Sylvia Plath Forum

Contributions from 20th January - 10th February 1998

The literary world has been stunned by the announcement that Plath's former husband, Ted Hughes is about to publish a new collection of narrative love poems entitled Birthday Letters (Faber & Faber) which provide a detailed account of the poets' relationship with each other. He also intends to publish all her diaries in England next year. Thirty five years after her death! Personally, I'm still reeling from the shock after such a long silence I've always thought that we would never get either the diary or Hughes' personal story until after his own death, if at all.

I'd be interested to hear other people's reactions to the news on this forum. I wonder about Hughes' motivations in writing these poems and allowing publication of the diaries. Has he been planning to do this for years perhaps waiting for their children to grow up? Has he been waiting for Mrs. Plath's death - is she dead? I haven't seen any reports of it. Has he been finally provoked into action by the criticism which has been aimed at him over the years? Are they the product of a guilty conscience? Or has it taken him all this time to come to terms with her suicide and be able to confront it?

The poems I've seen so far are quite touching, apparently genuine love poems. I eagerly wait for other people's thoughts.

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge, UK
20th January 1998

I too was surprised, but after reading selected poems in the London Times, I am struck by the brilliance of Hughes' imagery; at times I thought I was reading Sylvia Plath.


Carol Hansen, Ph. D.
USA, 22nd January 1998

It is very difficult to understand why Ted Hughes has published now. I also wonder exactly when he wrote these poems. I have read only some of them so far but I am impressed by what I've read. It is very hard to disentangle the lives from the poems - if, indeed, this is desirable.

Margaret Walker
Accrington, UK, 23rd January 1998

I think we have the public response to Janet Malcom's well-reasoned book to thank for this, in part.

Why are so many people surprised to find out that Hughes has affection for his late wife? Or that he is a terrific poet? Moortown, Crow, and Gaudette blew my mind.

Has he destroyed the Ariel journals or Double Exposure? The only real mystery.

Hughes once said, "the time to tell the truth about Sylvia is when you are dying." Something to consider.

Dale Tegtman
San Francisco, US, 24th January 1998

I hadn't heard about the diaries. Any plans for U.S. editions, have you heard? If not, do you know the U.K. publisher and date?

Hughes surprised me, too. I've never been a big fan (of Hughes), but I did read an excerpt or two in news releases and found myself curious. I haven't seen any of the poems in their entirety, though. When did the London Times carry the selections, if you don't mind one more question?

Why? Who knows. I read that his editor at Faber & Faber said he "just appeared at our offices one day last summer bearing a vast bundle containing pages of poems that we had no idea existed." Doesn't make it sound terribly planned out. But, again, who knows?

I ventured out here tonight specifically looking for some talk on this very topic, doubtful whether there would be anything so soon. So thanks for getting it started. I'll check back with interest.

Heath Martin
Moline, IL, US, 24th January 1998

I'll do my best to answer people's questions when I can.

First Dale's. Hughes burned the journal which Plath kept in the weeks immediately before her death. I presume that this is the Ariel journal, but it may not be. The draft for Double Exposure still exists in the Smith College Rare Book Collection but it has been sealed. I remember reading one writer (I think it may be Judith Kroll) who said she's seen it. As far as I know, there's no plans to release that. I was intrigued to see your comment about Hughes saying the time to tell the truth about Sylvia is when you're dying. It occurred to me that possibly Hughes has a terminal illness and is therefore assessing his life. We shall see.....

Heath, I don't know if there are any plans for US editions of the diaries. I expect the publisher will be Faber and the publication date has just been indicated as sometime this year. The Times carried selections and articles from 16/1 - 22/1.

I've now got the book and have read it. It's some of the best work I've seen Hughes do in years - ranks with his early poems which I always preferred and which of course he wrote whilst he was living with Sylvia. It's almost as if thinking/remembering about her has reawakened the full range of his genius again.

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge, UK
25th January 1998

from The New York Times, January 19th: ...The collection, "Birthday Letters," which is to be published in the United States next month by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, is the result of work done quietly by Hughes during the last 25 years.... So there will be an American edition, too. There is an article by SARAH LYALL in the NYT which can also be accessed online at the site of NYT.

See my homepage on Sylvia Plath. Comments and help welcome!
Anja Beckmann
27th January 1998

"Birthday Poems" has just been published here in the States by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. It can be ordered at a discount from

Having worked extensively on the Sylvia Plath papers at Smith College, I get a sense that Hughes has always had a proprietary interest in Sylvia's art (editing it, glossing it, etc.) and was (together with Olwyn) jealously protective of the children and the so-called "estate." Olwyn's comments to me in letters written in the late 1980s indicate that both she and Ted were impatient with all of the misinterpretations and distortions that had come into print. It seems that at this stage in his life, and with the children well into their thirties, Ted has finally decided to raise the curtain, perhaps to correct mistaken public impressions of him and of Sylvia as well as to reveal his own feelings more fully.

Jack Folsom
Sharon, Vermont, US
27th January 1998

I don't know any of the whys and wherefores, I just know that 'Birthday Letters' is an amazing book, and if you haven't bought it you should. You can read extracts in the Times, which is on the net.

I think it's a pleasant change to be genuinely startled by the publication of a book. So many are hyped for months in advance, and you begin to think nothing can be kept quiet. The jacket painting is wonderful too, and it's only the second time poetry has moved me to tears (the first time was Plath).

Vivienne Humphreys
Exeter, UK
27th January 1998

I'm a young lit major and in my development as a writer and admirer of Sylvia Plath's poetry and prose, I'm excited to learn that Ted Hughes is finally going to break his thirty-five year silence about his late wife. Besides his genius for writing poetry, he had to know what a commercial success this would be. After such a long silence this couldn't be anything BUT intriguing. I can only hope that the bulk of what will be released, particularly her diaries, are concerned with her Ariel period. The last six months of her life remain unsurpassed by anything else she ever wrote. Oh boy!! I can't wait! Does anyone else agree that the published "Journals of Sylvia Plath" were not too revealing? Hughes himself made a very interesting comment in the foreward to the journals. He said: "Ariel and the associated later poems give us the voice of that [true] self. They are the proof that it arrived. All her other writings, except these journals, are the waste products of its gestation." I don't necessarily agree that everything she wrote prior to Ariel was a 'waste.' If in fact they were a waste, the myth of Sylvia Plath becomes that much more tragic, that she died with her head in an oven at the moment her talent as a writer and artist climaxed.

Hope you keep this page up...whoever that may be :)
(see below -Webmaster)

Dena Tooma
Toronto, Canada
28th January 1998

Hello, i need some help on sylvia plath, can somebody please send me some information on her. thanks

Jessie Bell
30th January 1998

Sorry to be the child who points out the Emperor's nakedness- two or three poems are okay, but on the whole? Justification for dumping a whole family? Yuk. He relies on punch-ending, and often fails.

Helen Flint
Bournemouth, UK
2nd February 1998

I have read several different biographies and critics about Sylvia Plath, and I was wondering if her book, THE BELL JAR, is indeed a autobiography? Also, do her poems reflect the way she really felt towards the end of her life? I'm doing a research paper, and that's my focal point. I'd appreciate any comments or answers. Thanks!! :-)

2nd February 1998

I just finished reading Hughes new collection. The style seems uncharacterisitc of his previous work; the voice very wooden. He borrows freely from Plath's work and seems to go out of his way to establish himself as "victimed husband" rather than the victimizer. I doubt Mr. Hughes sincerity and I wonder why all of the poems were written after Plath's death. Did he have nothing to say while she was alive?

