11 The Tender Place

The Tender Place by Ted Hughes

Sue Butler’s choice number 11.

Read the poem here.

I came to Birthday Letters, as a collection rather than individually and sporadically, a couple of years ago. I found them distressing, exciting, frustrating, deeply moving, infuriating – and so much more and all at once. Exhausting and powerful. This poem is doubly infused with horror to me in that I have witnessed ECT on a number of occasions and found the description terribly accurate. The poem is also infused with the horror of the situation in which Plath and Hughes found themselves struggling with an affliction from which there was very little respite. At that time Hughes was also deeply interested in myth and psychotherapeutic models – both of which offered only pessimistic models of Plath’s future.

This poem has to stand for the whole collection which I return to again and again. It is not necessarily my favourite – that might be ‘Drawing’ or ‘Stubbing Wharfe’ or … but it is the one that struck fastest and asked questions that still linger.

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