Typed Letter Signed, to Ted Hughes, With a Typed Poem

PLATH, Sylvia

I love you like fury... your own sylvia

PLATH, Sylvia Typed Letter Signed, to Ted Hughes, With a Typed Poem

1956.

An exceptional, long letter from Sylvia Plath to Ted Hughes showing in great detail their collaborative creative processes, and predicting their shared future as great poets. With a typed, signed poem 'Street Song' sent to Hughes for his criticism. Eight typed sides of blue letter paper (four sheets, folded horizontally, approximately 1,900 words), the letter signed "your own sylvia", and the poem signed "love, s.". Plath opens with news of a letter from The Atlantic's Peter Davison, to whom she had written a week before to introduce Ted's work to him and ask for advice about literary affairs. She asks Ted to not "get too optimistic (I say this, for it's hard for me not to, and one of us must keep that icy head if all things we handle are fire-and-icily)". Nevertheless, "peter's letter was like a plum-cake of helps, hints and interest for both of us," and they were interested in both Ted's poems and his children's fables. Therefore Plath resolves to "take out two whole days and type your fables and then Off to Mr. Davison." Davison also enclosed some advice about copyright laws and the Atlantic's novel competition; "Peter, my darling Teddy, is that rare rare good editor type person who is utterly unselfish... It would be so nice, all of us being so young, if he could help us, and we, in turn, could give him a reputation". She then writes on her workload, the study of Chaucer and St Augustine, and the need to "keep a hard head, not panicking at the seemingly endless stacks of reading". She also suggests that her first collection of poems be titled Firesong, and would have an epigraph by Yeats. The remaining three pages are mainly taken up with Plath editing and commenting on Ted's work, revealing in full their creative process. Responding to a poem earlier sent by Ted, she writes "I love your poem on the changeling. But please leave off at: 'Fondly I smile/Into your hideous eyes.' Have I your permission? If so, I'll type it up. It's too good a poem-as-poem to get slick and commercial-ironic." She also comments on a plot Hughes sent her in a previous letter ("Your new plot is eminently worthy of True Confessions"), and on his continuing efforts at a TV play ("nothing you write should Ever Be Torn Up or Mangled. Save it, bring it to London for me to read"). Plath provides in depth notes on 'Horses Of The Sun' across the next three paragraphs, showing how collaborative their work on Ted's poems was, "Send it back, revised, and I'll type out final copy. To go through piece by piece: again, I don't think 'horrible void' is the best you can do; I'm eternally suspicious of editorializing with horribles, terribles, awfuls, and hideouses; make the void horrible; let your reader have the sweet joy of exclaiming: 'ah! horrible!'". Perhaps Plath's most insightful note is on complexity, "you must, wicked one, help the reader (probably I will be your most niggling demanding one) to read, because you know, your syntax is very difficult; as you admit yourself, your poems are damn hard to read, they are so complex, and so you must be careful to the death not to let any mere mechanical complexity ---punctuation, grammar--- obstruct." Nevertheless, Plath is just as observant on what she admires in his work, such as his "athletic inwoven metaphor which makes description both realistic, psychologically valid and musical". Plath then introduces the poem she has enclosed on the final page, Street Song, and invites Ted's criticism, "I am enclosing my sentimental one; be strict in criticizing, for you are my proper lens; even if you know I am blithering on about how I love you, it is a poem, and, as such, can be attacked brutally." She signs off by begging Ted to come to London the next weekend, "I can work amazingly hard if I have something to live for. You. Next weekend. I love you like fury... your own sylvia". Overleaf Plath has typed out Street Song, adding at the end "(I have copies of my ones, so just write about them and rip apart in your letters)" and signed it "love, s."

An important letter, showing the close literary collaboration between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and the debt his success owed to her criticism, endeavour and enterprise.
Plath had written to Peter Davison then a staff member at The Atlantic (and later a long-serving Poetry Editor), the previous week, partly in order to update him on her life and work, but chiefly to introduce him to the work of Ted Hughes, "this writer I found is named Ted Hughes... I became his agent, as it were, in America, and so far, he's received enthusiastic acceptances... He is a brilliant writer and London and England are too small for him."
She was endeavouring to get Ted's poems in front of the magazine's editor Edward Weeks, having already secured his work places in August issues of Poetry and Nation. In addition to the poems, she had written to Davison about Ted's children's fables, and conveys to Ted here that she will type them all up and send them off to the The Atlantic.
In addition to acting as Ted's agent and typist, the rest of the letter shows her role as an essential critic of his work. Particular attention is given to a poem Plath calls 'Horses Of The Sun', a poem that Christopher Reid in The Letters Of Ted Hughes has described as an early version of 'The Horses', which appeared in The Hawk In The Rain. If he is correct, then Plath's suggested revisions altered the poem drastically from the sections which are quoted in this letter. In all events, her lengthy, detailed and astute criticism is clearly a crucial part of Ted's writing process.
This was something that was acknowledged and appreciated by Ted, who had written to his brother earlier that year, "As a result of her influence I have written continually and every day better since I met her. She is a very fine critic of my work, and abuses just those parts of it that I daren't confess to myself are unworthy." He also confessed in a letter to his sister Olwyn that Plath was, "as fine a literary critic as I have met."
Plath too, sought criticism from her spouse on her work, enclosing with this letter a typed draft of 'Street Song'. Despite informing Ted that the poem could be "attacked brutally", he found no fault in it in his reply, "The movement is very good - firm, discreet, passionate. And the statement open, not tortoised in imagery" (The Letters Of Ted Hughes, p. 65). This indicates that the changes between the version in this letter, and that which appeared in Plath's Collected Poems were made at Plath's own discretion.
An exceptional exemplar of Plath's influence on both the business and creative aspects of Hughes's work.

PROVENANCE: Ted Hughes (1930 - 1998); Frieda Hughes (Hughes and Plath's daughter).

Stock ID: 41594

£65,000.00

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