January 16, 2018

Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes

On this day in 1956 Sylvia Plath described in her journal her first meeting with Ted Hughes. The morning of writing was "gray, most sober, with cold white puritanical eyes"; the evening before had started at a bar where "I drank steadily the goblets" and endured "some ugly gat-toothed squat grinning guy named Meeson trying to be devastatingly clever." At the party -- "and oh, it was very bohemian, with boys in turtleneck sweaters and girls being blue-eye-lidded or elegant in black" -- there was more of the same, but "the jazz was beginning to get under my skin, and I started dancing with Luke and knew I was very bad, having crossed the river and banged into the trees....":
    Then the worst thing happened, that big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me, who had been hunching around over women, and whose name I had asked the minute I had come into the room, but no one told me, came over and was looking hard in my eyes and it was Ted Hughes. . . . And then it came to the fact that I was all there, wasn't I, and I stamped and screamed yes . . . and I was stamping and he was stamping on the floor, and then he kissed me bang smash on the mouth and ripped my hair band off, my lovely red hairband scarf which had weathered the sun and much love, and whose like I shall never again find, and my favorite silver earrings: hah, I shall keep, he barked. And when he kissed my neck I bit him long and hard on the cheek, and when we came out of the room, blood was running down his face.
The italicized section in the passage above was omitted from the abridged edition of the journals which Hughes allowed in 1982, now restored in the unedited Journals. Such omissions, and the full tangle of their relationship, continue to attract speculation -- one recent theory concerning her suicide being that her lifelong bouts of depression and even much of her poetry, can be linked to severe PMS, a debilitation similar in power and profile to some bipolar disorders. Some of the poems in Hughes's Birthday Letters show that even late in life he could make more poetry than sense of their love. These lines from "18 Rugby Street," recall a time in April, 1956, several months after that first meeting and several before their marriage:
    We walked across south London to Fetter Lane
    And your hotel.
    Opposite the entrance
    On a bombsite becoming a building site
    We clutched each other giddily
    For safety and went in a barrel together
    Over some Niagara. Falling
    In the roar of soul your scar told me -
    Like its secret name, or its password -
    How you had tried to kill yourself. And I heard
    Without ceasing for a moment to kiss you
    As if a sober star had whispered it
    Above the revolving, rumbling city: stay clear.

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