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The Ballad of Nicholas Hughes

An elegy for the son of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

The Ballad of Nicholas Hughes

Suggested by the prose pieces of Sylvia Plath and writings about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

The name Nicholas Hughes
Doesn’t ring many bells …
His reputation didn’t stretch very far …
Except he was the son of two poets …
And one of them wrote The Bell Jar.

Sylvia Plath was his mother’s name,
His dad was known as Ted Hughes,
Both scaled the heights of fame,
Both were dogged by the blues.

After death, it was Sylvia who really shone,
And yet Ted knelt before the throne.

Nick knew none of this at the start,
Born as his parents
Were about to part,

Ted with a woman
Loathed as a tart;
Sylvia to a London flat
To make a fresh start.

How they joined at all
Is a riddle I don’t know.
But in the turbulent fifties
Both had ideas to show.

Ted, an angry young man
In a fading Empire,
Sylvia, a young student
With increasing ire

Over society dropping women
In this or that box,
Their roles defined
By people with locks

On the freedom of all,

Boys and girls, to believe
That there were millions and billions
Of things to achieve.

The angry young men
Would rant and rave
Against a system that seemed
To make each a slave.

To a world torn by
War, depression, feet of clay
Shod by old leaders
Who clung to carrying the day.

And for women! Must they just
Don the high-heeled shoe,
Some looking most glamorous
With near-nothing to do;

All pushing prams to
Market, chemist, or church;
Beaming with pride and yet
Feeling left in the lurch.

Were they equal with men
In any true way?
Could they do a full job
And at the end of the day

Kiss their husband, boyfriend, girlfriend,
Their greatest loves
As equal in life
As his-and-her doves.

Then each has their chance

When comes the next day:

To pursue happiness

In his and her way.

As I write this, such partnerships
Are sadly rare,
But in Sylvia’s time
The … cupboard … was …

The Bell Jar, her novel,
Depicted feelings back then,
Of women with “issues”
Herded like cattle in a pen.

More poems and stories
Showing love mixed with hate,
For the men who pushed her
To some predestined fate,

So perhaps Sylvia and Ted
Really felt something true,
The same feelings of life,
The same hopes of “I do.”

Two children were born
To this oddly matched pair,
First Frieda, then Nicholas
Hughes were nursed in Sylvia’s chair.

She cared for them with a sad blend
Of love and disgust
Was woman’s only great role
To bear the fruits of man’s lust?

They could have discussed much,
But sure as you please,
Ted took a new avocation,
The keeping of bees.

That’s not necessarily bad.
One man whom many followed:
Sir Edmund Hillary,
Whose ambition swallowed

The first climb of Everest, Antarctic crossing,
Helping thousands of Nepalese
And who started out – you guessed it –
As a keeper of bees.

But Ted’s passion excluded
His wife and each child,
As he rushed off each day
To his part of the wild.

Sylvia, forced home,
Turned out poems and essays
About half-grown women, caregiving
And people who died in slow ways.

By fall ’62,
Ted was in love …
But no longer with Sylvia,
The rejected dove.

She moved to London
With toddler Frieda, baby Nick,
In a winter unparalleled
Through record books thick.

We have her last essay,
Starting that Boxing Day
Where London travel was limited
To foot or hired sleigh.

She almost laughed at
This world capital struck stiff:
Water? Electricity? Heck, snowplows?
All a big IF.

Her house caving on her head?
The chance was not silly
With half-filled water pipes
In her attic willy-nilly.

A month after that,
In February ’63,
Sylvia ended the struggle
Life had come to be.

A drinking song, reprinted below
Gives an accurate, tasteless
Way she chose to go:

“Head in the oven …
Sheet over the head …
Like a chocolate chip cookie …

Give me two more shots
Right (bleeping) here.”

Frieda and Nicholas,
Protected, survived unharmed,
Lived on with Ted and the
Woman he had charmed.

She bore a child herself,
And at the time it seemed love,
But love turned to hate
Like stomping on a dove.

For she also turned on the oven,
And as the venomous fumes did spew,
She committed child-murder
And suicide too.

Ted was marked for another fate,
Fame and fortune fell to this lad.
When he knelt before the throne,
He joined Southey, Wordsworth, Dryden, Tennyson,
Even Daniel Day-Lewis’s dad

In the Poet Laureateship!
He wrote scraps and got paid.
Though who can remember
Anything other than “Charge of the Light Brigade?”

Still, he had made his name
As the premier poet of the realm
Anthologies would e’er be issued
With his name at the helm.

But a black curse hung
Over his head,
The fact that Sylvia
Was too-early dead.

Her friends wanted
To boil Ted in tar,
Blaming him for their interests
Diverging too far.

The name
“Sylvia Plath Hughes”
Was anathema to women
Who saw her and his legacies

Time and again they
Raid her gravesite,
Chiseling the cursed last name
Of the man who deserted his wife.

For her suicide
He was heaped with blame
And wore a heavy mantle
Until cancer “cured” his shame.

But in that field of strife,
Ted and Sylvia’s children went on with life.
British by birth, American by choice,
They chose the sciences to express their voice.

And so it went that Nick settled in
Near the top of the world,
The Last Frontier, Alaska
Its Big Dipper flag unfurled.

We will never know how he reacted to
The bizarre circus act
That unfolded with McCain-Palin
Followed by the Tea Party pact.

Perhaps few locals cared.
For in Fairbanks in winter, the sun MIGHT peek three hours a day.
And the cold, the cold, the unceasing cold
Any nerve would fray.

Locals say March is the most dangerous time.
The sun’s up 12 hours daily, supposedly spring’s here
But it’s not nearly bright enough to dispel
Cold you can see and hear.

Perhaps March did to Nicholas Hughes
What February did to Sylvia Plath.
For, with a noose round his neck,
He followed in her path.

All are gone now, save one;
Frieda carries on as the last living Hughes,
Only time will tell in what fashion
She might make the news.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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