Hughes began developing his autobiographical persona, her husband, when he was nearly fifty years old. After years of attempting to avoid autobiographical writing, Hughes had come to believe that the voice in poetry had to issue from a human being situated in historical time and place, engaged in attempting to "cure" a wounding blow to his psyche inflicted by an historically significant conflict. The struggle conducted in a poet's art was his way of participating in history. Hughes also saw that no single work of writing stood alone, that a strong writer's work proceeded by accretion over time. Hughes observed that the poetic DNA expressed itself in single, definitive images or a "knot of obsessions" produced early in the poet's career and repeated in variations thereafter. Like the cells of a developing foetus, each work contained the DNA of the whole man, that is, the whole image of the persona.While this feels like a peculiarly male way of putting things (and Middlebrook's spelling of foetus makes me queasy), certain elements of Hughes's ethos (for lack of a better word) vibrate in me: "The struggle conducted in a poet's art was his way of participating in history." "No single work of writing stood alone, . . . a strong writer's work proceeded by accretion over time." "The poetic DNA expressed itself in . . . a 'knot of obsessions' produced early in the poet's career and repeated in variations thereafter." While I never expect to have a biographer--or even a reader who closely studies my body of work--I know that such a searcher would surely be able to track my "knot of obsessions," my "single, definitive images." And I also know that what I write does participate in history, though that participation may be oblique.
In truth, despite its masculine bravado, the passage gave me a glimpse of my own powers . . . which are not Hughes's, nor Plath's, nor anyone else's. But they are there, mostly subdued, yet rising now and again.