I’ve said before that I don’t really like Ted Hughes’ poetry.
Birthday Letters is an exception. It’s an immensely powerful collection. It carries a heavy weight – everything you know and “know” about Sylvia Plath, her life, her family, her poetry, her death and her almost deaths. This background, this vast and chilling back story, just makes the pain somehow more painful. I imagine for someone who knows more about Plath, that the poems actually burn.
I don’t really want to say much else. Plath’s imagery is alive here, but the light shining on it is different. If you haven’t read the collection, you really, really must.
You were the jailer of your murderer –
Which imprisoned you.
And since I was your nurse and your protector
Your sentence was mine too.
You played at feeling safe. As I fed you
You ate and drank and swallowed
Sliding me sleepy looks, like a suckling babe,
From under your eyelids.
You fed your prisoner’s rage, in the dungeone,
Through the keyhole –
Then, in a single, stung bound, came back up
The coiled, unlit stairwell.
Giant poppy faces flamed and charred
At the window. ‘Look!’
You pointed and a blackbird was lugging
A worm from its bottleneck.
The lawn lay like the pristine waiting page
Of a prison report.
Who would write what upon it
I never gave a thought.
A dumb creature, looping at the furnace door
On its demon’s prong,
Was a pen already writing
Wrong is right, right wrong.