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Birthday Letters: Poems Paperback – March 30, 1999
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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.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Condemned to live on as a survivor, for many years Hughes wrote nothing but children's verse. At the same time he concentrated on bringing out Sylvia Plath's poems, letters (edited by her mother, Aurelia Plath) and journals. And then, when he did turn back to poetry, not surprisingly, he focused on the negative side of life, the darker forces in the universe which are forever threatening man. He did not write of personal experiences. He did not write of his wife's suicide, or of emotional and other disasters he surely must have suffered. And yet the sense of doom crept into his poetry through symbols from the animal world: the jaguar, the the hawk, and the crow - masks from the world of nature that the poet donned to hide the pain he lived through. Meanwhile the Plath myth has grown. It has all the makings of a cult: the love and the hate, the betrayal and the anger, with the sensationalism climaxing in self-destructive violence.
The present volume of poems, Birthday Letters, is very different from the earlier collections. Whereas earlier Hughes liked to assume the role of a sort of wild man of the woods surrounded by his animals and birds, here we have Ted Hughes the man, the husband and the lover, without his mask.Read more ›
But, this quickly became my favorite collection of poetry. Hughes uses Plath's own mythology to eulogize her--her father obsession, her suicide attempts. But he also weaves the familiar into it--her attempt at making rag rugs and at domesticity in general. Any married person can understand his imagery and his heartbreak. Of course, my favorite is Dreamers, when Ted realizes he loves another woman. She seems as exotic to him as his marriage seems dull.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is my favorite book of Ted Hughes',and tragically, his last. This is the book that opened me to the world of actually reading poetry. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Kali Cowan
Ted Hughes at his best -- which is saying something! A must for any poetry lover.Published 4 months ago by Avid Reader
These are interesting and for those who are fans of Plath certainly even more so. But how interesting are they? They are cryptic. Read morePublished 6 months ago by William S Jamison
I adore, had allready the Dutch version but wanted the original.. wasn't cheap...Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
This is a painful book. Hughes poetry shines although dim compared to Plath's, but it also chronicles that marriage's failure as well as Hughes' faults as a man. Read morePublished 11 months ago by C. D. Varn
Ted Hughes threnody for his former wife Sylvia Plath published 35 years after her death by her own hand. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Garth R. Mailman
Readers familiar with the dynamic, forceful romance of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath will find rich reading in Birthday Letters. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Brooke Summerlin
I like his poetry OK, there is a lot of depth. However, he seems to make himself the good husband and describes Sylvia throughout as very ill and off balance. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Robbie Byrd