14 December 2013

A Final Look at Plath and Hughes

The title of the blog post is a little misleading, I think: I'm not quite done with these poets. But it's my last blog post, I've submitted the paper, and finished my presentation- the class is finished.  And compared to my "First Impressions" post on the two of them, my opinions of the two have definitely changed.

I've noticed that a lot of people in the class have taken a side in the Plath/Hughes debate- and I guess it's easy to, one way or another. They're both extremely relatable poets, whether it's Plath's confessionalism or Hughes's poorly-suppressed rage. For me, it's a little less extreme- I like them both. But there are a few things that push me a little closer to Hughes.

Crow is the biggest factor. Those poems were impressive- like, that they made an impression. I still stand by the claim that I made in the First Impressions post about Hughes- he writes these poems that make you feel something, but doesn't care to really help you decide what it is that he's making you feel. I end up feeling angry or anxious or just plain uncomfortable after reading his Crow poems, with no reason to really put a finger on- and I really admire that in his work.

And then there's the whole thing in Plath's writing that sets me on edge- namely, when she just sort of slips in those extremely racist remarks in otherwise really great poetry. I know the argument 'it was just how it was back then' could be used, but I really cannot get past reading her negative descriptions of herself she sometimes does by comparing herself to other races. There's that, and there's the Holocaust imagery that she uses (that I talked about in another blog post) that just makes me uncomfortable when I read them.

I'm not done reading her, though. I actually ended up buying Ariel halfway through the semester because I wanted the experience of reading those poems in order, the right way. And I'm definitely not done with Hughes- I need to be able to put my finger on what it is that the Crow makes me feel.

12 December 2013


While stumbling around on the internet as I often do, I was led to this gem: The 1999 film The Iron Giant, one of my favourite movies from when I was a kid, was based on a novel by Ted Hughes. What a CRAZILY SMALL, INTRICATELY-PLACED WORLD that we live in.

I didn't read the novel, but I read through the summary on Wikipedia and the original was quite a bit different than the film. And much more Hughesian, in that 'mythological influence' sort of way.

The Iron Man, as it's called in his novel, crashes into a small town in England and, after a while, becomes friends with the community. Later, another being crashes into Australia and is much less friendly; The Iron Man goes to the "Space Bat Angel Dragon" and challenges him to a Test Of Strength: The Iron Man wings, and the Dragon is so badly charred from his flight to the sun that he no longer appears frightening (Crow?). Then the Dragon reveals that he's the singer of the music of the spheres. The Iron Man orders the Dragon to fly behind the sunset, singing to the earth, and this celestial song "distracts the population from its egocentrism and tendency to fight, causing the first worldwide lasting peace" (Wikipedia).

None of this really happens in the film, which is much more based on the Cold War and the young boy that finds the Iron Man than the original seems to, but Hughes still gave approval for the script. 

Getting past the initial shock of oh wow these two things are related, It's pretty cool that Hughes wrote the book that turned into one of the greatest films of all time, in twelve year old Hannah's opinion. I do find it interesting how natural-focusing, animal-personifying Hughes decided  to write about an Iron Machine from Space. 

10 December 2013

Egg-Head and Suicide Off Egg Rock

I'm not going to count it as one of my Official Blog Posts, but I thought it would be good to include my final paper for this class in the blog.

A Comparison of Ted Hughes’s “Egg-Head” and Sylvia Plath’s “Suicide off Egg Rock”

Diane Middlebrook’s article “The Poetry of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes: call and response” details the complex ways that Plath and Hughes communicated with each other through their poetry. From the moment of their first meeting to works published after their deaths, their poetry was in constant dialogue. Some dialogues consisted of several poems by both poets; others were single instances of borrowing. By deconstructing the two poems and comparing their form, it can be made evident that the poems “Egg-Head” by Ted Hughes and “Suicide off Egg Rock” by Sylvia Plath, while centering around two vastly different subjects, have more in common with one another than what may appear at first glance.

