A Greek-less Tragedy (Ted Hughes)

We did it! We celebrated nearly every day in April with a poem. Let’s reach around and give ourselves a nice pat on the back.

The celebration for me wouldn’t be complete without inviting the husband to participate. Of course I wanted to pick up where we left off last year in the aftermath of Plath. We discussed Plath and the children but we never talked about the husband and father, Ted Hughes.

Before discussing the man’s poetry we had to discuss the man. teddy

In a Nutshell

Edward James Hughes was born August 17, 1930 and was affectionately referred to as Ted. He served in the Royal Air Force for two years as a ground wireless mechanic. He attended Pembroke College on an academic scholarship and studied Anthropology, Archaeology, Mythology and published a few poems while he was at it.
After graduating from Cambridge he co-founded a literary magazine. It was at the magazine’s launch party that he met Sylvia Plath. A few short months later they were married.

The couple returned to England in 1959 and their first child Freida was born the following year. Nicholas was born two years later in 1962.

In 1962 Hughes left Plath for a woman named Assia Gutmann Wevill. In 1963 (less than a year later) Plath committed suicide.assia and shura

In March 1965 Assia gave birth to a daughter nicknamed Shura.

She reportedly aborted her first pregnancy by Hughes after the death of Sylvia Plath.

In March 1969 Assia Wevill gassed herself but [unlike Plath] she took the child with her.

In 1970 Hughes married Carol Orchard whom he remained with until his death in 1998.

He was appointed Poet Laureate of England in 1984 and held the post until he passed away on October 28, 1998 in Devonshire, England, from cancer.

Let’s Discuss…

“So what do you think about that?” I asked and waited with anticipation. I don’t know what I was expecting as I watched him tip his head with one eyebrow cocked but his response caught me off guard.

“All I can say is poor bastard.”

“We partially agree but why on earth would you pity him?” I sincerely tried not to show my annoyance but after 30 years of marriage that is pretty much impossible.

“Who do you want me to feel sorry for?” he laughed, “You expected me to feel sorry for the women didn’t you?”

“We don’t have to feel sorry for any of them.” I’m sure I was blushing as it occurred to me he knew what I was thinking before I did.

“So he was with the last wife for nearly thirty years – was she a poet?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Well there you go. That’s probably why they were able to stay married. That or he kept her away from gas stoves.”

“Is that all you have to offer on the life of Ted Hughes?”

“At least he wasn’t around to know his son hanged himself. Other than that, yep, that’s all I’ve got. Let me get a beer and we’ll discuss his poem.”

Full Moon and Little Freida

By Ted Hughes

A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket –
And you listening.
A spider’s web, tense for the dew’s touch.
A pail lifted, still and brimming – mirror
To tempt a first star to a tremor.

Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm
wreaths of breath –
A dark river of blood, many boulders,
Balancing unspilled milk.
‘Moon!’ you cry suddenly, ‘Moon! Moon!’

The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work
That points at him amazed.

Let’s Discuss More…


“According to the title I assume that was for his daughter.”

“I think that is safe to assume. So what is your interpretation of the poem?”

“Skunks, dogs, spiders and cows… it sounds like the man had been outside a time or two.”

“I’m sure at least twice.”

“But what is this thing with him and Plath about blood or bleeding and milk and moons?”

“They’re natural themes I suppose with blood and milk being the basic sustenance of life. What’s your take on it?”

“My take is basically I need another beer.”

“Okay. Give me a closing thought and I’ll leave you alone until next April.”

“Hmmm.” He thought for a moment, “It’s just another Greek-less tragedy.”

_   _   _

I suppose I will have to wait until next year to ask him the heck that means.




Wallowing in the Words of FARMER

National Poetry Month officially starts April 1st and guess who I chose?

(thanks for the suggestion “gs”)

Frieda Rebecca Hughes was born April 1, 1960 to poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. frieda

In all honesty I hadn’t read Frieda’s poetry though I did stalk her a little last year.  Not in the literal/physical sense. I’m not that disturbed – okay maybe that is debatable but anyway…

You see last April I was obsessing over her mother and the tragedies that surrounded young Frieda Hughes. Thank goodness the July heat cured me – at least I thought it did. Now I find myself wallowing in this poem.
I will not dissect FARMER or delve into the misfortunes of Ms. Hughes today. Instead I would like to point out that Frieda went on to become an artist in her own right. She is not only an author and a poet she is a [talented] painter as well.


by Frieda Hughes

Slim, beautiful thing he was, like a dropped angel.
Eyes huge, set amazed in his face,
He wondered at the universe.
Strange man, tree watching.

She caught him young. Hollow vessel;
She saw his ownership of things, and wanted.
Saw his weaknesses early, nailed him to the floor
With an unexpected daughter.

Hooked, like a mouth-torn trout,
He was held fast by the cry and spit
Of little childhood begun so sudden, so surprised.
Mother felt her job was done.

