rumors about his health are not true.

New York, NY, USA
13th February 1998

When I first heard HE was publishing poems on our beloved Sivvy, I was happy to see that some light would be shed on the subject. Then, I heard what the US critics had to say. Basically, they blasted him as taking the position of a martyr and was a sack of self-piting, well, you know. Then, I bought the book. As much as I'd like to take the easy way out and slam Hughes for her suicide, all the rest, it won't be right. The book is wonderfully written- the best work I've ever seen from him. And they say you can only write passionately from what you know and love. Birthday Letters proves just that.

New York City, USA
13th February 1998

First, thank you for the photo of Sylvia's grave. The tulips were most appropriate.

Secondly, there were times when I have felt very uneasy about Ted's silence, especially when I was in the Rare Book Room at Smith. His silence did not match the image in Plath's writings.

I have not yet read these new poems but I am eager to find some "answers" about his behavior. If any do exist.

12th February 1998

Thank you Elaine for the picture.
Sylvia's spirit will never be forgotten.....
She gave more than she could have known. A real genius.

Chicago, US
12th February 1998

Sylvia Plath's Grave in Heptonstall
near Hebden Bridge on 11th February, 1998, the 35th anniversary of her death.

Click image to enlarge.

Elaine Connell

 Sylvia Plath's Grave

This forum is administered by Elaine Connell, author of Sylvia Plath: Killing The Angel In The House who lives in Hebden Bridge, near where Sylvia Plath is buried and where Ted Hughes was born. Web Design by Pennine Pens