1. Bruno, De Gli Eroici Furori. Part 2. Dialogue 1:IX.

2 All three human figures have golden hair but only the child’s resembles a swirling sun.

3. This illness took place before Sylvia made her drawings of Benidorm (see SPLH 25 Aug. 1956). So, again, the events of this poem and of the poem which immediately precedes it in Birthday Letters, do not conform to the actual chronological order of events. Both poems, however, conform to the requirements of the particular Cabbalistic Paths on which Ted placed them.

4. I can find no evidence that Voltaire ever had plague, although he had been a sickly child at a time when plague was rife in the country. It is relevant to this path, though, that Voltaire had responded to the sick, feverish excesses of the Roman Catholic Church in France with excessive zeal and had become in the process like “a stone man”, governed by rationality and immune to the wonders of Nature, imagination and Spirit. It was for this lack of vision that Blake attacked him in his notes to ‘The Last Judgment’, where he wrote that Voltaire had “embraced Error and rejected Truth” (Blake, Ibid. p.327).

5. Burkhardt, Alchemy, Element Books, Dorset, 1986. p. 69.

6. The Alchemical symbol of Solomon’s Seal (a six-pointed star) unites the symbol for Water (an inverted triangle) with that of Fire (an upright triangle), to represent the balance and harmony of Love. This is also the Star of Venus.

7. In a letter to her mother (SPLH 6 Nov. 1956), Sylvia described herself as “emotionally exhausted” by stresses in her own life but also by “the Hungarian and Suez affairs”. Ted, it seems, immersed both of them in nature for relief. And Sylvia wrote that “the creative forces of nature” were the only ones which now gave her any peace, and that she and Ted wanted “to become part of them”.

8. Blake, Ibid. p. 46.

9. James Bone, The Times, 8 April 2000, 2W. p. 10. Quotation from a letter from Ted Hughes to Aurelia Plath, which is now held at Emory University.

10. Letters to Ted, ‘Notes’, p. 108. Daniel Weissbort, like Lucas Myers, was a close friend of Ted’s from the time they were students at Cambridge University until Ted’s death in 1998.

11. Crowley, 777, p. 34.

12. Crowley, Gematria, p. 25.

13. Ted consistently used the spelling ‘Wharfe’, which is also the name of another Yorkshire river and its valley just north of the Calder. Current spelling appears to be Wharf, without the ‘e’.

14. Stubbing Wharf Pub, as shown in photographs which can be found on the Internet (search ‘Stubbing Wharf + Rochdale + canal’) looks pleasantly welcoming in the sun, but it is set in a steep-sided valley and can look very dark, bleak, damp and gloomy in Winter.

15. Sylvia greatly admired the way D. H. Lawrence “bodies the world forth in his words” (SPJ 15 Sept. 1958). And Ted’s reference to ‘gentians’ so close to ‘Lawrentian globe’ suggests that Lawrence’s poem ‘Bavarian gentians’ was in his mind. In that poem, Lawrence links passion with death and he also asks for “three dark flames” (like the flames of Shin) to light the “living dark” into which he will go.


16. In his letter to the German translators, Andrea and Robert (16 June 1998), Ted noted that Heptonstall was where his mother’s family had always been buried. He wrote, too, that the house he bought (Lumb Bank) “eventually became one of the centres of the Arvon Foundation”, where courses are run “by writers for aspiring writers”.

17. In 1956, using words which have Biblical echoes, Sylvia wrote in her journal: “Being dead, I rose again” (SPJ 19 Feb. 1956).

18. Bruno, De Gli Eroici Furori, Ibid. Second Part. Dialogue 1: IV.

19. In 1952, Sylvia undertook a detailed analysis of her beliefs about God and concluded that we all construct our own “absolutely real dream Kingdoms – paradoxically all ‘true’” (SPJ 25 July 1952). And at Easter 1959, she wrote of “the risen Christ meaning only a parable of human renewal and nothing of immortality” (SPJ 29 Sept. 1959).

20. Four is the number of stable foundations and balance, it represents the Four Mother Elements from which every material thing is made, and so four is the number of Earth. The cross, which cuts the red field into carefully balanced quarters, represents wise choice in our world, and the whole flag is a symbol of the harmony and wholeness which careful judgment will maintain.

21. Marsilio Ficino, ‘What Is Necessary For Composure In Life And For Tranquillity Of The Soul’, Book of Life, (1489),Trans. Boer. Spring Publications, Texas, 1980.

22. How, I wonder, can I analyse this poem, when those who “batten” on Sylvia and her work are so angrily and bitterly described?. I can only hope to be one of Ficino’s “legitimate philosophers” who “search for truth”. And I must repeat that it is the nature of the Cabbalistic journey that each person must make it for themselves. My understanding of Ted’s poems is the product of my own journey and my own fragmentary attempts to peel back some of the shells within which the Truth lies hidden. Others will read Birthday Letters quite differently. “Every story”, as Ted wrote in ‘Myth and Education’, “is still the original cauldron of wisdom, full of new visions and new life” (WP 142). And Birthday Letters is “only a story”. It is Ted’s story and Sylvia’s story, but, through the powers of imagination, it can also be “Your story. My story” (‘Visit’, BL 9). . What matters most of all, are the whole, un-“torn” poems, through which the story is told.

23. It seems, from Milne’s poem, that Sir Thomas Tom was a Kentish knight, not a Devonian. Appledore in Kent, however, is not a seaside town.

24. Sylvia wrote of being “brought up in the fairy-tale world of Mary Poppins and Winnie-the-Pooh” (SPJ Dec. 1950. Journal Page 38). She also mentioned both again in 1962, at the time when she was immersed in “the loving slovenliness of motherhood” (SPJ 1962. Appendix 15).

25. The Brooks Range is in far north Alaska, where Nicholas Hughes was living when Ted wrote this poem. The Nullarbor Plains are in Australia, where Frieda lived at that time. Both places are huge, natural wildernesses.

26. Ted Hughes, The Critical Forum , Norwich Tapes Ltd. 1978. A copy of this tape is held with other Norwich Tapes in the Library of The University of Birmingham.

27. The mythological associations of Ted’s Cave Birds vulture are discussed in detail in Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest, pp. 71 - 73.

28. The ‘Hughes’ part of Sylvia’s name (the public ‘face’ she wore as Ted’s wife) has frequently been torn from her headstone. There have been verbal and legal battles, too, about some of the ways in which Sylvia, her life, and her work, have been posthumously presented by authors, film-makers, critics and scholars.

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