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    Contributions: March 1999

    The Cassette, Sylvia Plath: The Voice of the Poet is officially punlished from Random House on April 1 (no joke). Most bookstores should already have it on the way. I know my bookstore has received it, but has yet to unearth it from a group of 42 boxes. I'll write more about it when we find it. It's $14.95.

    In the April issue of Self Magazine (found with Fashion or Women's Interest) is an article on the resurgence of great American's Women's Poetry. The article prints photographs of the two hottest poets today, Sylvia Plath and Jewel (I think I might be sick). Page 38.

    Peter Steinberg
    Alexandria, Virginia, USA
    Wednesday, March 31, 1999

    I am 29 years old Japanese girl being both a graduate student and a part time teacher at junior high school. I knew about Sylvia when I was a junior year student in the university. I had a homework to write a report on a woman writer. I found a book about the life and work of Sylvia Plath. It struck me to know about her because she wrote about a college girl's problems and suffereings. I found that she is the writer who expressed my difficulty to cope with my womanhood. In the senior year of my university, I went study abroad to Edinburgh University and as I did not take English literature course there, I have not read Sylvia's work again until I entered the graduate school.

    By looking at the homepage of Sylvia Plath Forum, I was amazed that such a wide range of people write and discuss about her. Sylvia Plath seemes to be the writer who leaves her work to the readers to finish it up. Usually, the novel is the novel itself, and there is less to talk about. In the work of Sylvia's case, the readers relate her story to their own inner story and can retell it.

    Right now, I am preparing to write a dissertation on Edith Wharton's work, "The Age of Innocence" and I am thinking about relating it with Sylvia Plath's work in some way. The character in "The Age of Innocence", Ellen, finally vanishes from the society in NY by going back to Europe. I find that it is a little similar with Sylvia's theme of suicide. When I am more sure of what I am going to write, I will post it here again.

    Yoko Abe
    Tokyo, Japan
    Tuesday, March 30, 1999

    I'm doing a project on Sylvia Plath and was asked to find four of her poems and make an analysis of each of them. Her poetry is sometimes so full of hatred and sometimes it's overflowing with love. Even as this is partially attributed to her manic, exogenic, and schiozophrenic depression, it's amazing how a person can have such clashing feelings for the same subject.

    Greenwich, USA
    Tuesday, March 30, 1999

    I know this comes a few days late, but I've just returned from London and feel I've a lot of catching up to do. John--the drafts of Thalidomide are reproduced in Charles Newman's "The Art of Sylvia Plath: A Symposium." It also has some sketches, I believe.

    In regards to the editing of the Ariel poems Plath read, and Hughes printed, I am pretty sure I read somewhere, at some time, that Hughes chopped a few poems in two. Particularly, I want to say 'Nick and the Candlestick.'

    I had the recent pleasure of being in Bloomsbury and finding the small Church of St. George the Martyr where Plath and Hughes were married. It is a stone's throw away from Faber & Faber, at Queen's Square. On my first visit, Monday 22 March, the church was closed and looked run down, with vandalism on the walls outside. I ventured back Wednesday and to my surprise and delight, the church was open. I heard one woman say, passing by at the same time as I, that the church was 'never open.' We went in. It's red all over. The altar is much nicer than you'd think, looking at the outside. And the church is very very small. If all be well, and the flashless photo's come out, I'll scan them in later this week.

    There is also a book out there I found at the Camden Market. It's called "Theme & Version: Plath and Ronsard." It's a few essay's written about Plath's translation of the French Renaissance poet Ronsard. She translated him for her Cambridge trypos (sp?) in 1956. From what I can tell, it was published in 1994 or 1995, into paperback only.

    ta ta for now

    Peter Steinberg
    Alexandria, Virginia, USA
    Tuesday, March 30, 1999

    Dear Lena !

    The sentence about Auschwitz and poetry was written by ADORNO. I think he was meaning that there can be after Ausschwitz no poetry like before Ausschwitz... The poet CELAN was confronted with the same problem : it has become impossible to use for example the same 'beautiful' metaphors, because this sort of traditional beauty does not mean anything any more, or, worse, has revealed itself as a part of the culture that has lead to Ausschwitz (a lot of high rank-nazis were very cultivated, in a traditional way, and knew Goethe, Shakespeare, and so on). I think that for ADORNO and CELAN, and a few more poets and writers the problem was quite precise : how to use - after Auschwitz- the German language, which had become the language of the nazi executioners and torturers ... and was their own ( the poets' and philosophers') language too...

    About Sylvia Plath's death : of course you are right : sometimes I have the impression, that for a lot of people there is no difference betwween S.Plath's death and, for example, M.Monroe's or Elvis Presley's death. But this is only one aspect of the fascination (the German call that 'Star-Kultur', I think).

    One other aspect is : by not only writing about selfdestruction, death and rebirth, but "DOING" it, a poet who kills him(her)self is crossing the line between litterature and "reality" : there must be something 'religious' or magic about it, in a very 'primitive' way, and it has surely much to do with Lyricism- I can't write much more about it now...

    A bientt

    Michel Kappes
    Brest, France
    Saturday, March 27, 1999

    In response to Carol Petrone's posting below, compare Plaths reference to Ted Hughes as a panther tormented in fevered fury with Pursuit, a love poem about Hughes, "fevered in its own right, that was churned out either immediately after they first met (the evening of the infamous cheek bite) or even (here my memory is probably playing tricks on me) before they met, after Plath read some of his work in The St. Boltoph's Review. Its clear that she cast Ted Hughes in his own symbolic role as marauding Pluto to her Persephone from the very beginning; I cannot stress how very important it is to remember this self-imposed scenario when attempting to interpret her work. At the risk of stoking the fires of the incipient anti-Hughes flare-up I see sparking on the Forum, I feel strongly that the topic of Carol's posting is one instance in which it would be prudent to remember Hughes assigned dramatic persona in Plath's work. Lets not approach Plath's remarks about her husband too gullibly. While Hughes may have had an unnatural and fierce hatred of his infant son, I find this quite difficult to believe. I also find Plath's remarks about the subject extremely suspect, directed as they were to her mother at the end of the marriage and with a possible divorce and custody battle looming on the horizon.

    That said, thank you, Carol, for calling our attention to the key to the panther imagery in these excised lines from Nick and the Candlestick. (And thanks to John Hopkins!) Whoever listens to the recording of this BBC reading cannot help but be struck by the deliciously amused tone of voice in which Plath recites her program of poems effectively designed to humiliate Hughes before any listener capable of cracking the code -- namely his family, friends, enemies, prospective editors, colleagues and competitors. This barbed excerpt from an early draft of Nick and the Candlestick is an excellent case in point. Hughes (and anyone else who knew the "back story" of Plath's poem Pursuit and was able to make the connection) could not fail to miss the reference. I leave you the mystery indeed! (Why have I never read any essay about Hughess fundamental role as the intended primary audience for the Ariel poems? I think it high time we analyzed revenge as a catalyst for Plath's creativity!) Thankfully, Plath seems to have realized that such an agenda harmed the poem; by deleting this subtle contest between bad daddy and good mommy from the end of the piece, Plath leaves us, in lines I have always found to be her most beautiful, with our focus entirely upon the child. In a gentle reference to the approaching Christmas season, this baby in the barn becomes his mother's savior, a lifeline thrown to a Madonna drowning in a terrible well.

    I do wish, however, that Plath had somehow found a way to salvage the last stanza of the original version. That she did not is very suggestive. These lines are incredibly poignant -- a stunning effect, her image of mother and child looking at themselves in that mirror, which floats (them) at one candle power in the murk. That's you. That's me. Is there any other moment in her poetry in which Plath seems to see so clearly? With her child in her arms, Plath is able to simply see herself -- not as a surreal figment rising from the glass like a terrible fish, but as a real human being. It is a stabilizing moment of self-definition to which the poet was apparently unable or unwilling to commit herself. I suspect our own Henry Higgins-quoting angel in the house may have an opinion as to the reason!

    Stewart Clarke
    New York, USA
    Friday, March 26, 1999

    3.Town: 4. Country: USA 5. email: Hello~ I'm sorry to post this here... I'm sure these requests are quite boring. But if anyone could point me in the direction of any good commentaries/criticisms on The Bell Jar, I'd be very grateful. =) Thank you for your time!

    Seattle, USA
    Friday, March 26, 1999

    I am a 9th grader doing a term paper on a comparison of two poems of Sylvia Plath's, "Mirror" and "Lady Lazarus". I am interested in reading others interpretations and criticism of the latter, or criticisms by others that you may have come across. Thanks for any help you can give.

    Pine Bush, USA
    Friday, March 26, 1999

    There seems to be a fair amount of interest in the evolution of Plath's poems from draft to "final" product, so I thought I'd draw attention to a book that I don't see mentioned on this page. The name of the author is Susan Van Dyne, who is a professor at Smith (I can't remember if it's English or Women's Studies). It's about the evolution of the drafts of the poems, including a very nice analysis of "Daddy" and "Ariel" among others. It's fascinating reading, and actually reproduces many of the drafts in her own hand, so that you can see her edits for yourself. The name of the book is "Revising Life".

    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    Friday, March 26, 1999

    In response to the recently posted poem from Australia, I will quote Plath herself first and then throw in my two cents.

    In her interview with Peter Orr in 1962, she said this:

    Despite the famous line about how there can be no poetry after Auschwitz (I forget who said that - can anyone help me on this?), Plath obviously believed that it was imperative to write about it, and with her Austrian-German roots she felt closer to the subject than, say, the Boston Brahmin himself, Robert Lowell. If one of the purposes of art is to give meaning and understanding to incomprehensible things, then nothing is off limits. A lot has been written about how Plath has no moral right to reference experiences she hasn't had, but from her point of view if the poem was just about herself, it would not be a good poem.

    As to her chosen method of death, I doubt if Plath had much of a choice. I hate to be morbid and concentrate on her options, but let's not forget she had already tried pills and crashing her car and who knows what else, I am tired of this focus on her death as if it is the most important thing about her; also, as if she's the only artist who died tragically in this century, or in all history, for that matter.

    Lena Friesen
    Toronto, Canada
    Thursday, March 25, 1999

    I was wondering if anyone could help me. I'm doing a piece of 'A' level coursework on Sylvia Plath but have run out of ideas. I'm basing it around the topics of motherhood and death in her poetry and prose (particularly the Bell Jar). I don't even have a proper title for it yet so if anyone out there has done a similar essay before and could help me i would love them forever. oh - and if anyone has got any comments or analysis on "Edge" then that would be useful too. Thanks.

    Jo Dodsworth
    Kingston, UK

    First, John, the amendments were made by Sylvia herself.

    Second. I am posting a poem printed in an Australian journal, which I thought some readers may not have seen. It illuminates a lot of disdain typified in theoritical discussions about Plath and the Holocaust, and I thought may pave the way on the forum for some new discussion.

    Victoria, Australia
    Thursday, March 25, 1999

    We have put the poem in the Poems inspired by Syvlia section - Elaine

    Hi all.. There is such a gulf between Ted Hughes' work and the brief flame that Sylvia was that it pains me to put them both in one sentence. He is a poet who has received accolades far beyond his due .. as philosophers and authors from the old country have done before him .. If only they had never met.

    Perth, UK
    Thursday, March 25, 1999

    John - Thank you for a most provocative and enlightening posting. I've read "Nick and the Candlestick" with different eyes since having seen the unabridged manuscript of "Letters Home" at the Lilly Library. In some of the unprinted letters, written at the end of her marriage (and near the end of her life), Sylvia writes about the unnatural and fierce hatred that Hughes had for their son, Nicholas. Further, in those mysterious "diaries" also at Lilly (these are small, pocket-sized diaries in which Plath notes her daily activities - plus some extraordinary and emotional musings), there are several references to Ted as a "panther." One entry particularly stands out, written March 10, 1956 (less than one month after Plath met Hughes.) The entry reads, "Heard Ted was in town: panther tormented with fevered fury." Then, reading the unpublished verses you printed in your letter, I wonder, must poor baby Nick (as the male-child of this "panther") be the unfortunate inheritor of his father's traits: "incisors" to bite and tear (as Hughes did psychically to Plath's spirit), a "claw" to wound sexually (as his father's body parts did to his mother), the "jaw" to lie and betray (as father did in the marriage.)

    Plath's ambivalence toward the male has been discussed already: the early love and infatuation, the later hatred and fear. Could this sad poem indicate that those feelings were being transferred from father to son? Just wondering.

    Carol Petrone
    Southfield, MI, USA
    Wednesday, March 24, 1999

    Elaine, we can only comment from our own experiences. My own personal experience, with the sudden death of my wife and my subsequent involvement with Cruse Bereavement Care, leads me to a different conclusion regarding a male response to a `heavily charged emotional situation'. But "You're right from your side, I'm right from mine", as Bob Dylan once said. It's a matter of perspective.

    Anyway, to move on to more tangible matters, thank you for the explanation that it was Alvarez's criticism that prompted changes in the poems.

    I have the "Collected Poems", and I assume the poems in this are as published in their respective volumes. The omissions to `Nick and the Candlestick' are quite extensive, and I trust you'll excuse the way I've written them out as I'm sure the actual lines, punctuation and stanzas were written out quite differently.

    In the published poem it ends:

    The reading continues:

    In "Stopped Dead" after:

    The reading continues:

    Then the published version continues:

    In the reading she also announces "Amnesiac" and reads the whole of "Lyonnesse" (with slight amendments) followed by "Amnesiac", so at that time it was one poem.

    It must be fascinating to be able to read the worksheets of Sylvia's poems from their first draft to their final form. Ted Hughes' essay "Sylvia Plath: The Evolution of `Sheep in Fog' in his book "Winter Pollen" illustrates the five sheets of this poem from the first draft to the typescript finalized on 2nd December 1962, plus the revisions in pen made on 28th January 1963; there is also a publication which includes seven pages of `Thalidomide' from the first handwritten draft to final typed version, but I'm afraid I can't remember where I saw this.

    I am currently reading a slim volume of criticism in the `Modern Writers' series; "Sylvia Plath" by Eileen M. Aird, which was published in 1973 by Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh. It's helping me towards a greater understanding of the poetry, but I've a long way to go yet.

    I really MUST buy Elaine's book "Killing The Angel In The House" sooner rather than later.

