Thursday, March 26, 2009
By Hillel Italie When Nicholas Hughes was in his early 20s, his father, poet Ted Hughes, advised him on the importance of living bravely. "The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated," Hughes wrote to his son, who committed suicide at 47 last week at his home in Fairbanks, Alaska, 46 years after Nicholas' mother, poet Sylvia Plath, killed herself. "And the only thing people regret is that they didn't live boldly enough, that they didn't invest enough heart, didn't love enough. Nothing else really counts at all." From the time that Plath died, in 1963, Ted Hughes had tried to protect and strengthen their children, Frieda and Nicholas, from their mother's fate and fame. He burned the last volume of his wife's journals, a decision strongly criticized by scholars and fans, and waited years to tell his children the full details of Plath's suicide. And only near the end of his own life, in his "Birthday Letters" poems, did he share his side of modern poetry's most famous and ill-starred couple. "What I've been hiding all my life, from myself and everybody else, is not terrible at all. Though you didn't want to read it," he wrote to Nicholas in 1998, months before Ted Hughes died of cancer. "And the effect on me, Nicky, the sense of gigantic, upheaval transformation in my mind, is quite bewildering. It's as though I have completely new different brains. I can think thoughts I never could think. I have a freedom of imagination I've not felt since 1962. Just to have got rid of all that." "But I tell you all this," Hughes added, "with a hope that it will let you understand a lot of things. ... Don't laugh it off. In 1963 you were hit even harder than me. But you will have to deal with it, just as I have had to." Nicholas Hughes, who was not married and had no children, hanged himself March 16, Alaska State Troopers said. He was a man of science, not letters, the only member of his immediate family not to become a poet. A fisheries biologist, he spent nearly a decade on the faculty of the University of Alaska Fairbanks as a professor of fisheries and ocean sciences. He left in December 2006, according to the university's Web site. Hughes' older sister, poet Frieda Hughes, issued a statement through the Times of London, expressing her "profound sorrow" and saying that he "had been battling depression for some time." "His lifelong fascination with fish and fishing was a strong and shared bond with our father," Frieda Hughes wrote. "He was a loving brother, a loyal friend to those who knew him and, despite the vagaries that life threw at him, he maintained an almost childlike innocence and enthusiasm for the next project or plan."
* Electra on Azalea Path The day you died I went into the dirt, Into the lightless hibernaculum Where bees, striped black and gold, sleep out the blizzard Like hieratic stones, and the ground is hard. It was good for twenty years, that wintering -- As if you never existed, as if I came God-fathered into the world from my mother's belly: Her wide bed wore the stain of divinity. I had nothing to do with guilt or anything When I wormed back under my mother's heart. Small as a doll in my dress of innocence I lay dreaming your epic, image by image. Nobody died or withered on that stage. Everything took place in a durable whiteness. The day I woke, I woke on Churchyard Hill. I found your name, I found your bones and all Enlisted in a cramped necropolis your speckled stone skewed by an iron fence. In this charity ward, this poorhouse, where the dead Crowd foot to foot, head to head, no flower Breaks the soil. This is Azalea path. A field of burdock opens to the south. Six feet of yellow gravel cover you. The artificial red sage does not stir In the basket of plastic evergreens they put At the headstone next to yours, nor does it rot, Although the rains dissolve a bloody dye: The ersatz petals drip, and they drip red. Another kind of redness bothers me: The day your slack sail drank my sister's breath The flat sea purpled like that evil cloth My mother unrolled at your last homecoming. I borrow the silts of an old tragedy. The truth is, one late October, at my birth-cry A scorpion stung its head, an ill-starred thing; My mother dreamed you face down in the sea. The stony actors poise and pause for breath. I brought my love to bear, and then you died. It was the gangrene ate you to the bone My mother said: you died like any man. How shall I age into that state of mind? I am the ghost of an infamous suicide, My own blue razor rusting at my throat. O pardon the one who knocks for pardon at Your gate, father -- your hound-bitch, daughter, friend. It was my love that did us both to death. -Sylvia Plath
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