Wednesday, April 27, 2005

'Birthday Letters'

I wasn't going to write anything tonight.
But on a tipsy whim I decided to check my email and found the following quoted passage...

We walked south across London to Fetter Lane
And your hotel. Opposite the entrance
On a bombsite becoming a building site
We clutched each other giddily
For safety and went in a barrel together
Over some Niagara. Falling
In the roar of soul your scar told me-
Like its secret name or its password-
How you had tried to kill yourself. And I heard
Without ceasing for a moment to kiss you
As if a sober star had whispered it
Above the revolving, rumbling city:stay clear.

A poltroon of a star. I cannot remember
How I smuggled myself, wrapped in you,
Into the hotel. There we were.
You were slim and lithe and smooth as a fish.
You were a new world. My new world.
So this is America, I marvelled.
Beautiful, beautiful America!

-"18 Rugby Street", Ted Hughes

It's his way of wondering how far along I am through the book.
-and his way of letting me know which particular poem he is thinking of as he writes.

I've finished the book, and have started my 2nd true re-reading of it.

Through the first read, I was doubtful. To the degree of doubting if these stanzas of sweet verse to a long lost love were perhaps written years later, to try and provoke peace from the diatribe of hate.
After setting the book aside, the bitterness faded, and I re-read flagged passages.
Now as I am about to complete the 2nd actual read-through, and provoked by curiosity, I commit my unedited thoughts to word.

'Birthday Letters' is a collection of poems written during the courtship and marriage of Ted Hughes to Sylvia Plath. He outlines their passionate meeting, the tug and war of their short courting, their marriage, and his feelings upon her death.
He writes of memories of her, and seeing her in their children.
He evokes the fluttery expectation one feels when they meet someone whom they instantly recognize will have a profound impact on who they are, and the remainder of their existence.
He does not make excuses for his role in her self-inflicted demise.

It's true that I am able to see Hughes as something more than the untrue writer who professed sharing the same soul, while at the same time enacted the very things at the center of his wifes fears and insecurities.
He was those things.
And while I feel a bit stand offish to his delivery of anguish and ineptitude at preventing her ending, I am better able to understand his feelings-while not what one would hope from a partner-than I had been before.

My argument I suppose is not one directed at Hughes, but directed at human nature.
He knew the first night they had spent together of her past attempts.
He embraced this torture, and relished her for her challenges and talents.

I therefore find it impossible to pity him for his feelings of inability to deal with her incessant self doubt and undercurrent of desire to end pain.
To take her misguided father/lover torture to heart, and as muse, and then proclaim she was impossible to live with, is to in itself betray the musings of his own heart.

I no longer begrudge the man his awards and talent.
I still do not forgive a husband who edits a wife's journals before publishing them.
Either do not edit, and acquiesce to her vision of the world, or publish nothing.
To edit a stilled voice out of fear of your own representation, is a greater injustice than to not sound the voice at all.

As in all examples of great passion, the Plath-Hughes caper is one of great joy, and great loss.
As voyeurs we can choose to selectively embrace this passion, or selectively condemn it.

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