Friday, October 8, 2010
There is probably no poet who could make international news except Ted Hughes, even twelve years after his death.
A new poem was discovered in his papers deposited in the British Library. Part of the series of poems that would eventually become Birthday Letters, this poem, probably written in the 70s, recalls Hughes reaction on hearing of his wife's death. Why he did not include it in Birthday Letters is unclear; but a few poems about Plath were published outside that collection, and this appears to be one that simply did not make the cut. There are several revisions and a typed copy, which usually meant that Hughes considered the poem done.
Again, like Hemingway, Hughes projected a character who was larger than his literature, so he survives in the imagination of the general public and is still newsworthy. Hemingway had a few more positive credits to his public fascination; Hughes' was almost totally negative. He was considered an accomplice in the death of Sylvia Plath. Both men, however, were considered cruel to women and drew the ire of some feminists.
So, these poems, and any more that are out there, continue the story of this doomed couple. Wider audiences no longer care about poetry or poets, but Hughes and Plath, for reasons that are largely salacious and less than savory, hold a place in the public imagination.
One can only hope that people read their work, and don't only ponder their all too human mistakes. Birthday Letters is perhaps one of the greatest efforts of an artist to redefine himself at the end of his career, and at the end of his life. It should be read