Poet saw ghostly visions of dead wife

from: The Calgary Herald - October 20, 1998

by Richard Woods

Ted Hughes, Britain's poet laureate, has told of hauntingly real visions of Sylvia Plath, his first wife, in the months after her suicide. The unsettling images left him confused and struggling in a "dead existence." Hughes has released a poem, which he previously felt was too personal to publish, about the experiences. Entitled The Offers, it describes how on three occasions after Plath's death he saw manifestations of her. Two spoke to him.

The poem further illuminates Hughes' complex relationship with the American poet Plath, a martyr for extreme feminists, who attribute her death to Hughes' infidelity. A year before she killed herself he had abandoned her for Assia Wevill, who had a child with him. She, too, later committed suicide. The Offers gives an insight into the shock Hughes felt at Plath's death and raises intriguing questions.

"Hughes has always been a poet who believed in the supernatural and the mythical," says John Carey, professor of English literature at Oxford University.

"This is a very fine and deeply serious poem. He is not fictionalizing. I feel it is a true poem about what really happened."

The poem recounts how one day two months after Plath gassed herself in February 1963, Hughes was on the London Underground. He saw her "paler, almost yellowish, as you had been in the morgue" on the train and stared intently at her. "My gaze leaned against you as a gaze might lean its cheek on a hand," he writes. The spectre remained silent and Hughes alighted. Later Hughes had a vision of Plath "young, untouched by death." At the end of the poem he describes a third and chilling vision of Plath approaching him from behind as he was about to step into the bath.

Despite sustained attacks, Hughes had remained silent on his relationship with Plath until this year, when he published Birthday Letters, a collection of poems almost all addressed to her.

Copyright Copyright Calgary Herald 1998

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