I just bought the Letters of Ted Hughes, edited by Christopher Reid (Faber and Faber, 2007). Maybe because I write about the land and sheep (!), the Don (MacKay) told me to read Ted Hughes. So I went out and bought Hughes’ Collected Poems and wormed my way through that over the past few years (leaving quite a few holes), then of course because of the Sylvia connection, I tiptoed through her work (careful not to actually step on the graves), and then their various bios (many of which were literary CSIs) and Plath’s journals (one can see how doomed the pair were even before they met).
Now I have his letters at hand, and they are each and every one, brilliant, and as Reid the editor says, generous. His original mind. Each letter a primer on writing…
Oct. 1956 to Sylvia Plath
…Tonight I read Yeats for about an hour, and I shall do this. An hour in the morning and again at night. Up to the inventing of Caxton’s press, and for most people long after all reading was done aloud. Most people were incapable of reading silently. And Eliot says that the best thing a poet can do is read aloud poetry as much as he can. This should be sound. Silent reading only employs the parts of the brain that are used in vision. Not all the brain. This means that a silent readers literary sense becomes detatched from the motor parts and the audio parts of the brain which are used in reading aloud – tongue and ear. This means that only one third of the mental components are present in their writing or in their understanding of reading – on third emotional charge.”
note that spelling and punctuation errors are left by the editor… I like that.
I love reading collected letters; they let us enter the writer’s lives and mind. And while there is absolutely no need for another human being to weigh in on the Hughes-Plath marriage, reading his letters from around the time of their meeting and marriage, one is struck by how very young he was, emotionally, and unprepared for the stuff of life (the practicalities), never mind caring for someone who was so deeply unwell.