Hughes: my guilt over Plath

THE POET Laureate, Ted Hughes, who died on Thursday, believed he was seen as "an undesirable person" and that his life had been blighted by a public misunderstanding of his relationship with his first wife, the novelist and poet Sylvia Plath.

In an extraordinarily intimate and previously unpublished interview, which took place around the time he discovered he had cancer, Hughes revealed that feelings of guilt about the suicide of Plath, who gassed herself in their north London home in 1963, had never left him.

The Poet Laureate refused to speak about the death of his first wife, an American, for which he was constantly blamed by feminists, but in the last years of his life produced an astonishing volume of poems, The Birthday Letters, about the couple's relationship.

In the interview, with Eilat Negev in 1996, he spoke with regret of his attempts to avoid facing the sorrow he had suffered. "Today I think I should have written about it at least for myself and perhaps not shown it to anyone. At the time, I believed it better to leave it to nature to cope with the tragedy, to nature alone, without pen in hand. I kept things to myself to prevent others from scrabbling in my life."

He also questions his initial decision not to tell his two children Frieda and Nicky how their mother died.

"I didn't know what to tell them about the circumstances so I kept quiet. They grew up without knowing she committed suicide," he said.

"I don't know what was the right thing to do but after her death I wanted all of us to live as if we had started anew. It was a wish to flee from the shadow of her death. I think I made a mistake."

Remembering Plath's depression and isolation living in Britain with him, Hughes hints at years of silent self reproach. "Her life in England, in the cold, far from her friends, was not to her liking. Apart from the loneliness she was sensitive to a particular anti-depressant drug. I sometimes find myself thinking that if we had stayed in her country of birth she would not have committed suicide."

While Hughes says he has no theory to explain his wife's final destructive act, he talks of Plath's own peculiar emotional "wound', a kind of hidden injury that lies behind every writer's creative impulse.

"Every work of art stems from a wound in the soul of the artist," he said, while discussing Plath's compulsion to express her pain in her poetry and in her novel, The Bell Jar.

"All her creative work tells just one story: her Oedipal love for her father, her complex relationship with her mother, the attempt at suicide, the shock therapy."

The work may have eased Plath's distress temporarily, but it offered no cure. "If Sylvia had been able to free herself from that one wound that racked her, she might have changed, led a normal life, even perhaps felt healthy enough to stop writing."

Plath's suicide followed Hughes' decision to leave the marriage for another woman, Assia Wevill, with whom he had another child, Shura. In 1969 the couple separated, and in an awful repetition of tragedy, she killed not only herself but their young daughter too.

The deaths compounded the popular view of Hughes as brutal and dominating. At readings of his books some feminists demonstrated and even accused him of murder.

"Such things influence libraries and book shops that refused to stock my books and universities that chose to teach Sylvia's poetry but not mine. I know I am an undesirable person," he said. He added that he had resisted the temptation to defend himself. "From the beginning accusing fingers were pointed at me but I remained silent. I haven't written about it, because I didn't want people to think I was exploiting the tragedy as a topic for literature but the less I said, the more others began to invent."

Regardless of his discretion, Hughes was dogged, he said, by biographers and by threats to make films about his life. He described his deliberate destruction of several pages from Plath's diaries which he was afraid his children might read, and he also predicted ruefully that, one day, a missing volume of her diaries that he presumed to have been lost or stolen would turn up to haunt him.

Without directly addressing his feminist critics, Hughes said he had made time for Plath to write by babysitting during the mornings. He said that he had also suggested subjects for her to write about when she suffered a creative block.

"I would prepare lists of topics, like a high school writing exercise, and once she had written on the topics I suggested, other things found release, her novel The Bell Jar and many Ariel poems."

But Hughes' memories of his first and most famous relationship with the woman he admitted he still felt "close" to, were not entirely bleak. Far from jealous of each other's burgeoning literary careers, Hughes claimed the couple urged each other on. "When there are two of you the atmosphere is supportive. It's easier to concentrate on what you are doing because both of you do the same thing. It's like singing together in the dark."

Culture, page 3

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Learning Support Assistant

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Learning Support Assistant - Newport

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Operations Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently recruiting for an Operati...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, Security Cleared

£100 - £110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Ham...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz