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Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes
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Birthday Letters (1998)

by Ted Hughes

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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Brilliant poetry ... it really dovetailed with Sylvia Plath's journal. I think he really loved her and that couldn't have been easy. The poetry was beautifully written in any event. ( )
  AliceAnna | Sep 9, 2014 |
As background Ted Hughes was probably the finest English poet first published post 1945. He married Sylvia Plath in 1956 and was estranged from her upon her death by suicide in 1963.

This is visceral, confessional poetry of an immense power and feeling. It is the final work of a man who, knowing he is soon to die, cares nothing about displaying the soiled linen of their relationship; her weaknesses, fears, obsessions, his failings as he looks through the demonic power of his words to their inevitable conclusion. One is cut to shreds as he sifts the spikes and shards of their failings and failed relationship. There is bitterness too, Plath's father is certainly not spared, nor is Hughes himself but there are goblins and bees aplenty in that superlative, supernatural and ill-fated place they inhabited together. I wanted it to cease, I longed for it to be over, I never wanted it to end.

Hughes spared nothing. He was blunt and his verse often less than flattering but always the images conjured are powerful:

From 18, Rugby Street

, "And I became aware of the mystery
Of your lips, like nothing before in my life,
Their aboriginal thickness. And your nose,
Broad and Apache, nearly a boxer's nose,
Scorpio's obverse to the Semitic eagle
That made every camera your enemy,"

His word in "Visit" are stark and doom-ladenly prophetic

"Inside that numbness of the earth
Our future trying to happen.
I look up - as if to meet your voice
With all its urgent future
That has burst in on me. Then look back
At the book of the printed words.
You are ten years dead. It is only a story.
Your story. My story."

Looking back on that time and facing his own curtailed future (he died of cancer shortly after publication) Hughes left possibly his best work for the very last to be savoured after his passing. Given the subject matter that was just right.
11 vote PaulCranswick | Mar 16, 2013 |
These are good poems, professional and well-written. But they are not great. There are some petty and even malevolent reviews here but let's keep to facts. Sylvia Plath was a minor poet and never approached the power or authenticity of Hughes. Which is perhaps one of the reasons she killed herself. But she got her revenge - finally because of her and for her he produced this introspective domestic collection like Betjeman or even Eliot on a bad day instead of the soaring haunting beauty of his earlier poems. But I do love Fulbright Scholars. ( )
  lunarcheck | Sep 22, 2009 |
Haunting responses to Plath, full of pain and sorrow for lost happiness ( )
  ThistleDo | Jun 14, 2009 |
Read: 2/27-2/28/09

Synopsis: All but two of the poems are for Hughes's deceased wife Sylvia Plath. Written after she had committed suicide, Hughes shows emotion in these poems. The poems describe his relationship with Plath, starting when they first met, their marriage, and life with Plath leading to her suicide. He focuses her suicide on Plath's feelings of her father's death early in life.

Pros & Cons: Overall, I enjoyed the honesty, and raw feeling that Hughes put into these poems. I am a relative newcomer to reading Hughes and Plath, reading some of their poetry in a class and later on The Bell Jar. I think I need to read some of their poems again as it has been awhile. Overall, I do not think that this is his best work of poetry, but I recommend it if you are a fan of either Hughes or Plath. ( )
  jayde1599 | Mar 28, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374525811, Paperback)

Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters--88 tantalizing responses to Sylvia Plath and the furies she left behind--emerge from an echo chamber of art and memory, rage and representation. In the decades following his wife's 1963 suicide, Hughes kept silent, a stance many have seen as guilty, few as dignified. While an industry grew out of Plath's life and art, and even her afterlife, he continued to compose his own dark, unconfessional verses, and edited her Collected Poems, Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963, and Journals. But Hughes's conservancy (and his sister Olwyn's power as Plath's executrix) laid him open to yet more blame. Biographers and critics found his cuts to her letters self-interested, and decried his destruction of the journals of her final years--undertaken, he insisted, for the sake of their children.

In Birthday Letters we now have Hughes's response to Plath's white-hot mythologizing. Lost happiness intensifies present pain, but so does old despair: "Your ghost," he acknowledges, "inseparable from my shadow." Ranging from accessible short-story-like verses to tightly wound, allusive lyrics, the poems push forward from initial encounters to key moments long after Plath's death. In "Visit," he writes, "I look up--as if to meet your voice / With all its urgent future / that has burst in on me. Then look back / At the book of the printed words. / You are ten years dead. It is only a story. / Your story. My story." These poems are filled with conditionals and might-have-beens, Hughes never letting us forget forces in motion before their seven-year marriage and final separation. When he first sees Plath, she is both scarred (from her earlier suicide attempt) and radiant: "Your eyes / Squeezed in your face, a crush of diamonds, / Incredibly bright, bright as a crush of tears..." But Fate and Plath's father, Otto, will not let them be. In the very next poem, "The Shot," her trajectory is already plotted. Though Hughes is her victim, her real target is her dead father--"the god with the smoking gun."

Of course, "The Shot" and the accusatory "The Dogs Are Eating Your Mother" are an incitement to those who side (as if there is a side!) with Plath. Newsweek has already chalked up the reaction of poet and feminist Robin Morgan to the book: "My teeth began to grind uncontrollably." But Hughes makes it clear that his poems are written for his dead wife and living children, not her acolytes' bloodsport. He has also, of course, written them for himself and the reader. Pieces such as "Epiphany," "The 59th Bear," and "Life After Death" are masterful mixes of memory and image. In "Epiphany," for instance, the young Hughes, walking in London, suddenly spots a man carrying a fox inside his jacket. Offered the cub for a pound, he hesitates, knowing he and Plath couldn't handle the animal--not with a new baby, not in the city. But in an instant, his potent vision extends beyond the animal, perhaps to his and Plath's children:

Already past the kittenish
But the eyes still small,
Round, orphaned-looking, woebegone
As if with weeping. Bereft
Of the blue milk, the toys of feather and fur,
The den life's happy dark. And the huge whisper
Of the constellations
Out of which Mother had always returned.
Other poems are more influenced by Plath's "terrible, hypersensitive fingers," including "The Bee God" and "Dreamers," which is apparently a record of Plath's one encounter with Hughes's mistress: "She fascinated you. Her eyes caressed you, / Melted a weeping glitter at you. / Her German the dark undercurrent / In her Kensington jeweller's elocution / Was your ancestral Black Forest whisper--" This exotic woman, "slightly filthy with erotic mystery," seems a close relation to Plath's own Lady Lazarus, and the poem would be equally powerful without any biographical information. This is the one paradoxical pity of this superb collection. These poems require no prior knowledge--but for better or worse, we possess it.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:14 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Love poems from a husband to a wife who committed suicide. The writer is poet laureate to Queen Elizabeth II. His wife, Sylvie Plath, who was also a poet, gassed herself in 1963 after writing, "Dying is an art, like everything else." The couple are still the subject of controversy in England, some claiming he drove her to it, others that she was an impossible wife.… (more)

» see all 5 descriptions

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