1. The Mystical Significance of Hebrew Letters (Yod).

2. Throughout Birthday Letters, Sylvia’s father is associated with the labyrinth and the Minotaur. Also, with Saturn-Cronus as the presiding figure in this poem, it is notable that on 29 March 1959 (SPJ) Sylvia recorded in her journal that in a psychotherapy session with Ruth Beuscher she had explored the (presumably subconscious) belief that she might have killed and castrated her father.

3. In the Bible, for example, see Leviticus 4:1-6; and Numbers 23 (where sacrifice is also associated with magical practices). The number 7 was also associated with sacrifice and bulls in many ancient spiritual-rebirth cults, such as the Mysteries of Mithra, which Joseph Campbell discusses at length in The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, Ch. 6:III.

4. As discussed in earlier chapters, Lucas Myers served this same guiding, Mercurial purpose in both ‘Visit’ and ‘St Botolphs’.

5. Chapter 11 of Crow Steered Bergs Appeared describes the “historical details” which lie behind Ted’s poem. Lucas Myers writes that Ted asked him (in a letter dated 18 March 1956) “to do an errand I didn’t want to do” but he did agree to meet Sylvia in London and on March 23 he did escort her to the flat in Rugby Street where Ted was living.

6. This letter is amongst the Sylvia Plath papers held at the Lilly Library, Indiana University.(Plath mss. II, Correspondence, Box 6/6 (+1), 1956 Mar.-Apr.)

7. Hughes/Sagar correspondence. British Library, Dep. 10003(10). 15th August 1997.

8. On April 13th 1957 (SPLH), Sylvia wrote to her mother recording “Our first real professional “British” acceptance”. The Atlantic Monthly had accepted two of her poems: ‘Spinster’ and ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’; and one of Ted’s: ‘Famous Poet’, a choice which Ted would have regarded as auspicious.

9. Toad-stones (so called because they are said to come from the body of a toad) are magical stones which witches used to help people achieve their goals. But in Hans Christian Anderson’s parable, The Toad, the stone, or jewel, in the head of the toad is the spark of sun which causes “continual striving and the desire to go upward – ever upward”. So, the ugliest toad may be driven to journey from the dark, sunless well into the light, and the spark will return to the sun. Sylvia knew Anderson’s stories well (see SPJ, 4 Jan. 1958, for example).

10. Even in photographs, Sylvia’s image seems curiously unfixed. Apart from the few iconic photographs which are seen so often that she is instantly identified, many look as if they are of different people. Compare photographs 3, 12, 15 and 20, in The Journals of Sylvia Plath, for example.

11. Fetter Lane is in the City of London and, as Peter Ackroyd notes in London: The Biography (Random House, 2000. pp. 229-237), it has always been a boundary, an edge. This is appropriate for Ted’s and Sylvia’s plunge into a “Niagara” of shared emotions. Appropriate, too, for a couple about to become united, is the more common meaning of ‘fetter’ (to bind or shackle). If Fetter Lane was the true location of Sylvia’s London hotel, then the name was another coincidence in their lives.

12. Robert Graves has much to say about the Willow in The White Goddess, especially in Chapter 10, ‘The Tree Alphabet’.

13. Caesar described the wicker figures of gods made by Druids in Britain and claimed that human sacrifices were burned in them. Frazer describes vegetative Green George ceremonies in Europe in which the Willow was ritually cut down and its branches used to clothe a figure used in mock sacrifice to ensure the fertility of the land and waters. He describes old and sick people spitting three times on the cut willow and saying: “You will soon die, but let us live” (Frazer GB 166-7).

14. See Frazer: ‘The Myth and Ritual of Attis’, The Golden Bough, Ch. XXXIV.

15. Sulphur has long been used in medicine for cleansing and purifying purposes and was once commonly used to sterilize sickrooms after infectious diseases such as diphtheria.

16. “the “darknesses of our mind” coincides unmistakably with the nigredo” (Jung PA 271).

17, This poem is not included in New Selected Poems, possibly because it had served a special purpose in Lupercal and that purpose was not relevant to the more diverse collection of poems.