Had used her womb like a weapon. Now her words
Beat him down, he was harvested in his own fields.
His bruises bloomed, those blue roses sank their stain
Beneath his surface, made him dumb with pain.
He learned to be silent.

In his head he hid. Green grew there,
Rocks cracked hot in the sun, his landscape
Was knitted by lizards and boulders of sheep.
She could not find him or snap a bone
With the thought that made her child,
It became her stone. Its heaviness outweighed her.
At last, she left him,
Strange man, tree watching.

P.S. HaPpY BiRthDaY Frieda Hughes.

Photo courtesy of friedahughes.com


In the Aftermath of Plath

Just in case I missed telling one person in the far reaches of Idonwannaherit (which is my husband’s country of origin) April is National Poetry month.

And guess what?! I was informed this morning that I have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize Award. I’m thinking OMG! Am I so special they called me early? Turns out it was an April Fool’s joke. Damn you cruel jokester and may the winning of Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes forever be just out of your reach.

With the fool’s business out of the way I’d like to talk about Plath. Not because of her life’s work. In all honesty it is/was her chronic obsession with death that compels me. In reading Lady Lazarus with or without knowing Plath’s history I could have imagined a poet scribbling thoughts that were just that- thoughts. But the [reportedly] last two pieces she wrote and the two small children she left behind. I became strangely fanatical.

photo by Rollie McKenna

photo by Rollie McKenna

I tried hard not to judge her as a person and to focus only on the writing but I fell short. History, rumor and suspicion clouded my judgment.

When I read Nick and the Candlestick I imagined premeditated recklessness beyond her own ending. In Balloons all I could see was her surveying her child at play – a child she would [knowingly?] soon leave motherless.

And in Edge… it would have been eerily sufficient without knowing Sylvia Plath Hughes had made for herself a gas chamber. In doing so she had eliminated the need for an executioner so I became her judge, juror and examiner.

It wasn’t enough for me to obsess over the tragedy I insisted my husband partake of the mind numbing fixation. His first response was, “You know I don’t read poetry. I don’t read anything that doesn’t have live game, a stock symbol or a machining program written on it.” To that I handed him a beer and smiled, “Okay. I’ll read it to you and you tell me what you think.” He agreed. Though once I finished reading Edge aloud he held out his hand and ordered me to give it to him. I graciously obliged.

Here it is in its entirety. Our discussion will follow.

Edge by Sylvia Plath 1963

The woman is perfected.
Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,

The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare

Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little

Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded

Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden

Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.

She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

When he finally looked up I asked, “So what do you think?”

He took a long drink and shrugged, “She obviously wanted to be dead and she’s happy about it.”

“Yes, yes. Go on.” I urged, “What about the scrolls of her toga?”

“Sounds like the Clinton – Lewinsky thing. You know with the stained dress.”
I laughed and he continued. “Here where she says ‘it is over’ means just that – she’s finished.”

“What about the lines ‘each dead child coiled, a white serpent, one at each little pitcher of milk, now empty’ what do you think about that?”

“The Exodus? It sounds like the first Passover and the last plague in Egypt to me.” He looked back at the page in front of him and read, “She has folded them back into her body as petals of a rose close when the garden stiffens and odors bleed from the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.” He shook his head and returned the poem, “Did she plan to kill the kids and take them with her? I guess it doesn’t matter- It was fifty years ago, she was mentally ill and she’s glad she’s dead.”

“What about ‘the moon has nothing to be sad about, staring from her hood of bone. She is used to this sort of thing. Her blacks crackle and drag’ – what are your thoughts on that?” I asked, watching as he became more uncomfortable.

“It sounds like craziness. She was obviously mentally ill. Did you say she stuck her head in an oven?” I nodded. “Was it butane or natural gas?”

“I have no idea. Why would that matter?”

“Well one falls and the other rises – natural gas rises. Did she live in town or in the country? If she lived in town it was probably natural gas.”

“She lived in London, a town residence once occupied by Yeats.”

“Hell, it might have been coal fuel.” He paused as if it took added effort to ask the next question. “Did she kill her kids too?”

“No.” I answered. His face relaxed a bit until I added, “The youngest, a boy named Nicholas hung himself in 2009. The daughter who was less than three years old when it happened went on to become a painter and poet.”

“Dammit! How’s the girl doing?”

“I don’t personally know her but she was still alive the last I heard.”

“Poor thing. Damaged people leave a lot of garbage in their wake. Hopefully she’s not too messed up.” With that he bent and twisted the empty can indicating the discussion was over. I mumbled a thank you delighted I had snagged him into reading a poem yet a little ashamed that I had disturbed him with the past of Sylvia Plath. Next week maybe I will entice him with a new poet, a living poet. I’ll choose something lighter, funnier and maybe drag out the frayed old book Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. The kids always enjoyed that one. I will probably [silently] take a closer look at the works of Ted and Frieda Hughes, dissecting their psyches and torturing myself in the aftermath of Sylvia Plath.