978-0-393-02009-0 / 9780393020090

Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of the Birthday Letters


Publisher:W. W. Norton & Company



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About the book:

"We have grown accustomed to confession", writes Erica Wagner at the very beginning of Ariel's Gift, an extensive commentary on Ted Hughes' acclaimed Birthday Letters, published in the last year of his life in 1998. Exploring the powerful image of the destructive, and poetic, couple through the life and writing of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Wagner situates Birthday Letters as a type of conversation: Hughes' engagement with the legacy of his wife's poetry as well as her suicide, his "return" to Plath's writing--her titles, words, phrases haunting his--as well as the drama of her life.

In this sense, Ariel's Gift is suspended between two traditions of reading, tracing both the literary dialogue between poets and poems and the life--the biographical, and personal, incident--that goes into the writing. Responding to the lure of Plath's intense, even selfless, exposť of self in her writing, as well as to what was felt to be Hughes's breaking of his 30-year silence about their relationship, Wagner provides a chronological account of the relationship between the two poets--an account which then frames her readings of the poems included in Birthday Letters. This is not, however, an attempt to reduce lyric poetry to personal experience. Wagner's reading is always alert to the ways in which Hughes is (re)working Plath's poetry and sensitive to fact that the "memory of Sylvia Plath, and her legacy, does not belong solely to Hughes". Read as a dialogue not only with Plath but with the broader cultural controversy which surrounds his relationship to Plath's work, Wagner explores the complex texture of Birthday Letters as Hughes's final tribute to a unique poetry. --Vicky Lebeau

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