09 December 2013

Cavebirds: The Scream and Hemingway

"... In 1966, [Hughes] wrote poems to accompany Leonard Baskin's illustrations of crows, which became the epic narrative The Life and Songs of the Crow, one of the works for which Hughes is best known.[7]On 25 March 1969, six years after Plath's suicide by asphyxiation from a gas stove, Assia Wevill committed suicide in the same way. Wevill also killed her child, Alexandra Tatiana Elise (nicknamed Shura), the four-year-old daughter of Hughes, born on 3 March 1965. Their deaths led to claims that Hughes had been abusive to both Plath and Wevill.[31][32] In shock, Hughes could not finish the Crow sequence, which remained unfinished until the work Cave Birds was published in 1975.[7]" 9  (Wikipedia) 
 Dissecting Crow was always an uncomfortable experience, even without much of a background on the poems. While impersonal in subject, they have such a strong emotional reflex that it's difficult to really get through them without feeling extremely intrusive. I tried to write a generic blog post on one of the Crow poems- how my previous thoughts on "Examination at the Womb-Door" had completely ignored its title- but I just kept on being blocked by this fascination with the somethings bigger that had preoccupied me from doing much deep analysis. At the same time, I didn't want to get wrapped up in the personal, biographical side of the work. It didn't feel like it wanted me to. So instead, I distracted myself with a bit of research.

It had completely left my mind that Hughes's second partner had, also, killed herself. I didn't want to get involved in biography, especially involving a poet so impersonal in his work. But there it was, this inking fascination with what was going on with Crow. So instead, I started reading Cave Birds.

The first poem "The Scream" is a dream that turns into terror quickly. "Calves' heads dew-bristled with blood on counters/ Grinned like masks, and sun and moon danced" is more violent, even, than Hughes's usual verses and images. Is Cave Birds the result of the deaths that Hughes had to endure, hidden in metaphors of war? It's much too personal a question for me to feel comfortable addressing, but it lingers in my mind.

Here is the poem in its entirety:
The Scream

There was the sun on the wall - my childhood's
Nursery picture. And there was my gravestone
Which shared my dreams, and ate and drank with me happily.

All the day the hawk perfected its craftsmanship
And even through the night the miracle persisted.

Mountains lazed in their smoky camp.
Worms in the ground were doing a good job.

Flesh of bronze, stirred with a bronze thirst,
like a newborn baby at the breast,
Slept in the sun's mercy.

And the inane weights of iron
That come suddenly crashing into people, out of nowhere,
Only made me feel brave and creaturely.

When I saw the little rabbits with their heads crushed on roads
I knew I rode the wheel of the galaxy.

Calves' heads dew-bristled with blood on counters
Grinned like masks, and sun and moon danced.

And my mate with his face sewn up
Where they'd opened it to take something out
Raised a hand -

He smiled, in half-coma,
A stone temple smile.

Then I, too, opened my mouth to praise -

But a silence wedged in my gullet.

Like an obsidian dagger, dry, jag-edged,
A silent lump of volcanic glass,

The scream
Vomited itself.
Stanzas mix together these moments of calm and horror-- a mural on a children's wall and a gravestone. Mountains and decay. "And the inane weights of iron that come suddenly crashing into people, out of nowhere, only made me feel brave and creaturely." is some astounding war imagery. What with bullets zooming past and into nearby mates and calves, it reminds me a lot in temperament to Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, But its still very Crow in its delivery.

You know, it actually just reminds me a lot of Hemingway's novel: "The Mountains Lazed in their Smoky Camp",  draws to the setting for the book, deep in the mountains, where "When I saw the little rabbits with their heads crushed on roads" brings thought both to Sylvia Plath but also the love interest Marìa in Hemingway's novel, who the main character Robert Jordan often calls "Little Rabbit". the last section of the poem (Starting with "And my mate with his face sewn up..." onward) has the same sort of feel as the gory battle scenes that Hemingway was known for: detail is pumped out of each sentence as time slows down. It's been almost exactly four years since I read For Whom the Bell Tolls, but those battle passages from the novel still stick with me maybe not in plot but in the feeling it evoked.

I have the same feeling when I read "The Scream"; I don't particularly think that Hughes himself had Hemingway in mind, but when I read this poem it's not difficult for me to imagine Robert Jordan at the end of the book, maimed and waiting to die with slim hope for his objective.   

06 December 2013


I didn't much look at Daddy, even though it is considered to be one of Plath's best-known poems. That might actually be why I didn't focus on it that much: whenever I tell my well-read family members or friends that I'm studying Plath, all they know are the Angry Woman Poems, the Daddy Issues Poems, and I wanted to make sure I knew multiple examples of her various work to contradict them. I skipped out on thoroughly reading Daddy until now. 

During the First reading of Daddy, I focused mostly on Plath's use of Holocaust imagery: it rubbed me too wrong not to keep an eye out for it. It's much worse in Lady Lazarus: I cringe when she, much too nonchalantly, speaks of Nazi lampshades and melting golden babies. This might be another reason why I stayed so far from Daddy, and Lady Lazarus, because I really don't like how she uses the Holocaust as a literary device. In the seventh stanza of Daddy, for example:

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew. 
The engine is the German language, a language that Plath never learned which probably made her feel distant to her father. To use the image of the trains that transported the Jews to concentration camps to convey this, however, is a little insensitive. Okay, a lot insensitive. 

There is a lot to like in the poem, though. The use of German in the poem is interesting. In stanza three, she writes: "I used to pray to recover you. / Ach, du." which might be a reflection on the first stanza, where she barely dared to "Breath or Achoo." Ach du translates to 'Oh, you'. There's also the lines in the 6th and 7th stanzas: 

I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw. 
It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich.
As someone who studies a second language, I can hear the 'Ich' line with an unrefined accent, each repetition slightly different, trying out something new. I haven't read the journals so I don't know if she had tried to learn German or what, but it sounds like she tried to to connect with her father.

04 November 2013

Regarding Papers

Usually when I need to write a paper for a class, I choose a topic on which I am certain, and write a certain paper from it. I always know where I am planning on going- maybe not how I'm going to get to it, but the point that I am trying to make is always clear. It's dull, but it makes for a solid paper.

This class is a little different from my experience with other courses, though- it's more exploratory, and with that I decided to do something a little different with my paper. It took me a long, long time to decide on which poems I was going to do my paper on, but finally I decided- "The Egg-Head" by Hughes has always evaded any sort of sense for me, and "Suicide off Egg Rock" by Sylvia Plath held some interesting similarities to it. I would compare the two, see if I could find any malleable similarities.

Before I compared the two poems I would have to understand them, first. I started with Egg-Head: I had the most trouble with dissecting that one. One paragraph became two paragraphs became the entire paper-- I had spent the entire report decoding Hughes' poem.


I was worried about that for a while: the paper didn't have the format that I was used to at all for school papers. It didn't seem to argue a single point to me. It took me a while to realise that the whole process was a debate- this was my interpretation of the immense denseness that was the Egg-Head. This also gives me a topic for the next paper-- granted that I don't spend five more pages dissecting "Suicide off Egg Rock".

13 October 2013

Creative Collaboration, a summary

This chapter of John-Steiner's book Creative Collaboration  deals with the elementary school level problem of 'just getting along' when it comes to complex personal/professional/creative relationships. She takes both a feminist and a cultural-historical approach to  analyzing several artistic and scientific collaborations. The rest of the chapter is split up into sections:

Complementarity in Temperament, where she talks about  Marie and Pierre Curie among others, and how two people with different but complementary personalities can combine to support one another and make up for any personal shortcomings

The Gift of Confidence, where she states that collaboration between two people also gives the individual a person that believes in them- through this, the self-doubt that so often destroys a creator can be pushed through. Given examples: Frida Kaloh and Diego Rivera, Jean-Paul Sartre et Simone de Beauvoir.

Emotional Complementarity and Trust. How prolonged exposure and work with a person can redevelop your personality- not change it, just open parts that had been unused and make them stretch out a bit. Ariel and Will Durant, the story of civilization

Collaborative Intimacy: its promise and dangers.  Of course, the entire section is devoted to Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. She labels points of tension in Plath's using Hughes to fill 'sad holes' left  in her psyche by the death of her father, and in Hughes' unwillingness to confront his wife's metal health in any way but as creative potential. She uses their tragedy as a model to portray the negatives of collaboration when communication is hindered; dangerous, toxic, lethal.

Issues of Intellectual Ownership and Inequality. She gives the example of the authors of the book Women's way of Knowing. The authors arranged their names in alphabetical order on the book so as to not have to deal with the hierarchy apparent in academia; they were subject to it anyways, always being referred to as 'Belenky, et al' 

Here are some quotes of interest: 

"The co-construction of ideas is helped by a listening ear. Innovative works of literature, drama, choreography, and art are nourished by emotional support. Building a resilient sense of identity is aided by a self that is stretched and strengthened in a partnership." 

"Another possibility is that intimacy offers a solid foundation for an individual who is trying to cope with her or her complexity. In effective, long-term relationships, partners learn to adjust to each other's intensity and may be able to give each other 'space' when the need for solitude arises. Intense collaborations are frequently trans formative and can provide enormous intellectual and emotional benefits to the participants. But when they become emotionally excessive and splinter, the wounds inflicted by a traumatic ending may be long-lasting."