18. Tramps, in Ted’s poems, are another kind of hermit, living close to nature and keeping the vital energies intact.

19. The Earth Goddess, Demeter, took the form of a horse in order to escape Poseidon (Saturn) who was pursuing her, but he changed into a stallion and raped her. She was so infuriated by this that she took on the aspect of a Fury and hid in a cave. In ‘Autumn Nature Notes’ in Season Songs, Ted invented his own myth for the Horse-chestnut tree, associating it with the “swirly grain” belonging to the Earth Goddess, and describing it as a “plump mare” which bears the dragon-slaying hero towards his “sunbeam princess” (SS 46-7).

20. Orestes, having killed his father, was pursued by the Erinnyes but at his trial Athena intervened on his behalf and he was acquitted. The Erinnyes challenged this judgement, threatening to make the earth barren with spilled blood, but Athena made a pact with them. She promised them that if they lived in her sanctuary in Athens, she would ensure that all would pay tribute to them. In return they must bless the land and ensure fertility. Because they agreed to this, Orestes renamed them ‘Eumenides’, the Kindly Ones. Ted’s version of Aeschelus’s Oresteia ends with this story.

21. The lotus is a common symbol of rebirth.

22. The Gorgons were born of Phorcys and Ceto, who were the offspring of Gaea and Pontus (Earth and Sea). All three wore the mask of Hecate, the dark Moon Goddess. Robert Graves writes of Medusa as the Snake-Goddess, Lamia, the sexual, Moon Goddess aspect of the Triple Goddess. He also identifies her with the poetic Muse (WG 448 – 9).

23. These quotations are taken from A.E. Watts’ translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (North Point Press, San Francisco, 1980. p. 94).

24. See for example ‘Wuthering Heights’ (SPCP 167-8) and ‘Blackberrying’ (SPCP 168-9).

25. ‘Elm’ (SPCP 192-3).

26. Brigantia was goddess of the Brigants of Elmet but her name relates her to the Irish goddess Brigid (Saint Bride) who was worshipped all over the British Isles. In my book, Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest, I trace the influence of Brigantia on the poems in Remains of Elmet and River, where her influence is that of a “divine ancestor” who ,according to Irish sages, was “a woman of poetry and poets worshipped her” (Lady Gregory, Gods and Fighting Men, Colin Smythe, 1970. p. 28)

27. Ted discussed this difference in an interview which was published in ‘So Quickly It’s Over’, Wild Steelhead and Salmon, Vol. 5, No. 2, Winter 1999, pp. 50 – 58.

28. In Ted’s play, Difficulties of a Bridegroom (BBC 3, 21 Jan. 1963), a hare, in the form of a woman, confronts her killer, seduces him and makes him (through a Cabbalistic numerical ritual) her bridegroom. He is “divided, devoured, digested, recovered”. And she, with “a fox in her face, a bat in her hair”, is a beautiful maiden whose moon-face is reflected in the text by the repetition of ‘O’ (a device which also occurs in Sylvia’s moon poems). Sylvia would have seen this poem-play when Ted wrote it. What Is The Truth (Faber, 1984, pp. 100-105) also contains four beautiful poems depicting the hare in different ways. The first describes a hare’s death under a car on the A30 and her cries of “human pain”; another of the poems contains her scream. As far as I know, there is no evidence that Sylvia saw any of these poems.

29. My discussion, here, is based on Colin Low’s Notes on Kabbala which offer excellent explanations of the energies of Tiphereth and Chesed.

30. See, for example, Ad de Vries, Dictionary of Symbols and Imagery, North Holland Publishing Co. Undated.

31. ‘Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams’ (JPBD 33).

32. Writing to her mother on 21 May 1955 (SPLH), Sylvia was able to list eleven prizes and writing awards which she had already won that year; and she set herself to win more.

33. Robert Graves lists many sun-heros who were wounded in the heel, including “Ra, stung by the magic snake Isis” and “Talus pierced by Medea’s pin” (WG 303). Keith Sagar has also pointed out to me that Sylvia’s sun-hero father, Otto, had an ‘Achilles heel’ which led to his death: because of his undiagnosed diabetes, a stubbed toe led to an infection in which, as Aurelia Plath describes it, “red streaks ran up his ankle” (SPLH ‘Introduction’ 22).

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