Monday, December 21, 2015

from Frieda Hughes's foreword to Ariel: The Restored Edition by Sylvia Plath

My father had a profound respect for my mother's work in spite of being one of the subjects of its fury. For him the work was the thing, and he saw the care of it as a means of tribute and responsibility.

But the point of anguish at which my mother killed herself was taken over by strangers, possessed and reshaped by them. The collection of Ariel poems became symbolic to me of this possession of my mother and the wider vilification of my father. It was as if the clay from her poetic energy was taken up and versions of my mother made out of it, invented only to reflect the inventors, as if they could possess my real, actual mother, now a woman who had ceased to resemble herself in those other minds. I saw poems such as "Lady Lazarus" and "Daddy" dissected over and over, the moment that my mother wrote them being applied to her whole life, to her whole person, as if they were the total sum of her experience.

Criticism of my father was even levelled at his ownership of my mother's copyright, which fell to him on her death and which he used to directly benefit my brother and me. Through the legacy of her poetry my mother still cared for us, and it was strange to me that anyone would wish it otherwise.


David (n of 49) said...

At university in the '70s, even to this callow teenager who had barely heard of Plath, the things that were said about Hughes seemed so far beyond unconscionable, too often actually unhinged, and usually by people who should have known better. Thanks for posting her intro--although he was no doubt a difficult man (as if that makes him unique), it's good to see him spoken up for, by someone who would know.

Carlene said...

I am profoundly intrigued by "the moment that she wrote them" as an idea and a truth. Too often, readers (compilers, etc.) judge the whole by a part, the person by the moment of creation that they are privileged to witness. It's like people dismissing Eliot because of his raging anti-Semitism, or Whitman due to his sexual orientation. Or a play that failed being representative of an entire life's work (I don't really like Romeo and Juliet, but I don't dismiss The Bard because of it). To assume one knows--knows--another human being by any single written work is to operate in such a way that puts the emphasis on the reader, not the work or the author. Even a body of work that has been edited, polished, published, collected, reprinted--in sum, almost divorced from the author's initial spark--cannot hope to convey the inner workings of a person. We can only "know in part" (sorry, St. Paul), and assess and value the work itself (Ted Hughes was entirely correct in this emphasis on custodial care).