True confessions? Ted Hughes’ 'Birthday Letters'

Barry Spurr


Ted Hughes had remained largely silent about his relationship with Sylvia Plath, whom he married in 1956, his separation from her and her subsequent suicide in 1963. In contrast, Plath’s version of the disintegration of her marriage and her mind had been revealed both in her poems (especially the Ariel collection, which appeared posthumously) and in her correspondence, later published by her mother as Letters Home. Plath had come under the influence of the ‘confessional’ poets of the 1950s, such as Robert Lowell – author of the selfexposing Life Studies - whose seminar she had attended at Boston University in 1959. She sought a modulation in her own verse from an evasive artificiality to direct statement, from aesthetic finesse to truth. In contrast, Hughes’ poetry remained notably impersonal. Then, in 1995, Hughes published half a dozen poems he had written for Assia Wevill, with whom he had begun an affair in 1962, while married to Plath. Three years later, in 1998, just before his death, Hughes published Birthday Letters, which he had begun writing after Plath’s suicide.

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