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 kittenishOther 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.
Really enjoyed reading the book. Loved Sylivia's poems & love reading what he wrote about her & their time together.Published 2 months ago by Alexus Sutton
Ted Hughes will never rate as my favorite poet but the book is worth having on the shelf and studying.Published 8 months ago by J. Martz
Book was in good condition. One little divot on the top binding, but no big deal. Otherwise, like new.
These are very touching poems, very honest. Read more
Written each year on the anniversary of his wife's death, this book demonstrates the process and permanence of grief. Read morePublished 20 months ago by karenlp
I'm amazed at all the positive reviews. There are a few good poems in this volume, but so much of it is just special pleading. Read morePublished on March 25, 2012 by Carl Rollyson
" There you met it-the mystery of hatred.
After billions of years of anonymous matter
That was where you were found-promptly hated". Read more
Boy meets girl, girl bites boy, boy marries girl and they live happily ever after... for a year or two. Read morePublished on February 23, 2011 by Emilie
I was interested in reading this book , to get his side of great American tragic romance. I was surprised at the gentleness of images and metaphors used, by a man who was demonized... Read morePublished on April 12, 2010 by Charlene Rosen
This book does not need a review. Published 12 years ago it is already regarded as the best book by one of the most important English poets of the second half of the last century.Published on March 24, 2010 by Gennadi Kazakevitch