Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Plath & Hughes

Yesterday it was reported around the World that Nicholas Hughes the son of Poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes committed suicide after having battled with depression for some time. He hanged himself at home in Alaska, 46 years after his mother put her head into a gas oven while he slept in a room next door. He was 47, an evolutionary biologist and professor of fisheries and ocean sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks for more than a decade. A year ago, he resigned to concentrate on his interest in pottery.

Nicholas Hughes was only a baby, barely 9 months when his parents separated and Sylvia subsequently took her own life in February 1963. Six years later, Assia Wevill, Ted Hughes’ lover, the wife of another poet and the woman he left Plath for also committed suicide in a similar manner, gassing herself and their four year old daughter.

A few months before her death that fateful February morning, Sylvia Plath wrote about her feelings for her child in the poem Nick and the Candlestick published in her posthumous collection Ariel. Plath’s fragile mental state during the harsh winter as a single mother preceding her suicide was the period considered to have invoked a final burst of creativity during which she wrote many of her finest poems. Later, Poet Laureate Ted Hughes wrote of how, after Plath’s death, their son’s eyes “Became wet jewels, The hardest substance of the purest pain. As I fed him in his high white chair”.

In 1998, Ted Hughs released Birthday Letters, a book of poetry that he dedicated to his children. The best-seller unveiled a series of 88 poems examining his life with Plath and his reaction to her death. The collection of deeply personal poems was awarded the 1999 Whitbread Book of the Year award which he did not live to see having died of cancer the previous October.

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