• Huge archive includes letters, diaries and drafts • Former poet laureate wrote about Sylvia Plath
Mark Brown , arts correspondent , wreiting in The Guardian,
Wednesday October 15 2008
Curators regard the £500,000 purchase as being of inestimable importance. The 220 files and boxes will take up to a year for a British Library cataloguer to sort so it can be fully accessible by the end of next year. Jamie Andrews, head of modern manuscripts, said the archive was "critical to the study of twentieth century poetry".
Hughes, poet laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998, has been argued by some as being the finest English poet of the last century and a major influence on many of his contemporaries. His first wife, the American poet Sylvia Plath, (pic above), committed suicide at the age of 30, months after he left her for Assia Wevill. Wevill also killed herself months after Hughes left her.
Hughes refused to talk publicly about Plath. How he really felt was revealed in the year of his death with Birthday Letters, an intense collection of poems about their relationship and her death.
Items in the archive reveal that they were poems he had worked on for 28 years, almost dominating his life. In one letter to fellow poet Seamus Heaney, Hughes writes: "Given the funny old physical corner I've got myself into and the mysterious role in my life that SP's posthumous life has played - publication came to seem like a matter of life and death."
In another letter to poet Kathleen Raine he says the poems were too "raw and unguarded" to be published. He adds: "If only I had done the equivalent 30 years ago I might have had a more fruitful career - certainly a freer psychological life."