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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HUghes's Birthday Letters, 26 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Birthday Letters (Hardcover)
For many people, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes are famous only because she gave up her life and he was blamed. For others, they are two great poets whose body of works is first in their minds. Ted Hughes (1930-1998) is "a brooding presence in the landscape of 20th Century poetry"; Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), a writer of short-stories and journals was a poet of great power and her later "confessional" poems were "a real find" and "exhilarating to read", full of "clean, easy verse" (Peter Dickinson at "Punch") and Bernard Bergonzi at the "Manchester Guardian" said "The Colossus" was an "outstanding technical accomplishment" with a "virtuoso' quality".

Sylvia Plath's suicide and the circumstances surrounding it changed everything and overshadowed Hughes's life; he became the "bette noir" to Plath's fans and the enemy of feminists who blamed him for her death; his name (in lead letters) was removed from her gravestone three times. Hughes did not respond for thirty-five years; as her literary executer, he edited her collected works and "Ariel" anthology, although many did not agree with how these had been done and the choices he made. Opinions are still strong on both sides today, a mark of their stature as writers and the fascination with which their lives are still viewed; there is a biographical publishing industry surrounding their lives and works. We have only these biographies and their works to guide us into the shadows of the past.

"Birthday Letters",remembering his first wife and their life together, was published thirty-five years after her death and a short time before his, eighty-eight poems written in letter form which reveal their romance and marriage. It was an instant success and won many prizes. Its popularity may have been the potent and/or prurient fascination with their lives, their marriage and her suicide. Whatever the reason for the interest, its insight into their lives was deeper and more intimate than many people expected, providing a picture of two married human beings first (albeit forcefully talented and driven human beings, poets and icons second.

I met Hughes on a number of occasions and he was a shy man who rarely gave much away about his life. Even reading with his close friend, Seamus Heaney, he said little as introduction, unlike Heaney who was always willing to introduce a poem at length. "Birthday Letters" takes us behind this reticent man to look deeply into his life.

Recommended (although the poems' style may not be to everyone's taste and many critics did not think the personal style suited Hughes whose other work is much starker, the world and nature "red in tooth and claw").

Reflections of Sylvia Plath from "The City" by Ted Hughes:

Your poems are like a dark city centre.
Your novel, your stories, your journals, your letters, are suburbs
Of this big city.
The hotels are lit like office blocks all night
With scholars, priests, pilgrims. It's at night
Sometimes I drive through. I just find
Myself driving through, going slow, simply
Roaming in my own darkness, pondering
What you did. Nearly always
I glimpse you - at some crossing,
Staring upwards, lost, sixty year old.
...
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Review Details

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Reviewer

RR Waller
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: United Kingdom

Top Reviewer Ranking: 630