    John Hopkins
    Bridgend, S.Wales, U.K.
    Tuesday, March 23, 1999

    I didn't really understand the line, "The first Stanza of The Error is actually a sophisticated reworking of the old, Why cant a women be more like a man? theme." either. The fourth stanza did call the woman's (Assia's?) obsessive interest in "the shrine of her [Sylvia's?] death" a "mistkake", but I wasn't reading "The Error" as a male v. female thing. I saw the speaker's inability to understand the woman's as being more in the sense of the difficulty in understanding self-destructive tendencies or tragic happenings to our loved ones than as a specific lack on the part of the speaker. I think it was Virginia Adair Hamilton who ended a poem about her husband's suicide years before with, "I do not understand./I have never understood." I may have the details wrong; I only quote it as an example of what I mean by it being difficult to understand when someone we think wonderful enough to give our love to chooses to kill himself/herself.

    That first stanza, with the woman kneeling down at the grave to be accused, makes me think of Greek tragedy somehow. I can see a woman with her hair unbound, mourning; her fault or not, she will be tormented for the perceived wrongs she did. But I'm not the first person to remark that Sylvia & Ted's lives sometimes seem to take on the feeling of tragedy. Given the amount of mythologizing of her life that Sylvia did in her poems, the comparison may be inevitable. It certainly makes for interesting, emotionally gripping poetry.

    Mississippi, USA
    Tuesday, March 23, 1999

    I have to agree with John re: the first stanza of "The Error". I can't quite see it as being a sophisticated reworking of the theme "why can't a woman be more like a man." I see it as a lack of empathy (and this is not meant to be a criticism) - the inability of one person to understand how and why another person thinks, feels and acts as they do, and nothing to do with gender differences. In his poems addressed to Sylvia and Assia, Hughes seems to be frustrated - at times bewildered - by his inability to understand either woman. Rather than never trying to understand Sylvia & Assia, it appears that Hughes was completely UNABLE to understand their actions and feelings. It is this sense of "helplessness" - and fatalism - that some people have criticised in 'Birthday Letters'. It is apparent that he wants to understand, wants answers - but he cannot understand, and there are no answers. What a hell to live in.

    In "The Error", Hughes' seems to be saying that Assia's self-destruction was completely unnecessary - that she not only 'mistranslated' Sylvia's suicide, but also the need for her own 'atonement'(which seems to be his interpretation of her suicide.) As for the title, I don't believe the "Error" refers to Hughes own error(s) or that Assia's suicide was an error and Sylvia's was not. Again and again in the poem Hughes' words spell it out: Assia "misheard", she was "always mishearing", she was "mislead", she "mistook". Finally, at the end of the third stanza, "Why didn't you...Drop the whole mistake - simply call it/An error in translation." The 'error' refers not only to Assia's act of suicide, it refers to her belief that she needed to atone for Sylvia's suicide; to her own interpretation of what Sylvia's suicide meant; and to what she thought the rest of the world, i.e. the literary community, friends, family, wanted and needed from her.

    Well I could go on and on (and have done!) but I would be interested in hearing if anyone else agrees (or disagrees) with this imperfect interpretation. Also, if anyone has thoughts regarding what seems to be holocaust imagery in this poem - interesting in light of the fact that Assia was a Russian/German Jew, Hughes' fatalistic streak, and Sylvia's own use of holocaust imagery.

    Detroit, USA
    Tuesday, March 23, 1999

    In reply to John Hopkins’ posting of 21st. March. Here’s where I probably lay myself open to charges of stereotyping men. But it has been my experience that a fairly common (though not universal) male response to a heavily charged emotional situation like a suicide is to run away from it in some way. It seems to me that Hughes is puzzling over Assia’s inability to act in this masculine way when he asks: “Why didn’t you just fly?” He just doesn’t understand women’s tendency to brood over tragedy or their capacity for self blame and guilt.

    I’ve also wondered about the editing of some Sylvia’s poems. I wasn’t aware that “Nick and the Candlestick” and “Stopped Dead” had been so heavily edited and would be interested to see the omitted stanzas. The most famously edited poem is probably “Lady Lazarus” where in the reading she gave for the BBC in 1962 the lines which currently read:

    Nevertheless, "I am the same, identical woman" were in the early drafts of the poem:

    This change was prompted by a criticism from Al Alvarez who had asked her if she was trying to hitch an easy ride on the backs of the atom bomb victims or if she’d done it for the rhyme. Affected by this remark she left out the line which was a pity, as Alvarez has commented she actually did need the rhyme! Jack Folsom has written a learned and valuable paper on the changes in “Berck Plage” during its various drafts. Care to comment, Jack?

    Elaine Connell
    Hebden Bridge, UK
    Tuesday, March 23, 1999

    Elaine, a brief, belated response to your posting. You say: `The first Stanza of "The Error" is actually a sophisticated reworking of the old "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" theme.'

    Sorry, I may be obtuse but I don't see what you mean, nor do I read it this way. I was hoping that someone else may have questioned this, but other than Eva, who seems to agree with you, it has been passed without comment. Would you please explain.

    I know little about Assia Wevill other than the remarks made by Hayman in his biography which you mention and which seem to be corroborated in this poem.

    To change the subject on an open letter basis, I am curious as to the difference in some of Sylvia's poetry readings to the published versions, slight in some cases, and not so slight in others. I believe she constantly revised her work, and as differences occur in the earlier readings, assume that Sylvia herself subjected them to revision prior to publication after the reading.

    A word, or a line or two, I can understand, but in "Nick and the Candlestick" and "Stopped Dead" several stanzas are omitted. Does anyone know if these were revisions made by Sylvia, or whether it was an editorial decision?

    John Hopkins
    Bridgend, S.Wales, U.K.
    Sunday, March 21, 1999

    I've just made an exciting purchase related to SP - I recently found an ad for a book for sale on The book is titled "Alice's Adventures Under Ground", and was given to Nancy Hunter Steiner (SP's roommate in college) with a short inscription. The book has Nancy's bookplate pasted on the inside front cover, and was bought by the bookseller from Nancy herself. This particular book is mentioned in Hamilton's "Rough Magic" and in Beutscher's "SP: Method and Madness", as well as Nancy Hunter Steiner's "A Closer Look at Ariel".

    If anyone is interested in seeing the book and SP's inscription, I've scanned them and they can be viewed on 3 different URL's. Please email me if you'd like to take a look. Thursday, March 18 1999

    Steve Gorrell
    Urbana, IL, USA

    My teacher convinced me to do a report on a poet whom I knew nothing about. She told me she was an extremist who had a power with words beyond more famous poets. Being the poet I am I took the challenge and started looking for anything I could find about Mrs. Plath. She is incredible and I seriuosly wish she was still around to discuss her beautiful intity of words!

    Wake Forest, NC, USA
    Thursday, March 18, 1999

    P.S. to my previous mail: Now I've got my copy of Hughes' New Selected Poems (1957-1994) back, I could look up the poems, including The Error, which I think are addressed to Assia. What they mainly have in common with the Birthday Letter poems are the feeling of helplessness and/or passivity on the part of the "I" of the poems and the idea that the woman they are addressing was in the grip of predestined outside forces. Here are some quotes. The one connecting Assia to the Inanna myth I mentioned earlier is called "Descent":

    The titles other poem which are - just in my opinion, this is completely open to debate - about Assia in this volume are: The Other, The Locket, Shibboleth, Snow, Folktale, Opus 131 and The Error.

    Tanja Kinkel
    Munich, Germany
    Wednesday, March 17, 1999

    I have always been a fan of Sylvia Plath's poetry. A year ago I bought The Bell Jar and started reading it. I enjoyed it; however, I never finished reading it.

    I am now a Senior in high school at Starkville High School and one of the requirements is to read a book and do a research paper on it. I decided to do Plath's "The Bell Jar". I was blown away at what a wonder piece of literature it was. I wasn't bored one minute. I have also been recommending the book to others. I think it is a great book and others should read it.

    Starkville, Mississippi, USA
    Wednesday, March 17, 1999

    To those who are studying Sylvia: I have been reading the postings on this site off and on since November and have noticed there are a lot of you who are doing research on Sylvia for school and would like to suggest something that helped me. But be warned, it is time consuming but very useful! At your local or college library you can look up Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, or anyone associated with and gather articles from around 1960 to now. I believe it's the Reader's Manual (the ugly green book) which lists all of these and the information desk can help you gather the magazines and/or microfilm for these. Also, I have found a lot of recent articles online through the Electric Library ( which has a 30-day free trial period for research. After that it's $9.95/mo. Last, go to and search for Sylvia Plath. You will find a lot of articles in there. And, of course there are many books out there which are also good, but I find articles helpful because there are many reviews of Plath's poetry and some information on her life. I wish you luck in your research. Hope this helps!

    Seattle, USA
    Tuesday, March 16, 1999

    Re: The Error. This poem, and several others which seem to be addressed to Assia as well, appeared in Hughes' "Selected Poems" from 1994. Unfortunately, I've lend my volume to someone else, so I can't look up the titles right now and quote from them, but they can be found immediately after some poems addressed to Sylvia which later appeared in "Birthday Letters" (i.e. "Chaucer", "You Hated Spain" and "The God"). Four or five, all in all. The Assia poems start with "The Other". There's one where Hughes evokes the Innana myth, comparing what Assia went through to Innana going to the underworld, being torn to pieces in the process, and there's also one (I think it's the same, but I'm not sure - as I said, I can't look them up right now) where he explicitly mentions her killing their daughter. Probably noone paid attention to these poems when the volume was published because Assia was never "news" except in connection with Plath & Hughes.

    Tanja Kinkel
    Munich, Germany
    Tuesday, March 16, 1999

    Re: The Error. Very interesting. I agree with you, Elaine. I immediately felt it was addressed to Assia Wevill - how could it not be? Maybe Hughes was, after all, influenced by the "Plath-cult" - feeling that Plath's fame somehow "justified" her suicide in retrospect? Since Wevill acquired neither fame nor a cult, does that make her memory a more detached one? What a very sad thought. But if that's the case, then would there ever have been any Birthday letters to Sylvia if she hadn't achieved fame (after her death)?

    Did Hughes write these poems out of love or guilt or, as I believe I read he said, a way to figure out "Why?" or simply to finally address the questions he had previously avoided? If indeed he wrote them for personal reasons and NOT because of these questions about Plath, then...why no birthday letter to Assia and/or Shura?

    I also think your thought on "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" is a telling one. However, I don't think it's an inability on Hughes' part to not understand these tormented women, it looks like he never even TRIED to understand. Was this poem written in 1995? If so, then Hughes had had 32 and 26 years (!!!) respectively, to ponder each woman's tragic death. With this poem it seems he never did.

    And, also, the title?? Does it imply Assia's suicide was an error whereas Plath's was not?

    I want to add that I think Hughes was an extraordinary poet not to be blamed in any way for either woman's tragedy.

    New York, USA
    Monday, March 15, 1999

    Elaine, I agree with your assessment of "The Error." I too felt it was for Assia, not Sylvia. I had a different reaction to the lines about the "small cairn." I thought, rather than a dismissal or revenge, it seemed rather sad, even tender. As if Assia felt a need to replay Sylvia's death without understanding that it would not have the public impact that Sylvia's did.

    As for poems about Assia and Shura, call me sceptical, but I can't help thinking he did write about them, but never made them available to the public. By all accounts, Hughes wished for a private life, which he never had; the reading public clamored for something about Plath, but I don't recall anyone clamoring for thoughts about Assia. I think it would be in character for him to have written, but not shared, poems about them. Which could have tied into the lines of the poem.

    On a separate note, have you read Fay Weldon's "Down Among the Women"? She has a chapter about Sylvia and Assia (although the characters are unnamed). Very touching.

    Amy Rea
    Chanhassen, USA
    Monday, March 15, 1999

    “The Error” is certainly very like the poems in “Birthday Letters”. I was very interested to read it. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, Peter.

    This is by no means a fully considered analysis, but on first reading I feel it’s addressed to Assia Wevill, for whom Ted left Sylvia.

    In his biography of Plath, Ronald Hayman writes quite extensively of Assia’s experience after Sylvia’s suicide. She was virtually shunned by many of their mutual friends and the literary community. She also “aped” Sylvia in many ways, other than the obvious one of the copying of her suicide in 1969. These tendEncies are illustrated by the lines:

    The references to “You”, “always mishearing”, “Into Hebrew or German” allude to Assia’s linguistic background. She was born in Germany of Jewish parents and had been a refugee in Palestine.

    The repeated use of fire and hell imagery suggests that Assia may have been consumed with guilt and/or shame about Sylvia’s fate. Or perhaps Hughes was projecting his own remorse onto his lover?

    And what is the significance of the poem’s title? Is “The Error” Assia’s failure to expunge her demons which led to her own suicide and the murder of their own daughter? Or was “The Error” Hughes’s own in either becoming involved with her in the first place, or being generally attracted (Romantic poets’ style) to “Fatal Women”? Also, what do people make of the fact that he describes Plath as having an imposing “gravestone gray granite” whilst Assia’s ashes form “a small cairn”?

    My own interpretation is that he has decided that Plath has an enduring presence in history earned by her own efforts. Assia however, has been reduced to a relatively insignificant pile of ash liable to be blown away at any moment. The beauty and sexual magnetism which earned her so much attention in life, have proved ephemeral in death. How Sylvia would have enjoyed this aspect of her revenge.

    On the evidence of this poem Hughes appears to have a more detached attitude to Assia than he did towards Sylvia. And why no obvious anger about the murderer of his little daughter? One wonders if he wrote more poems about Assia and/or Shura?

    One theme which does strongly link this poem to those in “Birthday Letters”is his inability to really understand the torment both Sylvia and Assia endured. The first Stanza of “The Error” is actually a sophisticated reworking of the old, “Why can’t a women be more like a man?” theme.

    As I said earlier, this is just initial quick jottings. I’d like to receive other people’s impressions.

    Elaine Connell
    Hebden Bridge, UK
    Sunday, March 14, 1999

    Hi my name is Jenna and I am a junior taking a college level English class on American literature. As I was doing some research for my paper that I am writing I found a very interesting poem called 'The Munich Mannequins' and have searched everywhere for information on the poem. However I haven't been able to find anything. Does anyone know anyhting that might help me out some? I would really apperciate all the help that I can get. Thank you so much.

    Phoenix, USA
    Sunday, March 14, 1999

    The following poem was printed in the June 26/July 3 1995 issue of the New Yorker. When I read it I began to think Ted Hughes was ready to start talking about Sylvia Plath as I think this poem is easily recognisable as a 'Birthday Letters' type of poem.

    Peter Steinberg
    Alexandria, Virginia, USA
    Saturday, March 13, 1999

    I have a homework assignment on Sylvia Plath's poem "Metaphors". I do not understand the interpretation on the poem and the riddle that is being expressed. Any help would be greratly appreciated.

    San Juan Capistrano, USA
    Friday, March 12, 1999

    I have found myself drawn to the works of SP throughout my life of 17 years. Someone once asked me, "...Is there ANY hope in her words?" I often laugh because of this phrase. Hope isn't necessarily the belief that all is well that ends well, but it is a feeling that maybe someday, everything will turn out alright. That was the idea that kept her alive for so long... that a possibility existed that she would one day wake up from the nightmare she lived in. Ultimately, she embodied hope. Hope is a survival mechanism to some, and a religious devotion for others. There is always hope, but in the end, I believe that SP misplaced hers.

    West Grove PA, USA
    Thursday, March 11, 1999

    Town: What an impressive, informative site this is! I'm glad to see a web site focusing so heavily on Plath's poetry, which is brilliant and a huge influence on my own (still embryonic) work.

    Today I received the "Voices and Visions" audio tape of Sylvia Plath. This PBS series is a treasure in that it gives us the opportunity to hear great poets reading their own works. I highly recommend this cassette to everyone interested in or enraptured by Plath's work. I received my order promptly from

    Once again, this is a great site, inspired by a great poet. I'm sure I will be back. Thursday, March 11, 1999

    Niki D'Andrea
    Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

    Hi, I'm a softmore in high school & writing a paper on Sylvia Plath. Part of the paper will include critisms of her work. These will be from me, professionals and others who are farmiliar with her work. I would appreciate your comments on her work. You can be anonymous if you'd like. Any & all are appreciated. Please email them to me: Thanks so much! :-)

    Sunday, March 7, 1999

    John Hopkins-- The Peter Orr book can be found. I recently found a copy in Washington DC. It was published by Barnes & Noble Press (of Barnes & Noble Booksellers). The book contains somewhere around 40 interviews with 1950's & 1960's poets. Of note are Plath, Stevie Smith, and a man called David Wevill, as we all know, he was married to Assia Wevill, for whom Ted left Sylvia!! It's an interesting book for some of the interviews, but I love reading about people who I'd never heard of before.

    I also agress with your assessment of the Bloom book. When you use a word like 'pretentious,' I think you're hitting the nail on the head when it comes to many modern day 'critics.'

    Peter Steinberg
    Alexandria, Virginia, USA
    Saturday, March 6, 1999

    In response to John Hopkins, I agree with your assessment of Bloom's book. It does raise the question of what is a poem. I think, in the case of Plath, that's a good question to raise. Not because I don't think her work qualifies as poetry--I most definitely think it does!--but because the poetry often gets lost in the autobiographical interpretations. If you haven't read Judith Kroll's "Chapters in a Mythology," find it and read it. It's out of print (I found one through a used book store), but many libraries have it. Ms. Kroll argues that Plath's work stands alone, separate from her life story, as legitimate and powerful poetry. She has done extensive research into the mythological origins of many of the poems and provides some fascinating insight into their literary roots.

    Amy Rea
    Chanhassen, USA
    Friday, March 5, 1999

    Hi...firstly, I'd like to mention what a great and informative site this webpage is. I used this site for a lot of help for my commentaries on various famous plath poems. I've now been assigned to do a commentary on the poem "RHYME", and I have found absolutely no information on this poem. I have searched everywhere, but no website seems to know about the existence of "RHYME"..I was wondering if someone could send some information to my e-mail address which is

    Muscat, Oman
    Friday, March 5, 1999

    So thrilled to hear "Rough Magic" is reappearing in bookstores. By far one of the least "agenda-ized" biographies of Plath out there. I highly recommend it.

    Ann Wagstaff
    Boston, USA
    Friday, March 5, 1999

    I recently attended a very interesting, and enjoyable, workshop "Two Of Me Now: Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf", though the attendance was disappointing and derisory. Only four turned up,including myself, and the others had come through their interest in Virginia Woolf. Much of what was discussed I've found in Steven Gould Axelrod's book "Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words", and his chapter "A Woman Famous Among Women".

    In the Works Cited he refers to an interview in "The Poet Speaks, by Peter Orr, 1966, pp 167-72. Does anyone know about this interview? Is the book still available? Is the interview available?

    Sarah refers to her project on the mutual influences of Plath on Hughes and vice versa, I assume she's read "Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes" by Margaret Dickie Uroff, which deals with such influences. I don't know if it was published in the UK, but I've been able to obtain a copy from my Library.

    Recent postings have also prompted me to seek out "Sylvia Plath: Modern Critical Views" edited by Harold Bloom. I'm sure that not many, if any, who read this Forum would agree with him, but it begs the question "What is a good poem", and who determines whether a poem is good or not? Is it construction, the content, or some indefinable element that reaches an individual. I may not think that a particular poem is good, but so what, other people may not like a poem that I think is good, but it doesn't matter. I'm afraid in the academic and literary camps there is an element of "The Emperor's New Clothes" syndrome. Do we need to analyse a poem, much less psychoanalyse a poem to say it's good, or bad? Does it even matter if one doesn't understand it?

    Whenever I read literary criticism I always keep in mind the pretentious expert who gave the meaning of that, indeed the whole chapter should be required reading before embarking upon, or reading Literary Criticism. In case anyone doesn't know what I'm talking about the Critic is Humpty Dumpty and the book is Lewis carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there."

    John Hopkins
    Bridgend, S.Wales, U.K.
    Friday, March 5, 1999

    Cassandra Productions presents the World Premier of:

    A play inspired by SYLVIA PLATH and TED HUGHES at: Wings Theatre, 154 Chrisopher Street, New York, NY. Show times Sunday-Wednesday: April-11,12,13,14, 18,19,20,21, 25,26,27,28. All shows are at 8:00pm. Tickets are: $12 $8 with valid student I.D. Group rates available

    For reservations & advance sales call: 212-627-2961

    Susan Tammany
    New York, USA
    Thursday, March 4, 1999

    Thank you Carol for your wonderful posting. Plathians out there please use also Emily's links page, for all you queries. It's got a bit near the bottom with education links and resources. It's the best collection of links out there on Plath.

    Published recently by HarperPerennial is the newest revamped Plath book. This time it's Ariel!! The contents are the same, straight Ariel. The Foreward is the same but at the end of the book is a section called 'About Sylvia Plath.' This was written by Hal Hager! It's a short biography of Plath (nine pages) tracing childhood, loss of Daddy, college, suicide attempt, Cambridge, America, England, children and suicide. Where this little bio is great is in Posthumous Plath. It tells of Hughes reordering of Ariel and the separate publications that followed over the two decades after Plath's suicide. It is a nice round bio.

    The cover is excellent. Across the top, sylvia plath. Shooting down from the 'l' & 'a' in Plath is 'poems.' The picture on the cover is ghostly. The cover is white. You can see the faint head of a horse, the hair of the neck white also, coming out of the grey blur that is the horse. It's just pretty.

    Rough Magic should also make it's return to the book shops in America sometime this month.

    Peter Steinberg
    Alexandria, Virginia, USA
    Thursday, March 4, 1999

    Love the site.
    Sylvia Plath is the queen of my heart!
    See my tribute at:

    Birmingham, UK
    Wednesday, March 3, 1999

    Just a comment to those of you who are working on papers or projects about Plath and Hughes for your high school classes:

    I think that the current enthusiasm of young students about Sylvia Plath is refreshing and exciting. I hope you can all see beyond her status as a "cult" figure, however. Yes, she was gifted. Yes, she was a woman pioneer poet in an age when women poets were not very respected. Yes, she married an Englishman and moved to that country to live and write with him. And, yes, she did end her own life, sadly and much too early. These facts make Sylvia an object of fascination to so many young people. And that's fine. But please do take the time to actually READ and digest for yourself some of her wonderful work.

    I speak for myself here, and perhaps for some other Plathophiles and Plath scholars who frequent this page, and therefore I will use the colloquial "we." We would be happy to help any of you with your papers and projects. But before we provide you with our studied interpretations, and the results of many years of reading other critics, please let us know what YOU think about the poem you are working on. What do YOU think Plath is talking about? What images is she conveying? What is the tone of the work? What do you think the theme or message is? Most importantly, what do you FEEL about the work? And when you have told us what you think, we would love to respond and either agree or disagree with you.

    In other words, please don't write to the Forum and ask for help without doing some work for yourself. Plath's poetry is mysterious and beautiful, and very, very complex. Your opinions, as young students, are so very valuable to all of us. Please let us know what they are.

    Carol Petrone
    Southfield, MI, USA
    Wednesday, March 3, 1999

    Hey! I am a high school student and in English right now we have been assigned our term papers. I have to find a critical analysis written by someone else on Plath's poem "Mirror." If anyone knows of somewhere that I can find one, I would really appreciate it. Or if anyone has any comments on it by themselves, that would be very helpful too! Please e-mail me! Thanks!

    Augusta, GA, USA
    Wednesday, March 3, 1999

    I am doing a term paper on Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes for my 11th grade lit/comp class. I am having a hard time finding info on their marriage and relationship. I've found many things seperately on them, but nothing together. If anyone could help, it would be greatly apprecitated.


    Jill Stone
    Rantoul, IL, USA
    Tuesday, March 2, 1999

    Hello, we're working on a major project for our school on Sylvia Plath and we would appreciate *any* help. Also, are there any other interesting areas we should cover? Many thanks.

    Singapore, USA
    Monday, March 1, 1999

    To Peter Steinber: the link for the page of The Bell Jar you mention is

    Arlindo Correia
    Brussels, Belgium
    Monday, March 1, 1999

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    This forum is administered by Elaine Connell, author of Sylvia Plath: Killing The Angel In The House - second edition with new preface just out, December 1998. Elaine lives in Hebden Bridge, near where Sylvia Plath is buried and where Ted Hughes was born. Web Design by Pennine Pens. This forum is moderated - contributions which are inappropriate, anonymous or likely to offend may be edited or omitted.