Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sylvia Plath - Part VII - Nicholas Hughes - Jan. 17, 1962 - March 16, 2009

Early on a cold February morning in 1963, the poet Sylvia Plath, living in an apartment in London, deeply depressed, separated from her husband Ted Hughes (who would later become Poet Laureate), put mugs of milk and plates of bread at the bedsides of her sleeping children.  She went back to the kitchen, got towels and tape, and sealed around the door of the room where her children slept.  Then, back in the kitchen, she turned on the jet of gas and lay her head in the oven.

Daughter Frieda was nearly three years old; son Nicholas just over a year.

Plath obsessives like myself -- "the dogs [who] are eating your mother" is how Ted Hughes described us in the title of one of his poems in Birthday Letters -- we could not, over all these years, help but wonder how Sylvia Plath's children had turned out.  Frieda became a known quantity -- she painted, wrote poetry, gave occasional interviews, made appearances at galleries and poetry festivals.

But precious little was known about Nicholas; he was reportedly a scientist working in Alaska.

One year ago today he hung himself.  It was shocking and sad for all who love Sylvia Plath.

Eleven days later a poet named David Trinidad finished a masterpiece:

"For Nicholas Hughes"

At last we know who
you were, beyond the baby
your mother woke and wrote to,
the baby crying while her body
lay, still warm, in the kitchen one
floor below; beyond the youth
sequestered among the moors,
silently fishing alongside his
famous father.  We now know
your "varied pursuits": stream ecology,
pottery, woodworking, boating,
bicycling, gardening, and cooking
"the perfect pecan pie." How like
both of them you were!  We now
know you would have nothing to
do with her, whose absence left
you hollow, and yet you found refuge
in the Golden Heart of Alaska in
her country, an ice fortress blazing
with Aurora's lights.  We know
that in the nine years since the death
of the Poet Laureate, that man of brick,
your foundation crumbled; know 
that two years ago, you gave up
your professorship to concentrate
on ceramics.  Is there no way out of
the mind?  One by one, the passage
doors shut, and locked behind you.
Still, in your depression you were able
to climb Scafell Pike, the tallest peak
in England.  We can see pictures
of you on the Internet now, Nicholas:
movie-star handsome, your stare refusing
us access, guarded against the acolytes
who would tear the very flesh from
your bones in order to possess her.
And now your death, we know that.
What is it, finally, but an image, the 
feet of a condemned man that fell from 
a poem -- first one of hers, then one of his.
As if their poems could ever console
you, or explain away the pain.  Death
was -- and is -- your legacy, we know
that now.  At last, Nicholas, we know.

A tip of my hat to Peter Steinberg, who consistently provides, at www.sylviaplath.info/index2.html, the most relevant, detailed, and fascinating information about Sylvia Plath.  Thanks too to David Trinidad for saying it is okay that I've put his poem into my post.  

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