Last week, we celebrated that practical cat, T.S. Eliot. This week’s featured poet, in honor of National Poetry Month, is Sylvia Plath.
While Plath is typically known for her novel The Bell Jar, she was first and foremost a poet – and a prolific one at that. Today we look at the first collection published after her death… in two versions.
Ariel was originally published in 1965 by Plath’s estranged husband Ted Hughes. As I mentioned yesterday, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding Hughes and Plath. Simply enough, he’s portrayed as the evil, money-grubbing bad guy who just wanted all the money he could siphon from his deceased wife’s talent. But their daughter Frieda, in the foreword to today’s featured collection Ariel: The Restored Edition, has this to say about her father:
Criticism of my father was even leveled at his ownership of my mother’s copyright, which fell to him on her death and which he used to directly benefit my brother and me. Through the legacy of her poetry, my mother still cared for us, and it was strange to me that anyone would wish it otherwise.
In fact, I have to say that the introduction to Ariel: The Restored Edition is one of the most fascinating parts of this collection. Though Frieda was only three when her mother committed suicide, this woman is still the daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. And she’s the best source on the matter of her mother when it comes to what she would have wanted done with her poetry.
The initial publication of Ariel was organized by Hughes… and the Los Angeles Times said about this restored edition:
It’s hard to read the original manuscript without trying to understand what Hughes was thinking when he left out certain poems and included others. She loved him. He hurt her. All of us who love her work are caught like children in that crossfire forever.
Also quite intriguing – and playing to the voyeur in us all – are the facsimile pages toward the end of the book showing the complete working drafts of Plath’s title poem “Ariel.” It’s a rare glimpse into the poet’s creative process.
Poets.org describes the original version of Ariel and Plath as such:
Part of the Confessional movement, alongside her contemporaries Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton, Plath’s work in Ariel is intensely personal. The darkly lyric poems address motherhood, sexuality, marriage, and her own experiences with depression. Despite the positive critical reception of her first, more traditional book, Colossus, the poems in Ariel were initially refused by many of the best editors in the country—the New Yorker would not publish more than a few lines of her later work.
Ariel: The Restored Edition is Plath’s original manuscript arranged as she originally intended… with none of the poems omitted. Read the introduction – sometimes we do tend to skip those, but this one is worth the read – then swallow the poems whole. The imagery is stark and at times disturbing, but it is also illuminating… showing glimpses into the muddied mind of a troubled soul.
Do you think Ted Hughes should have left Plath’s collection in the order in which she had originally intended it to be? Or was it his right to adjust the manuscript as he saw fit?