cupations, to memories of a time whenrnhe found himself playing a part in arnstrange, ver- disturbing, private narrativernthat was turning out differently from thernone he had thought he was in. “Nor didrnI know,” he writes in “Visit,” about hisrnfirst encounters with Plath,rnI was being auditionedrnFor the male lead in your drama,rnMiming through the first easyrnmovementsrnAs if with eyes closed, feelingrnfor the role.rnAs if a puppet were being tried onrnits strings.rnPoem by poem, over many years, hernhas brought his memories into focus until,rnthe process finished and the poemsrnarranged, he has the whole narrative inrnhis control. It is still a strange and frighteningrnone, but he has mastered it; nowrnhe knows what happened to him, to hisrnwife, and family.rnWliat emerges from this knowledge isrna portrait of a relationship stalked bvrnLIBERAL ARTSrnBREAD ANDrnCIRCUSESrn”Often imitated, but neverrnequaled. Faces of Death may bernone of the most talked aboutrnvideo series ever. In fact, industr’rnstudies have shown Faces ofrnDeath to be the most rentedrnvideo of all time. Sure to shock,rnhorrify, and even repulse, thisrnseries examines the many guisesrnof death in extreme close-up.rn”The many Faces of Deathrninclude animal slaughters, suicides,rnexecutions, transportationrndisasters, and autopsies. Thesernbrutal films are not meant lorrnthe faint of heart, or for viewersrnunder the age of 18!”rn—from an MPl Home Videornpress releaserndeath from its beginning, despite the apparentrnhappiness and suitability of therncouple. Plentv of voung couples startrnmarriage with an idea of themselves asrndeliverers and preser’ers of their mates.rnHughes’s imager}’ of labyrinths, minotaurs,rnand other monsters, implying arnversion of himself as a failed Theseus orrnSt. George, suggests that he was perfecdyrnnormal in this respect. What was notrnnormal was that, given a choice betweenrnSt. George and the dragon, his beaufiful,rnclever, aggressively competitive wifernchose the dragon. Some of the best poemsrnin the book are on that subject,rnamong them “The Minotaur” and “ThernShot,” which implv that Hughes’s presentrnunderstanding came only with hindsight.rnAt the fime, he felt bewildermentrnand apprehension, feelings renderedrnsometimes with great power as in “Setebos,”rna poem taking its metaphors fromrnThe Tempest, or with self-parodying humor,rnas in “Moonwalk”:rnI was the gnat in the earrnof the woundedrnElephant of m’ ownrnIncomprehension.rnHe now seems to believe that, quite earlyrnon, his wife was lost to him, caught inrna web of obsessive personal fantasy fromrnwhich no one could free her, and whichrneventually led to her death: at the centerrnof it lurked the memory or image of herrndead father.rnThe poems encompass a v’ide rangernof feelirrg, from exaltation and jos’ to terror.rnAs anyone who knows Hughes’srnwork would expect, in some of the mostrneffective writing animals appear as bearersrnor harbingers of meaning, amongrnthem bats (“9 Willow Street,” “KarlsbadrnCaverns”), owls (“Owl”), rabbits (“ThernRabbit Catcher”), and bears (“The 59thrnBear”):rnI saw a big brown bear and arnsmaller, darker.rnRomping like big rubber toys,rnBouncing along, like jollyrninflatablesrnAmong the tents and tables.rnSome of the first poems evoke, besidesrnforebodings, the romantic excitement ofrnthe yoimg couple’s first meetings, whenrnIt seemed your long, perfect,rnAmerican legsrnSimply went on up. That flatrnhand,rnThose long, balletic, monkeyelegantrnfingers.rnAnd the face —a tight ball of joy.rnBut besides memory, reflection, andrndiagnosis, there is also anger in this book.rnSome of it, muted to irritation, hoversrnabout the figure of Plath herself, whornmust have been a difficult woman to livernwith. In “Wuthering Heights,” visitingrnthe ruins of the Brontes’ world, shern”breathed it all in / With jealous, emulousrnsniffings. Weren’t you / Twice asrnambitious as Emily?” he asks. In “ThernRabbit Catcher,” she “despised England’srngrubb’ edges . . . / That day belongedrnto the furies.” And drivingrnthrough Yellowstone, her spirits “as usualrnhad gone right down with / The fuelrngauge to the bottom.”rnHughes’s more forthright anger,rnthough, is directed at those who, in hisrnopinion, were cruel to Plath or exploitedrnand misled her. Marianne Moore, forrninstance (“The Literan’ Life”), sent backrnsome poems uncharitably:rn”Since these seem to be valuablerncarbon copiesrn(Somewhat smudged) I shall notrnengross them.”rnI took the point of that “engross”rnPrecisely, like a brisde of glass.rnSnapped off deep in my thumb.rn”Night-ride on Ariel” and “Telos” excoriaternthe culture of school and collegernthat made a precocious performer out ofrnher for its own good rather than for hers;rnhere Smith College and one of its facult}’rnare among the targets. The angriestrnpoem in the book, however, is “ThernDogs Are Eating Your Mother.” Next tornlast in the book, it is about the Plathcidtistsrnwho, besides despoiling (literally)rnher grave, have done their best to makernHughes’s own life as miserable as possible.rnIt is a very angr’ poem indeed.rnBirthday Letters is a most imusualrnkind of volume, comparable in form, really,rnwith Tennyson’s In Memoriam orrnShakespeare’s Sonnets. Whatever thernworld’s final verdict upon it as verse, it isrna serious, ambitious work: intense, moving,rnoften vivid and brilliant, it improvesrnwith repeated readings.rnFrank Brownlow is a professor ofrnEnghsh at Mt. Holyoke College. Hisrnmost recent hook is a biography ofrnRobert Southwell.rn32/CHRONICLESrnrnrn