There’s this little moment in Ted Hughes’ collected letters when, shortly after he and Sylvia Plath got married, he’s writing to his sister and he says, Sylvia’s “had some good fortune lately. She sold a long rather bad poem to The Atlantic Monthly, which is one of the Mags in America, for $50. Then, last week, Poetry Chicago accepted six of her poems - one or two of them her best, and her best is good - and is making an official debut.” A footnote clarifies that the “long rather bad poem” is “Pursuit,” i.e., the poem that Plath skipped class to write after meeting Hughes at a party in Cambridge. Full version here; abridged here (including worst/best lines):
“There is a panther stalks me down:
One day I’ll have my death of him. …
Bright those claws that mar the flesh
And hungry, hungry, those taut thighs.
His ardor snares me, lights the trees,
And I run flaring in my skin. …
The panther’s tread is on the stairs,
Coming up and up the stairs.”
I’ve had “The Pursuit” pretty much by heart since forever (It’s included in The Young Girl’s Very Moody Primer, Chapter 4. Frisson) and I don’t think in all that time I’ve ever paused to consider whether it’s a good or “long rather bad” poem—it’s always just been one of The Poems; a foundation text. It’s so jarring (and yet funny) to see Hughes dismiss it with a wave of the hand like that. (But it’s about you you you!) Something here about history as experienced versus history as viewed second-hand.