Tag Archives: Ted Hughes

196: Letters Home

15 Jan

I was a huge Sylvia Plath fan in my late teens through to my late twenties. The visceral passion of her poetry mixed with her tragic story made compelling drama in my mind. I read The Bell Jar and wept, feeling as though she’d stepped into my head. As I grew older and more settled in myself, I lost my obsession with Sylvia and moved on to healthier role models.

Sylvia Plath with her mother and her two children, Devon 1962

Sylvia Plath with her mother and her two children, Devon 1962

Just out of college, I joined with three close friends to write a play about Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Adrienne Rice. We composed it from their poems and it was a homage to women, to poetry and to passion.

So, today’s play brought back lots of memories. Letters Home was written by Rose Leiman Goldemberg from Sylvia Plath’s correspondence with her mother Aurelia Schober Plath (also available as a book with the same title). Goldemberg has relied entirely on the letters and, surprisingly, not used any of Sylvia’s formidable poems.

It makes for a fairly one-sided play. A play about a relationship between a mother and daughter where we hear, almost solely, the daughter’s voice. But the voice we are hearing is the voice she wanted her mother to hear. There are moments of despair as she battles depression, but also plenty of euphoric, girlish excitement at college, boyfriends, clothes and writing.

What is particularly telling about the letters is Sylvia Plath’s constant putting men before herself. She writes about meeting Ted Hughes:

AURELIA: The most shattering thing is that I have fallen terribly in love, which can only lead to great hurt.
SYLVIA: The strongest man in the world, ex-Cambridge, brilliant poet, whose work I loved before I met him, a large, hulking, healthy Adam, half-French, half-Irish,
AURELIA: with a voice like the thunder of God! – a singer, story-teller, lion and world-wanderer, a vagabond who will never stop.

Later, she writes:

SYLVIA: Dearest, dearest Mother,
If only you could see, wherever Ted and I go people seem to love us.
My whole thought is how to please him.
The joy of being a loved and loving woman; that is my song.

When Ted’s book wins a major prize, Sylvia writes: “I am so happy Ted’s book is accepted first! Genius will out!” Followed by, “I can rejoice much more, knowing Ted is ahead of me!” This is a product of the times (the letters were written between Sylvia’s college days in the 1950s and her death in 1963) but also symptomatic of the fault line that runs through their relationship.

I wanted more of the rage that pulses through the poems, like ‘Lesbos’, which finishes with these lines:

Now I am silent, hate
Up to my neck,
Thick, thick.
I do not speak.
I am packing the hard potatoes like good clothes,
I am packing the babies,
I am packing the sick cats.
O vase of acid,
It is love you are full of. You know who you hate.
He is hugging his ball and chain down by the gate
That opens to the sea
Where it drives in, white and black,
Then spews it back.
Every day you fill him with soul-stuff, like a pitcher.
You are so exhausted.
Your voice my ear-ring,
Flapping and sucking, blood-loving bat.
That is that. That is that.
You peer from the door,
Sad hag. “Every woman’s a whore.
I can’t communicate.”

I see your cute decor
Close on you like the fist of a baby
Or an anemone, that sea
Sweetheart, that kleptomaniac.
I am still raw.
I say I may be back.
You know what lies are for.

Even in your Zen heaven we shan’t meet.

Publisher: Methuen (published in Plays by Women: volume two)

Cast: 2F

152: Marble

20 Aug

Marina Carr describes Marble as a “gift” of a play. “I got the story from Fiona Shaw one hot summer’s night in London over a mackerel dinner. Fiona Shaw got the story from Ted Hughes, who got it from an Icelandic poet, who probably got it from a seal, who got it from a wandering meteorite…” I can see the mythic and dreamlike appeal of the piece, the fantastic becoming real and the impossible, possible … but this play doesn’t quite get there for me.

marble statue

Marble is a story is of two couples: Catherine and Ben and Art and Anne. Ben and Art are friends but the couples haven’t had much to do with each other and Catherine and Art have barely spoken three words to each other. The play opens with Art telling Ben that he’s had an erotic dream about Catherine. Art doesn’t think the revelation is important, he doesn’t expect it to shake Ben the way it does. It’s just a dream after all.

ART: Do you mind me saying I dreamt I made love to your wife last night?
BEN: I’m not sure you shouldn’t have kept it to yourself.
ART: You’re very old-fashioned.
BEN: Am I?
ART: I didn’t realise you were so repressed.

When Ben gets home, Catherine tells him that she dreamt about Art, that there was “lots of marble” and “wild pleasure”. It turns out they’ve both dreamt the same dream. Each night Catherine and Art dream of a marble room and the most highly charged, erotic sex of their lives, with each other.

The joy of her dreaming life takes over Catherine, so that she can no longer bear to be awake. Her children are forgotten and all her routines are lost for the bliss of sleep.

BEN: I have a woman at home who sleeps twenty-four hours a day, she gets up in the middle of the night, eats crackers and hard-boiled eggs from their shells which she scatters around the carpets, the stairs. She hovers around windows, doorways, leans against the fence for an hour at a time and then sinks back into her catatonic dream of you.

Friendships are destroyed and marriages fall to ruins, all because of dreams of a marble room and the possibility of something extraordinary. The play raised questions about infidelity in my mind. When does the betrayal occur? Is it only when sex occurs, or can there be infidelity in dreams? And is the play just about sex, or is it about death, because that’s another possible reading of the marble room and the ecstasy it inspires…

CATHERINE: My reptilian brain is on the ascent, and I’m on a descent, a descent away from some marble room that cannot be reached. Why are we given such images, such sublime yearnings for things that are never there? A dream was given to me, inside me from birth, a dream of marble, a woman in a marble room with her lover. And all the waking world can do is thwart it and deny it, and say, no, it cannot be, childish, impossible, you must walk the grey paths with the rest of us, go down into the wet muck at the close. That’s your lot.

Publisher: Faber and Faber (published in Marina Carr: Plays 2)

Cast: 2M, 2F