Baltimore, USA
2nd February 1998

Having studied Plath for three plus years, and having loathed Hughes about the same amount of time, I am more than willing to read his side of the story. I think we owe a lot to Hughes for publishing this book. There were several messages talking about a terminal illness lending to the quick publication, and I don't think this is too far off base. Now, I am just a fan, and I don't mean to start any rumours. I have read Birthday Letters twice now, and from Hughes I have never read anything so delicate. These poems are straight from his heart, and whilst he is quick to place any and all blame for Plath's behaviour on her father, or lack thereof, I couldn't help but entertain the feeling that he (Hughes) is still hurting. It is a very exciting period for Plathians, and the time of year that it is, the Eve of her death, I think also plays somewhat into the release of this book. I certainly hope that Hughes does not leave us with still more unanswered questions, be! cause there is so much more to say after 35 years.

Why the title Birthday Letters? I have heard nothing about the title?

Peter K Steinberg
Alexandria, Virginia, USA
2nd February 1998

Can someone help me with the poem "Lady Lazarus". My teacher wants me to use the different tropes within the poem as evidence for how one trope controls them. And how does the controlling trope, and therefore the poem as a whole, combine a sense of sameness and difference between two ideas or images. thanks

Seattle, USA
3rd February 1998

Why are some people so stunned that Ted Hughes' new book of poems demonstrates his deep love for Sylvia Plath? Humans tend to hurt most deeply those whom we love most of all. Was Hughes cruel when he left Plath for someone else? Yes, but perhaps Plath's legacy of mental illness drove him away out of no fault of her own. How can we judge someone we've never met, having drawn our opinions of their tragic love affair from books written from misty, faded recollections. Hughes must be admired for producing this book, imperfect but containing the same thrilling traces of genius Plath's late work still radiates 35 years after her death.

Rick Callahan
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
4th February 1998

A little bit of gossip to fuel the speculation about the possibility that Hughes has a terminal illness. Last week I read in our local newspaper that he had been "prevented by illness" from picking up the Whitbread Prize which he'd won for his book "Tales From Ovid". Remember where you heard it first, though I shall be sad if we're right.

Dena, I agree with you that it's wrong to state that everything Plath wrote before "Ariel" was a waste. They may be more mannered but there is still a place for elegant, well-crafted poems in a poet's history and there may well be many people who prefer poetry in this style. I think that the pre- "Ariel" poems are further testament (if one is needed) for Plath's genius that she could develop such enormous stylistic range in such a short time.

Cynthia, "The Bell Jar" is autobiographical, so much so that Plath produced it under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas when it was first published in 1963. Presumably this was to spare Aurelia Plath's feelings as the mother of the novel is a rather limited, unsympathetic character.

I don't expect we'll ever really know if the "Ariel" poems reflected the way she felt at the end of her life. The only "proof" of that was in her final journal which Ted Hughes has said he burned immediately after her suicide. However, the sense of rage, the way the poems are permeated by a sense of inconsolable grief and the attractive images of death make me think they're probably an accurate reflection of someone in a suicidal state.

Peter, my own ideas about Hughes have always been ambivalent. His desertion of Sylvia probably pushed her towards her death, robbing us all of a major poetic talent. However, as a fellow suicide survivor (my father gassed himself in 1966 when I was 13) I feel I understand what he and his children have gone through and want to distance myself from the facile tendency of finding someone to blame for a suicide's actions. I actually deal with this in some depth in my book. (Plug, plug)

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge, UK
4th February 1998

I think Ted Hughes decision to release Sylvia Plath's journals is an extraordinary event. Finally there is some access to what has been hidden for 35 years since her tragic death. I read a few excerpts of Birthday Letters in the New Yorker and find the poems moving and personal. A fine effort on Mr. Hughes part.

Francisca Jonsson
Santa Clara, CA, USA
6th February 1998

Hurray - the best site on the Net!

Helen Flint - again
Bournemouth, UK
6th February 1998

Help! I am a graduate student who needs to answer this question about Plath: Name the significant biographies of Plath and tell why they can be judged so. What role has her husband Ted Hughes played in writing biographies about her? I have been searching foe 2 days now and would appreciate any help you could give. Thank you!

Elizabeth Corral
Hollywood, US
8th February 1998

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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