Blog Seven: Birthday Letters

Birthday Letters as a volume of poems is indeed moving and beautiful. I have a hard time appreciating the poems in a biographical light though. Hughes is clearly the speaker of the poems, and Plath is the “you” referred to so regularly. The fact that Hughes had this published after both his and Plath’s deaths seems unfair. After the publication no questions could be asked regarding their relationship, and Plath could not refute. Hughes gets the final word on how others perceive their relationship, without having to stand by his words. I understand there could be several different motivating factors to his publishing decision, but the nature of publication along with how he forms Plath as a poetic character leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

I recently read this article from the Huffington Post on referring to women as crazy. The article defends the right of women to have feelings without being negatively labeled for expressing them, and scolds men who chose to label instead of listen. It got me thinking that gaslighting doesn’t just occur to women who do not have a psychological disorder, but to people with psychological issues too. People are much too quick to dismiss the feelings of those (male or female) who suffer from such issues. This is evident in Birthday Letters.

In our last class several different students agreed that Hughes portrays Plath as “crazy” in the collection. We discussed “Rabbit Catcher” in depth, and it was suggested that Plath seems locked inside herself while Hughes seems locked out of himself. This can be seen in the lines:

It seemed perfect to me. Feeding babies,

Your Germanic scowl, edged like a helmet,

Would not translate itself. I sat baffled.

I was a fly outside on the window-pane

Of my own domestic drama. You refused to lie there

Being indolent, you hated it.

Here Plath is obviously upset about something, Hughes doesn’t ask what is wrong or try to understand what she is feeling, instead he withdraws, thus they are locked away into separate mental rooms. Somehow out of this nobody noted that Hughes was insensitive or lacked empathy, just that Plath was crazy. This makes me wonder about our classes biases. Hardly a bad word has been spoken about Hughes during class discussion, yet Plath is consistently criticized for her emotions. Does our class have a gender bias? A mental illness bias? Or a sad combination of both?

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One thought on “Blog Seven: Birthday Letters

  1. You raise a fascinating question about our response, as class, to Plath and Hughes. In particular you wonder if we’re duped by Hughes’s apparently more rationale or “sane” (such a loaded word) attitude in contrast to Plath’s
    apparent “craziness.”
    What would it mean to interrogateHughes’s mental and emotional disposition as rigorously as we do Plath’s?
    Some critics wonder if Plath’s confessional mode, inadvertently, gave a lot of fodder to her portrayal as mentally instable. Hughes was careful to never, or rarely, engage in directly autobiographical modes, and you might say he fared better as a result. Or is it that we simply read male and female poets differently?
    I hope we’ll have a chance to pursue these questions further–I will count on you!

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