February 26: On this day in 1956 Sylvia Plath described in her journal her first meeting with Ted Hughes. The morning of writing was “gray, most sober, with cold white puritanical eyes”; the evening before had started at a bar where “I drank steadily the goblets” and endured “some ugly gat-toothed squat grinning guy named Meeson trying to be devastatingly clever.” At the party — “and oh, it was very bohemian, with boys in turtleneck sweaters and girls being blue-eye-lidded or elegant in black” — there was more of the same, but “the jazz was beginning to get under my skin, and I started dancing with Luke and knew I was very bad, having crossed the river and banged into the trees….”:
Then the worst thing happened, that big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me, who had been hunching around over women, and whose name I had asked the minute I had come into the room, but no one told me, came over and was looking hard in my eyes and it was Ted Hughes…. And then it came to the fact that I was all there, wasn’t I, and I stamped and screamed yes … and I was stamping and he was stamping on the floor, and then he kissed me bang smash on the mouth and ripped my hair band off, my lovely red hairband scarf which had weathered the sun and much love, and whose like I shall never again find, and my favorite silver earrings: hah, I shall keep, he barked. And when he kissed my neck I bit him long and hard on the cheek, and when we came out of the room, blood was running down his face.
These lines from Hughes’s “18 Rugby Street” recall a moment from several months after that first meeting:
We walked across south London to Fetter Lane
And your hotel.
Opposite the entrance
On a bombsite becoming a building site
We clutched each other giddily
For safety and went in a barrel together
Over some Niagara. Falling
In the roar of soul your scar told me –
Like its secret name, or its password –
How you had tried to kill yourself. And I heard
Without ceasing for a moment to kiss you
As if a sober star had whispered it
Above the revolving, rumbling city: stay clear.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.