Perspective implies that one is ‘positioned’ in one way or another. This means that we are viewing or possibly representing an issue, incident or event from a particular point of view. When the idea of ‘conflict’ is introduced alongside the word ‘perspective’ then we have two opposing viewpoints brought about from being positioned differently on the same event, issue or event. Within Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters some of the poems explore conflicting perspectives within the poems themselves but are also in conflict with the subject matter of some of the poems of Sylvia Plath, who writes about some of the same events and incidents that Hughes represents within his Birthday Letters anthology. While the composer is prone to explore incidents and events from a specific perspective it must be noted that the responder will also be positioned in a unique and personal manner. In part this can be attributed to prior knowledge of the subject matter but also reader –response is part of that equation.
To explore these ideas some of Hughes’s and Plath’s poems will be discussed along with the films Sylvia and Tom & Viv.
In “Fulbright Scholars” Hughes portrays his first recognition of Sylvia Plath. He draws on both his memory and hindsight within the poem. Both of these bring different perspectives to the piece and these result in tonal changes within the poem. While walking on a hot summer’s day, the speaker passes a news stand displaying the newspaper of the day. He notices the picture of the Fulbright Scholars who were the intake for that year. The assumption in this poem is that Sylvia Plath was one of the students represented in that photograph.
The poem explores Hughes’s memories and reminiscence about that day. In the poem the speaker draws on both memory and hindsight. This creates a tension within the poem, between what he remembers and what he has since learned. For this reason there are conflicting perspectives within this poem. However, one must remember that the poem is merely HIS perspective, his interpretation, his perception of the events of that day and consequently – as inferred within the poem-of their lives together. For this reason it is subjective. The speaker evokes memories of his thoughts and feelings on this occasion. He remembers some of Plath’s physical attributes like “Your Veronica Lake bang” and “your grin”. He is not always complimentary in his observations, and at times employs sarcasm and disdain, by way of high modality “exaggerated”.
The poem opens with a rhetorical question which sets up the tension between the conflicting perspectives of his memories and his hindsight. It is dominated by a tone of questioning and uncertainty made evident through the repeated use of rhetorical questions and the oft used word ‘maybe’. Even the line “For some reason…” evokes a feeling of uncertainty. This is compounded by the repetitive use of the word ‘or’ which is used to mean ‘perhaps’, not to mean an alternative choice.
Hughes is a master craftsman with words and he uses the power of language to skilfully position the reader to his perspective.
The director of the film Sylvia uses cinematic techniques to position the viewer to empathise with the young Plath. From the outset the producer has used a combination of slow rhythmic music (non-digetic sound) with a voice -over that represents the voice of Plath speaking of her dreams of marriage and family in soft pensive tones. Immediately the viewer is positioned to see the events from Plath’s perspective. The viewer experiences the film from Plath’s perspective and this is most evident through the title of the film and the use of close- up shots of Plath in the opening scenes, accompanied by soft music. This influences the viewer into a position of sympathy for Plath. In contrast “Fulbright Scholar” reads like a monologue and makes frequent use of personal pronouns which again conveys a sense of subjectivity or personal perspective. There is the obvious contrast of “I” and “you” within the poem which evokes the ever-present debate about their different perspectives on their relationship and the perspectives of so many others, to date. This tension between the two is evident in the “Were you among them? I studied it…”.
Continue to analyse this and two other poems along with SYLVIA and another piece of related material of your own choosing.