The publication of Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters in 1998 was perceived generally as an extraordinary literary event, for Hughes had consistently sought to maintain silence and not to engage in public debates about his relationship with Sylvia Plath. He completed the manuscript a year earlier, and in January 1998 a selection of the poems with a commentary by Erica Wagner was published in The Times. In her biography of Hughes, Elaine Feinstein notes that as early as 1989 he had apparently told Carolyne Wright, a young translator in Bangladesh that he was writing poems about his private life,1 but when the poems appeared the literary world was astounded. The collection won the Forward Prize for Poetry and entered the British best-selling books lists. Hughes’ decision to break his long-standing silence had a huge impact, and through the poems we are able to look again not only at their relationship as husband and wife, but also at the relationship between two great writers, one of whom poured out all the violence that was in her heart while the other refused almost to speak her name for decades.
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