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Sat, Oct. 13th, 2007, 06:54 pm
ideealisme: Ted Hughes's letters in the Daily Telegraph






Have mixed feelings after reading all these, about Hughes's personality rather than his poetry. There is something decidedly unpleasant and controlling in his manner, particularly to his letter to Aurelia Plath a few months after Sylvia Plath's suicide, brought about by his sexual rejection of her in favour of Assia Wevill. He makes up a load of controlling guff to patronise and hurt Mrs Plath when the real reason he doesn't want her to come over is because he is b***-deep in AW and doesn't want ma-in-law to find out. It's one thing to want to avoid censure and judgement, another to put it all back on the woman, be it mother in law, mistress, wife, whoever. Hughes seemed to be good at that.

Similarly with Assia Wevill, he says she is brain-fogged and warped because she has just given birth. Now Wevill was not a nice character and got by on her looks, but the treatment she received from him was appalling. His manner, in implying that her accusations and her very judgement are due to her flawed nature, reminds me of the dangerous, manipulative bullshit I was fed by a man of similar temperament in 2002. Such psychologically abusive relationships with their clever way of treating the victim horribly and making them feel as if it is their fault - I'm sorry but it makes me shiver to the very bone. It took me a long time to recover from what that man did to me.

Of course the usual Ted Hughes conundrum comes up - just because the person is dislikable, does that negate the poetry? Surely Robert Graves and Laura Riding's (yes, THAT is the poet Hughes sounds like!!) contention that a good poet must be a good person does not apply. What about that nasty, vain, cruel, philandering hypocrite Shelley, who is an immortal poet? What about Plath herself, who could be every bit as fun as a wet week when she was in one of her mulish, depressive moods? How about Robert Lowell, whose madness and alcoholism inflicted such destruction and pain on the lives of Elizabeth Hardwick and her daughter Harriet? If we condemn Hughes, we must condemn them.

And yet, Hughes is different. People still reject him due to his personal life and put a lot of emphasis on it. Perhaps because, to paraphrase his own words, it befell to him to murder a genius? Perhaps because he lived too long and wrote too much? Perhaps because he accepted the Laureateship (Larkin, who thought him an inferior poet to his wife long before everyone else, was wise enough to decline.) But perhaps it was because his nature was something perceived by other people, and it affected their perception of everything he wrote. After all, if he wanted "swinish" people like Al Alvarez to back off, perhaps he should have married more prudently, to someone of no poetic accomplishment, and stayed faithful. Which he eventually did do, apart from the last bit.

Sat, Oct. 13th, 2007 08:18 pm (UTC)

just because the person is dislikable, does that negate the poetry?
short answer: never.

Perhaps because he lived too long and wrote too much?
this is just ridiculous.

i have no mixed feelings about his personality. grade-a arsehole. and i wish more poets wrote about "nature" with the intensity of some of ted's best poems. it would make passing over his stuff so much easier. who else is there? d.h. lawrence does not count.

Sun, Oct. 14th, 2007 08:35 pm (UTC)

why's it ridiculous to say he wrote too much? His output was huge. I read through an edition of his selected poems. I really wanted to keep an open mind about the guy so I thought I'd better do him the courtesy of reading his stuff. I liked the one about his father and most of Crow and the View of a Dead Pig, but a lot of it just washed over me to be honest. Maybe it's a matter of taste.

Hmmm, maybe you're right. Maybe I just don't like the man. But I can read "To a Skylark" and forget Shelley's character because the poem is so beautiful. With Hughes, I can't, for some reason. Sometimes I suspect he's trying to be clever Possibly that turns me off too.