(Original Review, 2002)
Hughes acknowledged he repressed his own feelings for many years after Plath’s suicide. The poems he wrote before his death, “Birthday Letters”, were an outpouring of these feelings about his love for Plath. It was a top seller. If Hughes had published them as a younger man it would have helped his development as a great poet, but due to the repression, it did him untold harm, so he falls short of being a great poet. Plath was an extremely talented artist, writing both novels, children’s books, doing pictures. She wrote two main collections of poems, “Colossus”, where she writes very tight, word perfect poems, but she hasn’t found her true voice. Then Ariel, where she writes directly from the unconscious and unleashes power, tapping the roots of her own inner violence. As Alvarez said, this was not a therapeutic process: “you’re dredging up material and making it more available to the conscious mind, where the artist finds him/herself living it out.” Through expression comes no relief. No doubt the mental illness that had plagued her all her life, where she attempted to take her life several times was like a demon that pursued her before meeting Hughes.
Hughes had this mythic sense of his own identity through his sexual drive. It comes out in his relationships with two women, who both committed suicide, the 2nd realizing he was obsessed with his 1st wife. It also comes out in his general infidelity. You also get a good idea of this from his strange book, “Shakespeare and the Goddess of Pure Being.” He related it directly to nature and the way he sees nature. In his poems there is a delight in violence and single-minded creatures and the egotism of survival. He thinks through these poetic creatures, denying conscience and self-consciousness, but also projects them onto human beings, faking both animals and humans, writing from circumscribed experience. Plath liked the confessional poets like Lowell and Berryman and in her last poems is swept forward by the current of immediate feeling, but she also handles the material very objectively. Alvarez was a friend to both poets and was involved with trying to help Sylvia at the time of her death; she also wanted a relationship with him but he was already married, so it didn’t go anywhere.
There are lots of voyeurs out there. Yes, Hughes was devastated about his wife's suicide. This has been well-known for some time. And it could have been inferred, I would have thought, from the off. It is not news. And the reasons for suicide are always complex and can NEVER be whittled down to a simple "She did this because of that." Will now climb off soapbox.