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In an extraordinarily intimate and previously unpublished interview, which took place around the time he discovered he had cancer, Hughes revealed that feelings of guilt about the suicide of Plath, who gassed herself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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Sport
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk