1. The importance of the ‘Shabbat Queen’ and the symbolic meaning of the shape of the letter ‘Zain’ is discussed in Zain – The Mystical Significance of Hebrew Letters (ZAIN).

2. There is little agreement about the paternity of either Castor or Polydeuces. Some say Zeus fathered both: some that King Tyndareus did. Some say Castor was fathered by Zeus, and Polydeuces by King Tyndareus. Leda, their mother (with whom Zeus mated in the form of a swan) was, however, the daughter of the gods, Zeus and Nemesis. The whole story can be found in Graves, R. Greek Myths, Cassell, 1981. pp. 71-3.

3. Alternatively, Eros was fathered by Zeus; or he was the son of Aries (Wind) and Nuit (Night), hatched from a silver egg and hidden in a cave by Nuit who stood guard as a Triple Goddess (Night, Order, Justice) whilst at the entrance to the cave sat Rhea, playing her drum.

4. Graves, R. The White Goddess, Faber, 1977. pp. 256-7. Campbell, J. The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, Penguin, 1980. pp. 158-161.

5. Hughes, T. Book review of The God Beneath the Sea by Garfield and Blishen, Children’s Literature in Education, No.3, 1970. pp. 66-7.

6. This hairband was clearly something Sylvia valued and would not have parted with lightly. In her journal entry she calls it “my lovely red hairband” and “the red bandeau which I loved with all the redness of my heart”. In Sylvia’s semi-fictional account of the St Botolph’s party, ‘Stone Boy With Dolphin’ (JPBD 297-32), the heroine’s stolen hairband is also red.

7. Myers, L. Crow Steered Bergs Appeared, Proctor Hall Press, Tennessee, 2001. p. 32.

8. Spencer. N. True as the Stars Above, Victor Gallacz, London, 2000. p. 230.

9. The suggestion here is of the lightning flash from the Divine Source illuminating the essence of Sylvia so that Ted sees her, as he writes the poem, stripped of the shadows formed in his memory by later events.

10. The phrase appears, for example, in two letters. One addressed to Antonio Canigiani: ‘De musica: On music’ (No. 92); and one to “Alessandro Braccesi, a priest of the Muses”, ‘Vera poesis a Deo ad Deum: True poetry is from God and for God’ (No. 131). The Letters of Marsilio Ficino: translated by members of the Language Department of the London School of Economic Science, Shepherd-Walwyn, London, 1978.

11. ibid. Letter 7, ‘De divino furore. On divine frenzy’.

12. Neil Spencer disagrees with my comments about astrological jargon. As an astrologer he finds that part of the poem “crucial information and very eloquent”. For him, it demonstrates that “the evening was heavy with portents” and it explains exactly how Ted and Sylvia were married by the solar system. In a letter to me (12/12/2001) he wrote: “[Ted’s] and Sylvia’s charts were both struck strongly by that night’s transits – hence they were ‘married’. Principal transit mentioned for this is “the day’s Sun in The Fish” (Pisces) which fell on Sylvia’s ascendant and opposite Ted’s Neptune (Ascendant equals self, Neptune is idealism / glamour / love-struck - also opposite the ascendant (first House of Self) is the seventh House of Marriage!). Ted mentions some other overlaps. Their charts were heavily entwined, so that on March 25th the planets hit them both”. Neil writes, too, that the Jupiter / Moon conjunction spelt “disastrous expense” especially for Ted, “because it ‘combust’ his Sun. ‘Combust’ is a mediaeval term referring to the Sun being too close to another planet and thus scorching it. He’s taking poetic licence – Jup / Moon can’t combust his Sun because they don’t have fire. But he’s got the point. He was blown up by the night’s major aspect. Interestingly he does not mention Pluto that’s also present between the Moon and Jupiter, now that really will blow you up – but then Ted really was a Renaissance astrologer”.

13. Sylvia’s journal entries for July and August 1957 show her struggling with bad dreams and mood swings. She was trying out ideas for stories and poems but despairing of writing them, and she was terrified that she might be pregnant.

14. Sylvia began teaching at Smith College in September 1957. Ted began teaching at the Amhurst campus of the University of Massachusetts at the end of January 1958.

15.“… the Great Goddess… can be seen as the creative womb of the inchoate waters, gradually refining into human form, and everywhere tending to be fish-tailed”. (SGCB 6).

16. The Northern Sea-robin of the Cape Cod area is a small, bottom-dwelling fish with spiny fins, a bony head and notably blue eyes. It is not bad eating but is generally regarded as scrap and used in pet-food. The name, linking ‘sea’ and ‘robin’ is beautifully apt for Ted’s purposes in this poem, because it marries the Goddess to the God, whose bird in Northern folk-lore is the robin redbreast.

17. Ted’s first book of poetry, Hawk In The Rain, was published in England and in America in September 1957.

18. Throughout Birthday Letters, America symbolizes a land of promise, the New World and a mythical El Dorado.

19. The Economic Research and Development Group website ( provides a wealth of information about the Horseshoe Crab.

20. Robert Graves makes this identification in The White Goddess in the course of his discussion of the Triple Goddess and her golden apples. (TWG 255).

21. The requirement made of those accepting this award was that they live for at least three months outside Great Britain and Ireland. After months of excited planning and preparation for a trip to Italy, Sylvia finally wrote to tell her mother that Ted had given up the award and she was relieved that “the strain of going to Italy” was not “on top of us any more” (SPLH 25 August 1961).

22. The Devonian dialect can be inpenetrable to strangers and there are still traces in it of the old Celtic language of the first Britons.

23. In ‘Lady Lazarus’ (SPCP 244-7), she claims of her projected suicide: “This is Number Three”.

24. Considering Sylvia’s identification of Otto with The Colossus and with Thor, it is interesting to note that The Statue of Liberty, the female icon which symbolizes America, is (in the poem inscribed on its base) “The New Colossus / Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame” but “a mighty woman with a torch / whose flame is imprisoned lightning”; she is “Mother of Exiles” who stands at “the golden door”. (Emma Lazarus. 1883).

25. Ted’s note in SPCP (p. 292) suggests that the contract was signed in 1962, Anne Stevenson gives the earlier date in Bitter Fame (p. 226) and the reason for its postponement. Sylvia refers to this in a letter to her mother on 20 November 1961 (SPLH).

26. Anne Stevenson suggests that this name “was drawn from Ted’s world”, ‘Victoria’ from Vicky, his cousin, and ‘Lucas’ from Lucas Myers (BF 227). However, considering the discord between Sylvia and Ted at that time, and Sylvia’s fierce independence, that explanation seems unlikely.

27. ‘The Signature’, Stonepicker, Bloodaxe Books, 2001 ( p. 75). Interview with Libby Purves, The Times ( Features), December 1999.

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