It started with an email. A subscription to the awesome comics website Zen Pencils, proved again to be totally worth it as I was made aware of Gav’s latest addition . This latest addition was on a poem written by a woman, who I would soon discover to be quite an exquisite and tormented creature. Her name was Sylvia Plath. Her poem held such a fatal grip on me, that before I was aware of my actions, I had already pulled up her Wikipedia page, her biography written by her best friend, and the synopsis for her book, “The Bell Jar”. Thence began my research.
Page after page, I read. There was Otto Plath, then Richard Sassoon, then Dylan Thomas – men who had undeniably contributed to her experiences and influenced her choices. These men (save possibly the last), were among others who knew her worth not just as a woman, but also as a person, and treated her as such. It seems to me, that the offending exception was the brilliantly poetic fool she eventually married. The culprit’s name was Ted Hughes.
Ted Hughes was a man who was an equally gifted poet with allegedly good looks. He however made the promise to tie himself to her until death ripped them apart, only in doing so, I believe he discounted the potency of the Bohemian style of living he was undeniably drawn to. Needless to say, he fucked around – literally – and Sylvia, saddled with the complications of her psychology, found Ted’s actions and the consequences thereof too much for her mind and body to bear – again, literally. She had a miscarriage and later took her own life. All of this happened in a space of seven years. The sorry dolt (Ted Hughes) could not and did not keep his promise, but shortly after her suicide, he had the decency to admit the following:
I was the one could have helped her, and the only one that couldn’t see that she really needed it this time. No doubt where the blame lies.
Now, whatever your opinion on sexuality or your qualms on whether or not man is a monogamous creature, that’s hardly my concern nor is it the point of this post. What struck me was just how blissfully unaware Ted Hughes was. This was a man, who by nature of his chosen profession, was supposed to be endowed with super-human perception. However, when it came to knowing the life of the person supposedly closest to him, the person with whom he had shared a vow of intimacy – his wife – he failed. He failed spectacularly. And for me, this simply does not add up. I personally refuse to believe that salacious pleasure sweetened by sparks of lust can blind a man so. Yet in Ted Hughes’ case, it apparently did.
The rest of his life was, in my opinion, tragic but rather uneventful. Nick, the son from his union to Sylvia Plath, committed suicide. Assia, the woman he left Sylvia Plath for, committed suicide. Though it is never a simple matter – the tragedy of this family has workings the public will never be privy to – I believe many of the events were avoidable.
I have no comment on the character of either of them. Plath and Hughes may have been Heaven’s saints or Hell’s sinners – I really don’t care nor do I think that’s anybody’s business anyway. However, after reading on her life and the lives of those connected to her, I learned that I, like many others, take too many things for granted. Sylvia apparently looked okay but many times, she wasn’t. She had a friend, Dr. John Horder, who was sensitive to her needs and feelings – he didn’t take her mental health for granted. I realize that if only she had more people like him around her, maybe she wouldn’t have taken her life.
Mental illness is a reality that is no longer alternate. It is now prevalent in the reality in which I reside. Reading Sylvia’s story has taught me that I am responsible for the mental fates of those closest to me. I have a responsibility to be perceptive, to be sensitive to the mental needs of my friends and family. To fail to reach out to them always is a failure. Moreover, I’ll be damned before I repeat the failure of the man, Ted Hughes.