Monday, December 13, 2004

Sylvia Plath's Ariel, revisited

A new edition of Sylvia Plath's collection of poems, Ariel, has been published, reports The Economist. Some have claimed that the original editor, Ted Hughes, made his selection "in ways which would favour his own reputation and manipulate hers," but on the basis of the newly published poems The Economist ses no evidence for this.
Plath left a manuscript of 40 poems in a black folder. Of those 40 poems, Hughes removed 13 and substituted others, many of which were written in an extraordinarily fertile month towards the very end of Plath's life. The poems which Hughes removed from the manuscript are, generally speaking, inferior to the new ones that he chose to include. They are slacker and more anecdotal, and their rhythms drive forward less compulsively. They are no less savage in their subject matter, but they lack the force and concentrated power of the ones that replace them. In these rejected poems, we feel that Plath is writing around a subject rather than emerging from deep inside it.
Away from the Plath-Hughes controversy, The Economist reminds us just how powerful the poems remain.
Can any poet have asked so many unanswerable questions of God, the self and a chilly, inhospitable world within the space of a single slim volume?

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