Alexander Averin

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Ted and Sylvia

Dear Diary,

I found this lovely piece on the Internet telling of how Sylvia met Ted.

Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes

by Steve King

On this day in 1956 Sylvia Plath described in her journal her first meeting with Ted Hughes. The morning of writing was "gray, most sober, with cold white puritanical eyes"; the evening before had started at a bar where "I drank steadily the goblets" and endured "some ugly gat-toothed squat grinning guy named Meeson trying to be devastatingly clever." At the party -- "and oh, it was very bohemian, with boys in turtleneck sweaters and girls being blue-eye-lidded or elegant in black" -- there was more of the same, but "the jazz was beginning to get under my skin, and I started dancing with Luke and knew I was very bad, having crossed the river and banged into the trees....":
Then the worst thing happened, that big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me, who had been hunching around over women, and whose name I had asked the minute I had come into the room, but no one told me, came over and was looking hard in my eyes and it was Ted Hughes. . . . And then it came to the fact that I was all there, wasn't I, and I stamped and screamed yes . . . and I was stamping and he was stamping on the floor, and then he kissed me bang smash on the mouth and ripped my hair band off, my lovely red hairband scarf which had weathered the sun and much love, and whose like I shall never again find, and my favorite silver earrings: hah, I shall keep, he barked. And when he kissed my neck I bit him long and hard on the cheek, and when we came out of the room, blood was running down his face.

I have been musing on Ted and Sylvia as Ted has been very much in the news these last few days because a memorial to him has been unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner.
A stone bearing his name and lines of his poetry has been placed below the stone for his mentor, TS Eliot.
Seamus Heaney unveiled the memorial in front of more than three hundred guests, who included Hughes' widow Carol and daughter Frieda.
The greatest poets of the age have been honoured with a tomb or a stone in a tradition going back six hundred years.
Chaucer, Tennyson and Thomas Hardy are among those buried in Poets' Corner and others include Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Blake and Eliot are memorialised there.
A friend and I have always disagreed; she is a Ted Hughes fan and I have always been a Sylvia Plath fan and if I am honest I have struggled with Ted Hughes’ poetry. I like this one though and the subject matter suits the season.  And I would love to hear of any of his that you love and might recommend to me, I need the education.

The Warm and the Cold

Freezing dusk is closing
Like a slow trap of steel
On trees and roads and hills and all
That can no longer feel.
But the carp is in its depth
Like a planet in its heaven.
And the badger in its bedding
Like a loaf in the oven.
And the butterfly in its mummy
Like a viol in its case.
And the owl in its feathers
Like a doll in its lace.

Freezing dusk has tightened
Like a nut screwed tight
On the starry aeroplane
Of the soaring night.
But the trout is in its hole
Like a chuckle in a sleeper.
The hare strays down the highway
Like a root going deeper.
The snail is dry in the outhouse
Like a seed in a sunflower.
The owl is pale on the gatepost
Like a clock on its tower.

Moonlight freezes the shaggy world
Like a mammoth of ice -
The past and the future
Are the jaws of a steel vice.
But the cod is in the tide-rip
Like a key in a purse.
The deer are on the bare-blown hill
Like smiles on a nurse.
The flies are behind the plaster
Like the lost score of a jig.
Sparrows are in the ivy-clump
Like money in a pig.

Such a frost
The flimsy moon
Has lost her wits.

A star falls.

The sweating farmers
Turn in their sleep
Like oxen on spits.

Ted Hughes

And just to be fair to Sylvia’s memory, here is one of hers called Candles which I love. I also love her poem Mirror, which is also a favourite of my daughter’s and she introduced me to it but I have posted it before. Shall I do so again? Why not?  You can’t have too much of a good thing can you?



They are the last romantics, these candles:
Upside-down hearts of light tipping wax fingers,
And the fingers, taken in by their own haloes,
Grown milky, almost clear, like the bodies of saints.
It is touching, the way they'll ignore
A whole family of prominent objects
Simply to plumb the deeps of an eye
In its hollow of shadows, its fringe of reeds,
And the owner past thirty, no beauty at all.
Daylight would be more judicious,
Giving everybody a fair hearing.
They should have gone out with the balloon flights and the stereopticon.
This is no time for the private point of view.
When I light them, my nostrils prickle.
Their pale, tentative yellows
Drag up false, Edwardian sentiments,
And I remember my maternal grandmother from Vienna.
As a schoolgirl she gave roses to Franz Josef.
The burghers sweated and wept.
The children wore white.
And my grandfather moped in the Tyrol,
Imagining himself a headwaiter in America,
Floating in a high-church hush
Among ice buckets, frosty napkins.
These little globes of light are sweet as pears.
Kindly with invalids and mawkish women,
They mollify the bald moon.
Nun-souled, they burn heavenward and never marry.
The eyes of the child I nurse are scarcely open.
In twenty years I shall be retrograde
As these drafty ephemerids.
I watch their spilt tears cloud and dull to pearls.
How shall I tell anything at all
To this infant still in a birth-drowse?
Tonight, like a shawl, the mild light enfolds her,
The shadows stoop over the guests at a christening.

Sylvia Plath


I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful-
The eye of the little god, four cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Sylvia Plath

I wonder how long it will be before a female (British) poet is honoured?

Bye for now,
Go mbeannai Dia duit,


Mac n' Janet said...

I've not read a lot of her poetry but The Bell Jar is a book that still lingers with me many years after I first read it.

Debs Carr said...

What an incredible meeting of two fascinating characters.

I love, 'Mirrors' too.

Friko said...

Like your friend, I am closer to Hughes than Sylvia. I've always thought her rather tortured as a character which makes her poetry hard to read.

e said...

I've always been a Plath fan myself. Thanks for the passages regarding how Ted and Sylvia met. Had I been Ted and been bitten hard enough to draw blood, I'm not certain I'd have gone back for more. Both were intense as well as flawed. Their poetry is poignant because of these elements, I think.

Fennie said...

I have to say it doesn't sound a promising beginning taking chunks out of one another. I thought poets were supposed to be thoughtful, gentle folk

Angela Bell said...

A fascinating post.They both wrote great poetry and I know there are those who see Plath as his victim but that meating probably sums up their relationship!

CAMILLA said...

I have read a lot of Hughes and Plath poetry, I have to say I am more inclined to favour Plath. I just love her Candles poem Cait.