On this day in 1956 Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath first met. They married shortly after. Seven years later Plath—by then a successful poet and novelist, and the mother of two, took her own life. The couple were separated at the time, the result of a Hughes affair, but Plath’s history of depression seems to have been the predominant factor.
The sixties were a feminist age, often radically so, and Ted Hughes received death threats daily for having caused his wife’s suicide. Some even claimed he had murdered her: he hadn’t. In later years he worked tirelessly to have her poems anthologized. Any financial benefits he may have accrued must be weighed in the context of the limited selling power of her particular art: poetry. Hughes himself died in 1998 after a brilliant literary career, one spent mostly in the shadow of his late wife.
But in Sylvia Plath one of the most remarkable voices of American poetry was silenced far too soon. Plath transformed daily occurrences into confessional outpourings, inviting us into her often dark and unpleasant world and allowing us to look around. (See suggested reading below.) Today confessional poetry is often criticized as outpourings of personal grief only, to the exclusion of the outside world. Even if that’s true, it’s arguable that there would not be a Sharon Olds today without poets like Sylvia Plath who laid the groundwork.