The Intertwined Poetry of Sylvia and Ted
Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes are two of the most influential poets in the world of post-war literature. Although most of their works may be considered morbid and suicidal it still created as much buzz among the popular audience as their tumultuous marriage did. Theirs is a love affair and poetry which may be considered a form of Dionysian art, or that which beauty is not in the presence of symmetry, and order, but in the lack there of (“Apollonian and Dionysian”).Although their hearts have been separated based on their experiences, their works are intertwined as evidenced by the similarity in its nature.
These couple’s work utilized dark and distorted images. Most are morbid; having death, suffering, and pain as its central theme. While this nature of Plath’s works may be derived from the mental illness that was worsened by the extramarital activities of her husband, Hughes’ works are manifestations of Plath’s poetic style influencing on his own.
Given that they are a couple living in the same house, they were each other’s first audience as well as critique. What Hughes might have heard from Plath is incorporated in his work. As such, since Plath’s works are expressions of the pain Hughes’ infidelity is causing her, as well as a manifestation of her illness; her works become dark and gloomy. In turn, Hughes, as the first audience of these morose works, unconsciously incorporates it in his own, effecting to poems with the same nature and theme, but from two different writers.
Plath’s Life and Poetry
Sylvia Plath is only one of America’s greatest poets who subjected herself to a horrible death. At the age of thirty-one, she ended the suffering her psychological disorder is causing her. She stuck her head into an oven and inhaled all the gas she could to die. She left two children by her poet husband Ted Hughes (Liukkonen).
From this piece of biography of Sylvia Plath it may be said that the means of her death had been the realization of how she saw the end of her life, as depicted through her poetry. However, Plath’s poetry was not as horrid as they were before she committed suicide. In fact, in her early life, Plath’s works are rather pleasing and light as other women poets’ works.
In her piece, “Sunday at the Minton’s”, which was published in the college magazine, Mademoiselle in 1952, Plath presented a rather lighter side of herself. However, if the work should be observed closely there are already hints of the depression the young Plath was already suffering in. A year after it was published, Plath succumbed to a mental breakdown. She committed suicide for the first time. She failed miserably and wrote about it in her autobiographical novel, “The Bell Jar” (Liukkonen).
Despite the breakdown and failed suicide, Plath’s innate love for education became the strength that overcame all of her bad experiences. With the Fullbright Scholarship she won in 1955, she flew to England to study English Literature in Cambridge. There she hoped to write, travel, and experience more freedom (Kirk 67).
With her busy schedule which always involved studying and writing poetry, the illness that Plath was suffering in lied low and almost seemingly disappeared. She had lived a life normal enough to find herself the love of her life (Kirk 67). In 1956, he met a man whom she described as a “big hunky boy, the only one huge enough for me”. She was referring to Edward James Hughes also known as Ted Hughes, an English poet who was studying Anthropology and Archaeology at Pembroke College, Cambridge. They first met at a student’s party and instantly fell in love. Despite the numerous other men who were wishing for Plath’s commitment, it was Hughes whom she married (Liukkonen).
Unfortunately, the life Plath had with Hughes was not as she dreamed of it. It was indeed full of image as her poetry. However, the images were not as beautiful as most poetry. Their life had been rough. Plath’s illness which slept in the days of her study in Cambridge awoke, and even got worse as the days passed. Hughes was not the loyal husband that Plath dreamed of. She suffered more anxiety and depression in their life together and it all manifested in her poetry (Liukkonen).
From her work, “Love Letter” which was published and written in 1960 it may be derived that the words she used in the poem are the actual words that may be used to describe the life she has that time. In the first stanza, the writer spoke of a change in her life she cannot quite explain (Plath). It may be analyzed that the person who stirred her life into something which she cannot define is Hughes, her husband. He may have effected on her in a fashion which she cannot characterize. He had been the love of her life, someone who brought to life her dreams, but then their married life had not been fine, making her emotions almost dead from pain.
The second stanza of this poem further described the life Plath was having. She spoke of chiselled cheeks turning into tears falling trying to break her basalt nature (Plath). This may be her means of conveying her sadness about the infidelity of Hughes. The chiselled cheeks are the women whom he was known to be going around with, each of them turning to tears, her tears as they bring her pain. As no woman, even those who claim strength can stand an infidel husband. The basalt in the poem is as how Plath regarded herself, a strong woman yet slowly being broke down by the chiselled cheeks, who are the women Hughes is breaking their relationship with.
By the third stanza of the poem, Plath supported her initial description in the first stanza. She conveyed in the third stanza that as much as Hughes made her life complete, it is also him who slowly destroys it. From making her feel all the wondrous emotions through love and marriage, he also made her feel how it is to be numbed from the pain of disappointment joined with a bad case of psychological illness (Plath).
The entire poem was a message to her husband. It is the summary of Plath’s life with Hughes. It is also the depiction of the reality she was moving in at that time. It was a reality composed of both pain and pleasure.
Another poem by Sylvia Plath which may be as another depiction of her married life is the one titled, “Death & Co.”, which was published in 1962, about seven years from the day Plath first met Hughes. Rather than a depiction of death as stated in the title, the poem spoke of two men, one seemingly shy and easily dominated, while the other is confident and exuding manly strength. One of them does not have her in his grasp while the other one can control her at his will (Plath).
Relating this to her life, it may be analyzed that Plath was referring to only one man in the poem, Hughes. It may be that the shy, easily dominated one is the man who Hughes was when Plath married him. While the other man who is described by the poem is the man she is living with at that point in her life. Relating this to the title of the poem, it is said that the dominating guy has her at his control and can bring her death anytime, while the other one does not. It may be that the personality of Hughes which dominated her, the indecent character was bringing her death. This may either be the death of the soul from too much pain and suffering. This may also be death not literally but the lack of feeling and emotion.
From these it may be concluded that the illness of Plath which had been manifesting even in her earlier works are causing her poetry to be rather gloomy. However, it must also be noted that her works had not been that dark until she entered into a relationship with Ted Hughes. It had been the happiest days of her life as well as the worst. With it and the psychological disorder, her poetry evolved and became more morbid.
Hughes’ Life and Poetry
As with Sylvia Plath, Hughes poetry did not begin disturbing and with themes of death. In fact Hughes’ works had been those with man’s relationship to nature as a theme. It had been mysterious yet less frightening. Tracking the dates when his works had been written and published, it may be found that the poems with rather gloomy imagery were written in the years when he was still with the great American poetess, Sylvia Plath, his wife (“Biography of Ted Hughes”). From this it may be found that the gloominess and sadness in Plath’s works were incorporated in her husband’s poetry. This may either be deliberate on Hughes’ part or subconsciously (Elkin).
It should be noted that unlike Plath, Hughes does not have any kind of mental illness. He is a fine young man who grew up in a normal environment and had normal life experiences. Hughes’ works were derived from this normal life. As such, as compared to Plath’s they are not manifestations of depression and anxiety. They are merely art, an expression of Hughes’ life. However, as the two poets’ life intertwined in 1953, their poetry also intertwined and some of Hughes’s works began to morph into Plath-like ones (Elkin).
In the poem, “The Though-Fox”, which was published in 1957, about four years after marriage to Plath, Hughes spoke of loneliness. Although unlike Plath’s work, he was not describing exactly his life with Plath, he conveyed the feeling of darkness in this poem. This was not the usual theme of his works before (Elkin).
In the first stanza of the poem, he described the night and the silence broken only once in a while by the existence of another life. Beyond the silence there is movement and sound. There are also activities, although not from the writer himself, it is out there (Hughes).
It may be analyzed from this that the writer, Hughes, can feel sadness in his heart. This is evidenced by the word silence in the poem, which is a common metaphor for loneliness. Hughes’ may have been describing an image of his life, that somewhere as in his poem. There is activity or a disturbance in the loneliness, perhaps happiness beyond the gloom. The fact that by the end of the poem, the paper which was described also in the earlier part of the poem as empty, has already been filled and printed on may point that the meaning which had been missing may have been found. This meaning may have caused the loneliness.
Another poem by Hughes which exhibited an influence of Plath is “Pike”, which was also published in 1957. It told a narrative which had the fresh-water fish, Pike, as the main character. The poem described how beautiful a pike is underwater, how seemingly innocent it looked in the river. However, as the poem progressed, the pike’s innocent nature was slowly changed to the reality that it is a carnivorous animal. It has an instinct to bring death even at its young days (Hughes).
From this it may be derived that Hughes, Nature theme had not been forgotten. However, as is blatant, it has hints of Plath’s works in it. The reality that the poem proposed about the pike is a sad fact. This may be interpreted as life being double-edged knife. While it cuts excellently, it may also cut the person who is using it.
Relating this to Hughes and Plath’s life, it may be seen that the poem was similar to the poem of Plath, “Love Letter”. It may be remembered that this poem spoke of how living with Hughes had been a confusing part of Plath’s life. It was a combination of Pleasure and pain. The only difference is that the subjects of the poems were different, yet the meanings or the message that is being conveyed is the same. This does not only point that the poems of Hughes were influenced by the life he lives, it also indicates that the person who lives with him in this life also influences it.
The information that was mentioned indicated that the life of Sylvia Plath from childhood to her death had not been easy. She was a disturbed girl and suffered from psychological illness because of her too much contemplation. She brought this illness to adulthood and even to her marriage. As such, when her husband cheated on her, she got worse. Her works, which already had hints of her depression, became more morbid. It carried the theme of suffering and death, which was seemingly transferred to the works of Hughes. This is evidence by his works during the period he lived with Plath. This may be due to the fact as a married couple they live together and wrote poetry together. This makes influencing each other inevitable, more especially because each is the first audience and critic of the other. The ideas of one are immediately transferred to the other, producing poetry which are similar, although not in structure, but in meaning.
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