I am frequently asked about related material for this Elective. Recently I saw the latest adaptation of JANE EYRE. This is great material for Conflicting perspectives. You could also consider the film ATONEMENT or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mindor or “Secrets and Lies.”
Hope this helps those of you who are looking for something other than Sylvia Plath poems.
TED HUGHES RED Analysis
In Hughes’ poem RED, the last in his anthology, Birthday Letters, Hughes adapts/ subverts Plath’s style of utilising colours to represent various feelings and ideas. Early in their marriage Plath wrote to her mother claiming “I am so suggestible to colours…I’m sure a red carpet would keep me forever optimistic” Hughes plays on Plath’s decision to decorate their house …”making the room cheerful like the inside of a valentine”. However, his tone is far from optimistic. His claim “Red was your colour. /If not red, then white.” immediately infers conflict of perspective as clarity is wanting. At the same time he seeks to clarify the duality of her personality. In Plath’s earlier poems the colour red was aligned with vitality, her life blood. “In Kindness she described “the blood jet of poetry” as the exhilaration sought from her poetry. Hughes alleges , with the use of the personal pronoun, that red is now a symbol of her self induced suffering “But red/Was what you wrapped around you” the morbid obsession with her father further emphasised through the rhetorical questions “Was it blood?…for warming the dead?..The precious heirloom bones, the family bones.”
An accusatory tone is established in the statement “When you had your way finally/ Our room was red. The judgement chamber” however, it is Hughes who is the castigator here. “The carpet of blood / Patterned with darkenings, congealments” associates a once passionate marriage that is now shattered, littered “from ceiling to floor” with vitriolic accusations. The graphic visual image of “A throbbing cell. Aztec altar –temple” links the idea of the blood sacrifice of the brutal South American race who cut out the hearts of their young in sacrifice to their gods, to Plath’s constant worship of her father who she obsessively idolised like a god. “a bag full of God” .Plath refers to her father in her poem Daddy. Furthermore, Hughes’ imperative adjective “throbbing” suggesting the adoration remained vital right up to her death. This morbid adoration reiterated in The shot “To bury yourself at last in the heart of the god”
“Only the bookshelves escaped into whiteness.” This singular line gives prominence to Hughes inference of the redemptive character of literature however, eventually in the pursuit of personal excellence, it cost Plath her life. The colour white in Plath’s later poems, was symbolic of death. Her “your colour”, as Hughes states earlier in the poem.
Hughes returns to Plath’s father and images of plants in various colours of red “Salvias, that your father named after you” interestingly, salvias are known to be a natural hallucinogenic, possibly a subtle implication, by Hughes of a dead father’s mocking from the grave? “Poppies thin and wrinkle-frail…skin on blood” are also plants associated with mind altering hallucinogenics.
Dissociated within their relationship “I felt it raw-like crisp gauze edges/Of a stiffening wound” the harsh critical metaphor bemoans the constant unyielding pain felt by both. A constant wound that “I could touch/The open vein in it, the crusted gleam” that was destined to never heal for either party.
In attempting to escape the pain and passion associated with the colour ’red” Hughes intimates that Plath sought the solace of white “everything you painted you painted white” searching for some passion in life, a reason to live “Then splashed it with roses, defeated it…Weeping roses and more roses” but solace, for Plath, was not to be found. Hughes may well be referring to her analogy in Kindness “You hand me two children, two roses.” metaphorically, roses are beautiful but deceptively dangerous, Plath seems to claim that whilst she may have loved her children she sees them as a hindrance to her achieving complete freedom. Hughes seems to employ the same metaphor but instead to underscore Plath’s duplicitous nature.
Towards the conclusion of the poem, Hughes’ tone becomes more melancholic. This is the last poem in the anthology and he is quite likely contemplating what he and his children have lost. He introduces another colour. Blue, the colour for Plath of motherhood and pregnancy. “the light burns blue…The earthen womb” Plath’s metaphor of pregnancy in Nick and the Candlestick. Hughes cites “Blue was better for you. Blue was wings” In Hughes perspective motherhood, was an incentive for freedom. The more aesthetic alliteration “crucible caresses” relates to a happier time when “Kingfisher blue silks from San Francisco/Folded your pregnancy”. The early years of motherhood were a time of serendipity, where “Blue was your kindly spirit …a guardian, thoughtful “ Not the “ghoul” of subsequent years. But Plath, as she lamented in Kindness was past salvation as any form of intervention was irrepressible as she “ has no soul”. Instead the ”Japanese silks” the “blue silks” which Hughes remembered “folded her pregnancy”, in Plath’s view, had her “pinned any minute, anaesthetized”. Her defeat reiterated in Hughes harsh retort “In the pit of red/You hid from the bone-clinic whiteness.” For Plath no absolution could be found.
Her colour red became a colour synonymous for Plath, with death. In Ariel, the once life giving essence of red blood and life force, the sun, of earlier poems had transformed into the inevitable “arrow …that flies/Suicidal, at one with the drive /Into the red/Eye, the cauldron of morning.”
Hughes combines the many complexities that were his wife, her artistic life force, her feminine maternal instincts juxtaposed with her fear of loneliness and rejection and her obsession with her father’s morbidity which fuelled her pessimistic drive towards suicide.
In Hughes’ final salutation “But the jewel you lost was blue” whilst still utilising the accusatory personal pronoun, a tone of regret is evident. Something precious had been lost with Plath’s decision to “Shut (the ) casket for gems”, to choose death. This final entry could be viewed as an assessment of a tormented, sad story. The duality evident within Plath herself and the complex differences between both Hughes and Plath is possibly finally evidenced in the subtle inclusion of the tricolours of the American flag. As Hughes claimed Your Paris they were “Duex Continents”, different people with varyingly differing perspectives. This quite possibly being the only statement that can be made with any clarity.
Ted Hughes: A Talented Murderer
by Nadeem Azam
I am inhabited by a cry. Nightly it flaps out
Looking, with its hooks, for something to love.
Sylvia Plath, ‘Ariel’
If a man’s wife commits suicide he attracts and, in most cases deserves, sympathy and support; for his next partner to go on to do the same thing (and take the life of their child at the same time), only six years later, inevitably leads to suspicions about his character and deserves investigation.
Unfortunately, by virtue of being both a man and a talented writer, Ted Hughes’ indiscretions and contributions towards the suicides of Sylvia Plath and Assia Welville have been largely confined to the feminist lobby and, as a result, been given short shrift. As one writer put it: “He was a great man and nothing was said or done to disturb the aura around him.”
When Ted Hughes used to give readings he would often be confronted by demonstrators holding placards which accused him of murdering Sylvia Plath. Plath’s grave in Yorkshire has repeatedly been desecrated with the letters ‘Hughes’ hacked off her name on the headstone. The recent revelations about her husband’s philanderous behaviour and lack of faithfulness to any of his wives are sure to incite haters of Hughes even further.
A new book has been published which exposes yet more womanising by Hughes, names another mistress of his, and suggests he fathered a fourth, unacknowledged child.
In May 2001, the Australian Jill Barber revealed her four-year affair with the late Poet Laureate in an account replete with all the lupine cliché that now threatens to overwhelm him. She told a journalist Hughes doesn’t speak; he “growls”; he looks like Heathcliff; he is “rough, passionate and forceful”.
Some detractors of Hughes, who had maintained a campaign against him because of his adulterous behaviour, softened their villification of the poet after the publication in 1998 of “Birthday Letters” in which, for the first time, he poured out his heart to the world and delved into his relationship with Plath.
He wrote about her with passion (“St Botolph’s”), and with tenderness and affection. Hughes recalled scenes from their courtship and marriage with precision – the peach scrunched outside Charing Cross station; the student parties (that famous bite/kiss), the first love-making (“You were slim and lithe and smooth as a fish”).
But he also shifts the blame entirely onto Plath for her ending. On first reading, there does seem to be a narrative of explanation that can be lifted out of these poems: that Sylvia Plath was doomed by the eight-year-old girl inside her who failed to grieve a father who died too soon; that her whole project (“trajectory perfect as if through ether”) was to get back to that father in his grave (whereas Hughes had “no more purpose in me than my own dog which I did not have”).
This leaves Hughes no option but to go seeking for them both: “big shock to meet me face to face in the dark adit where I have come looking for your daughter” (this, one of the only two poems not addressed to Plath, comes near the end, as if Hughes was left with no other place to go). According to this story, from very early on, Plath was heading inexorably to her death, and Hughes was a helpless bystander. If Hughes’s earlier poetry often reads as a tribute to a nature in excess of his own mastery, this would then be the first time that such a force at which he also marvels so utterly defeats him.
He also admits the differences which separate them – things which surface as local problems, but which generally signify a larger, subterranean divide. (On honeymoon: “Spain frightened you. Spain/Where I felt at home.”)
But precisely because what Hughes is writing about is a form of energy with a strength and will of its own, no attempt – if indeed this is the attempt – to hand it over to Plath alone, to her distressed and haunted selfhood as he sees it, can work. Lines like these, often cited over the past three years, are almost too easy to lift out of the poems: “auditioned for the male lead in your drama”, “I was a fly outside on the window pane / of my own domestic drama”, “Your life was a liner I voyaged in”, “Inside your Bell Jar / I was like a mannikin in your eyeball”. But they only tell half, if indeed that much, of the story.
Time and again, Hughes also has a dig at Plath lobbyists:
“Who caught all
That teeming population, every one,
To hang their tortured eyes and tongues up
In your poems?”
If this is true, then her readers are dupes. All they have is “the empty mask’”of her genie; or gloves from which “the hands have vanished”. Or worse, they are the guilty party to the crime:
“In the wilderness
Between the locusts and the honey
They demanded it. On, no problem
If that’s all you want,
You said, and you gave it.”
In the penultimate poem, addressed to his children, Hughes writes about those who have written about Plath’s work:
Jerk their tail-stumps, bristle and vomit
Over their symposia.”
“Birthday Letters” produced a caricature of feminism as always pitying Plath and blaming Hughes as a man with no heart to speak of. This, of course, enraged legions of people who felt sympathy for Plath. The British literary critic Asad Yawar said the anthology “was an apologist diatribe concealed in honey” the feminist poet Robin Morgan told “Newsweek”: “My teeth began to grind uncontrollably.”
There’s no question of Hughes finding ways to forgive himself for leaving Plath. By giving us his account of her psychic history inside his portrait of their domestic history, he creates a long perspective in which sudden actions become comprehensible – or at least inevitable. “What happens in the heart simply happens.”
Even in his otherwise surprisingly-candid last interview with the “Daily Telegraph’s” Eilat Negev he shirked responsibility and was cagey when Plath was raised. When prompted about what may have caused her suicide he replies: “It’s too complicated. There are too many theories.”
It is obvious from both Hughes revelations and Plath’s own diaries that the couple were deeply in love and the latter was an empty vessel which benefited both artistically and emotionally from being filled by the talent and personality that was England’s greatest poet of the last century.
But the circumstances surrounding the last months of Plath’s life, and Ted Hughes’ desire to suppress as much information as possible relating to them, notwithstanding the recent revelations about the difficulty he had in keeping his trousers on, lead one to invariably point a finger or two, or eight, at Hughes.
If he didn’t have anything to hide, why would he have kept his wife’s suicide hidden from their children? He said in the interview with Negev:
“I didn’t know what to tell them about the circumstances of their mother’s death, so I kept quiet. They grew up without knowing she committed suicide.”
Why would he have destroyed the final volume of Plath’s journal, detailing their last three years together? Why would another diary, which every Plath scholar and enthusiast would be desperate to get their hands on, have suspiciously gone “missing”?
Plath was clearly a disturbed character – she had tried to commit suicide before ever meeting Hughes – and, as with almost all suicides, a wide array of factors need to be taken into consideration before attempting to decipher why she had chosen to take her own life.
But Hughes failure to apologize for cheating on Plath with another married woman, his refusal to discuss the circumstances surrounding her death head-on, and the revelations in Feinstein’s biography are sure to ensure he remains the Most Despised Poet on America’s campuses and nothing less than a murderer, albeit a talented one, in the eyes of many Plath sympathisers.
“The Minotaur” by Ted Hughes
Commentary by Mel Mc Guinness
Minotaur –from Greek mythology, a half man-half beast that feeds on flesh and is found in a labyrinth.
This poem consists of 6 quatrains. It has a fast pace brought about through the use of sparse punctuation coupled with enjambment. The enjambment gives effect to the sudden and swift action within the verse accompanied by the extreme emotions which trigger this action.
There are two personalities on whom the focus is within the poem. While there is also reference to two other people within the poem, viz. Aurelia and Otto Plath, the focal point is the action and dialogue between Hughes and Sylvia Plath. The poem opens with violent action. Plath is represented as being in a fit of rage, smashing Hughes’s mother’s heirloom sideboard. For Hughes, the damage goes beyond the destruction of the physical, as seen in “Mapped with the scars of my whole life”. This could also be interpreted tom imply that he too has emotional childhood ‘scars’.
The second stanza provides the apparent reason for the rage. Hughes arrived home twenty minutes late for baby-minding. The first three lines focus on her actions thus diminishing and down-playing the fact that he was late. There are obvious gaps within the poem and one cannot but wonder why he was in fact late!
The third and fourth stanzas use dialogue which is sharp and sarcastic. These are Hughes’s words within the context of this incident. He ties her anger and violence to her personality rather than to his tardiness, sarcastically suggesting that she fails to include these emotions and destructive tendencies in her poetry. Again Hughes paints himself as the calm, placid one encouraging her in her creative pursuits, “Get that shoulder under your stanzas/ And we’ll be away”. From this point onward the focus changes and there is implied reference to Plath’s father. Otto Plath is described as the goblin which controls Sylvia’s psyche. The image of a “bloody skein” hints at Plath’s connection to her father and the destruction that this has wrought. It is a strong Freudian image conjuring notions of an in tact umbilical cord which strongly connects the two people.
The penultimate stanza utilises the jarring personal pronoun “Your” repeatedly. This creates an accusatory tone through repetition, “your marriage”, “your children”, “your mother”. Hughes has in effect, written himself out of the equation. The use of the simile “Left your children echoing/ Like tunnels in a labyrinth” connects them to the minotaur, their grandfather. This implies that they too have been affected by the ‘ghosts’ of their grandfather who wreaks havoc on Plath. The idea of Otto Plath as a monster or beast is echoed in the final stanza alongside the image of her mother who is seemingly helpless and abandoned. Hughes uses the juxtaposition of ideas in the penultimate line “Grave of your risen father” to foreshadow Plath’s death. The last two stanzas read like an explanation for her death. They imply that her death was a consequence of her manic tendencies and uncontrollable rage. The tone here is fierce and seemingly frustrated.
Copy the URL into your browser. AN interesting read that spans a few pages.