Breaking thirty-five years of silence after that tragic 11th February , 1963, when Sylvia Plath killed herself by committing suicide, in January 1998 Ted Hughes published his last collection of poems , Birthday Letters, shedding
light on his relationship with Plath. The book consists of 88 poems ostensibly addressed to Sylvia although, according to some critics, they seem rather addressed to his own and Sylcia's readers. As for the title, the word "birthday" seems to refer to those birthday poems by Plath (such as Poem for a Birthday or A Birthday Present) in which "birth" stands metaphorically for artistic creation or self-renewal. Considering the addressee (s), the book might, at a first reading, be considered a "conventional " or "confessional" work, but it is neither. It is indeed much more complex and almost ambiguous. The source of the poems is well known: Sylvia's death after six years' marriage and after Ted had left her and their children for another woman come months earlier.
Her suicide had aroused the indignation of the feminist movement, which had accused Ted of being the oppressor , if not the murderer, of a "martyr". He did not react to these public attacks and his silence puzzled all those who wanted to hear his own version of the "fact".
The answer came thirty years later, but it was not the answer expected . The book , in fact, does not add anything to what we already know. It is neither a confession nor an apology and not even posthumous revenge, although some
maintain that it has a clearly practical purpose, that of "correcting distortions", setting the record straight, putting right the gossips and the speculators, the detractors and the critics (Ian Samson).
It is neither self-defense. There is love in its poems, and regret , but no sentimentalism, no remorse or sense of guilt . Its essence is "memory". It is the account of Ted's life with Sylvia , starting from the first day he saw her .
Other poems follow about the birth of their children, their definitive settling in Devon, along with memories of Sylvia's nightmarish dreams, her violent crises, and finally her death, when only the lugubrious howls of metaphorical wovles gave voice of his despair and comforted him and his children.