Fulbright Scholars – Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes, in my opinion, one of the best poets to have graced us. Today we will be having a sneak peek at 6 of his poems. Almost all of his later poems are about Sylvia Plath, his first wife and the conflicting perspective of her and the situations. While text is only a representation of a persons thoughts, emotions and feelings, it can hardly not be bias. Their relationship together was caotic and intense, which lead her to write Ariel and him to write Birthday Letters. Some say he held her back, others say his writing was better or that without one the other couldn’t write. There is a lot of conflict between the two poets fans about their relationship, seven months after they separated, she killed herself – I am unsure how anyone could not help but feel guilty in the same situation. A tragic event, when Plath committed suicide: he lived in the public eye and yet never publicly spoke about it. The whole of his Birthday Letters collection is very painful, even as a reader.

 

The first poem we will be looking at is Fulbright Scholars. To set out the setting, Plath is the Fulbright scholar and I believe that this poem is directed as if he is addressing her.

To me it is about memory, the nature of a hazy and fleeting memory. Before he met her, a long time ago, he is looking back – he is consolidating what happened.

Where was it, in the Strand?

This abrupt opening is unsure and not certain. The sentences are incomplete, fractures nature of a memory being pieced back together – he builds on it as he goes.

The mood of the poem is gentle, musing, with no bitterness. It can be described to show the casual aspect of their relationship.

The third line has caught my eye: was it fate or destiny: this particular line really always captures my attention.

For some reason I noticed it.

 

The pattern throughout the poem reinforces the haziness of a memory, like trying to catch smoke. The actual word choice is very intriguing as it was picked deliberately I feel.

Not what it hid.

A danger, a point of turning in the relationship it was the ominous end of innocent aspect of details., the hiding of the real and authentic self, the public projections vs the private projections. Ominous.

And your grin.
Your exaggerated American
Grin

Later he specifically makes a reference to her nationality as a cultural difference, age and experience of war – he remembers the fear and rationing of war close to home, while she was far away in America, away from the war and too young to remember. The big divide of WW2. The falsity of her grin.

The particular choice of words in the following sentences is unusual, and the choice of using “Frightners” could relate to the issues that would come up, it may also be reference that she was psychologically disturbed. The unknown threat.

Then I Forgot

The contrast against his almost clarity, foreshadowing what would happen, dichotomy – he draws attention to how much her recalls of himself, then of their first encounter. He forgets her and remembered his role in the situation.

First fresh peach I had ever tasted.

Certain and clarity, he remembers eating a peach and the photograph (second line)more than he can recall of her. The “fresh peach” can be seen as the innocent  ignorance – like a fresh new relationship and all the promise it holds. Positions the reader for the complexity of the relationship and what is to come. He can be seen as absolving himself by confirming to himself that he was unaware.  It is a one sided dialog, but he is addressing her and also us – ‘the memory is shady I am innocent’.  The peach could also be used to symbolise plath, a young girl, virgin. Also the fresh peach – a luxury – coming out of war stricken country and the rationing that went with it, it is not unusual that this was his first fresh peach.

 At twenty-five I was dumbfounded afresh

Youth and naivety – foreshadowing that he was not prepared for what followed, this statement is detailed, his memory is clear for this fact.

Perspectives will never equal truth. This is just a representation  – he does try to be objective but it is hard. The way this poem is constructed, it is personal – skews truth > put together in a conscious way. Many of his other poems are direct responses to her poems, as his own personal version.

When reading this poem, read to the punctuation – not the lines – this is the use of enjambment. This is unusual for Hughes since he was usually a free verse – rhyme was not as important to him.
There are many rhetorical questions – which would have been answered has she not committed suicide.

The hot sun, hot pavement – peach : all sensory imagery. Intense, violent – love. They consumed each other.
The impression of Sylvia Plath from this poem is:

  • Innocent
  • Fresh, young and new
  • She appears double sided – anxiety, fear and trauma as well as ‘frightners’ a link to psychological illness
  • The complications are warned for what was to come.

 

The beginning of the end.

Where was it, in the Strand? A display
Of news items , in photographs.
For some reason I noticed it.
A picture of that year’s intake
Of Fulbright Scholars. Just arriving –
Or arrived.  Or some of them.
Were you among them?  I studied it.
Not too minutely, wondering
Which of them I might meet.
I remember that thought.  Not
Your face.  No doubt I scanned particularly
The girls.  Maybe I noticed you.
Maybe I weighed you up, feeling unlikely.
Noted your long hair, loose waves –
Your Veronica Lake bang.  Not what it hid.
It would appear blond. And your grin.
Your exaggerated American
Grin for the cameras, the judges, the strangers, the frighteners.
Then I forgot.  Yet I remember
The picture : the Fulbright Scholars.
With their luggage?  It seems unlikely.
Could they have come as a team? That’s as I remember.
From a stall near Charing Cross Station.
It was the first fresh peach I had ever tasted.
I could hardly believe how delicious.
At twenty-five I was dumbfounded afresh
By my ignorance of the simplest things.

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One thought on “Fulbright Scholars – Ted Hughes

  1. Pingback: 30 Entries for 30 Days – Number 7 – Do I learn from HER mistakes? | Elysium Tewlder

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