HOWLS & WHISPERS
After reading my analysis of the Howls & Whispers poems, Olwyn Hughes telephoned me (9 May 2005) with the following comments:
'Paris 1954' (THCP: 1173-4).
It was not Uncle Walter with whom Ted went to Paris in 1954, although they had been to Spain and other places together. Ted and his brother's wife, Joan, went to visit Olwyn who was working in Paris. Olwyn vividly remembers Ted's reaction to that first taste of wine.
* * * * * * * *
'The Offers' (THCP: 1180).
The first woman: Yes, just seeing a loved one's likeness everywhere is common.
The second woman is one of Olwyn's oldest friends, named Shirley Smith: they first met in Paris whist Olwyn was working there. When Olwyn went to Court Green to help look after Frieda and Nicholas after Sylvia's death, Shirley (whose parents lived close to Court Green) visited her there. Like Sylvia, she had a Scorpio birthday - October 27th - but she was born in 1933, a year later than Sylvia. She did go to Hawaii and, from there, she sent postcards to Olwyn and Ted.
Amongst unpublished drafts of 'The Offers' in the British Library archives of Ted Hughes' manuscripts, there is one draft in which Ted names the second woman as "Shirley...Olwyn's Parisian fellow-campaigner" (Add.Mss.88918/1/6. Buff notebook). He notes the similarities and differences between Shirley and Sylvia, and says that her birthday was "your birthday / and your year": Olwyn, however, has said that their birthdays were the same day and month but a year apart. (Letter 14/9/2010)
The same unpublished draft says of the third woman that she was "still mysterious, still a riddle to me" a creature "so unlike you" and yet "so like you and as surely my wife".
Another unpublished poem, of which there are several drafts, is given the title 'Shirley' in some of the many lists of poems from which Ted chose those of Birthday Letters. It refers to Sylvia's "oldest rival", who was Ted's girlfriend in Cambridge before Sylvia ousted her. In a poem expressing sadness, and regret for "scorning your delicate frond-fresh life", Ted describes her thick red hair, freckled face and green eyes; and in another draft poem he describes being "ambushed" by her when he was on his way to a "love-feast" with Sylvia carrying a bottle of wine and "two pounds of rump-steak" (it is just a "pound of steak" in another draft). He hurriedly hides these under a bush only for the bottle to roll out again. Shirley sees it, questions him, and walks off in tears "right out of [his] life".(Add.Mss.88919/1/7).