"Lovesong" by Ted Hughes, and beef with Sylvia Plath

Ted Hughes and Sylvia PlathI have a beef with Sylvia Plath, but it's not her fault.

I was on a roll in high school, sure of a 5 for 5 score on the A.P. English Lit test I was taking until I came to the poem "Sow", and I shanked it. Brain gears ground to a halt. I could not interpret anything beyond "this is a big pig". Crumpled, if there were anything after to fill out the remainder of the test it was probably doodles of approximations of Prince album art.

Years later I was on a walk listening to poetry read by authors, when Sylvia Plath's voice came on reading "Sow". For certain, when I made the connection I stopped in place. Memory flits between either my saying "Oh, fuck!" or taking my headphones off to look at them, as if I could shake that extra 1 point that would have boosted my 4 score to a 5.

Here's a poem by Ted Hughes. Difficult to not read his tempestuous courtship and marriage with Sylvia Plath into it. Though this poem is dedicated to Assia Wevill, a paramour of Hughes' who ALSO killed herself and their daughter by gassing. That was how Plath killed herself, and Anne Sexton killed herself through gassing. What's up with that? Why did suicidal poets in the 50s-70s lack a sense for physical adventure - jumping off a bridge, skydiving without a parachute, hari-kari - and go for passive, slow-fade, wasteful natural gas/gasoline methods for languidly shuffling off their mortal coils?

"Lovesong" by Ted Hughes

He loved her and she loved him
His kisses sucked out her whole past and future or tried to
He had no other appetite
She bit him she gnawed him she sucked
She wanted him complete inside her
Safe and sure forever and ever
Their little cries fluttered into the curtains

Ted Hughes and Carol OrchardHer eyes wanted nothing to get away
Her looks nailed down his hands his wrists his elbows
He gripped her hard so that life
Should not drag her from that moment
He wanted all future to cease
He wanted to topple with his arms round her
Off that moment's brink and into nothing
Or everlasting or whatever there was

Her embrace was an immense press
To print him into her bones
His smiles were the garrets of a fairy palace
Where the real world would never come
Her smiles were spider bites
So he would lie still till she felt hungry
His words were occupying armies
Her laughs were an assassin's attempts
His looks were bullets daggers of revenge
His glances were ghosts in the corner with horrible secrets
His whispers were whips and jackboots
Her kisses were lawyers steadily writing
His caresses were the last hooks of a castaway
Assia WevillHer love-tricks were the grinding of locks
And their deep cries crawled over the floors
Like an animal dragging a great trap
His promises were the surgeon's gag
Her promises took the top off his skull
She would get a brooch made of it
His vows pulled out all her sinews
He showed her how to make a love-knot
Her vows put his eyes in formalin
At the back of her secret drawer
Their screams stuck in the wall

Their heads fell apart into sleep like the two halves
Of a lopped melon, but love is hard to stop

In their entwined sleep they exchanged arms and legs
In their dreams their brains took each other hostage

In the morning they wore each other's face