Monday, March 23, 2009

Slyvia Plath's Son Hangs Self

From the New York Times:

By ANAHAD O’CONNOR Published: March 23, 2009 Nicholas Hughes, the son of the poet and novelist Sylvia Plath and the British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, killed himself at his home in Alaska, nearly a half-century after his mother and stepmother took their own lives, according to a statement from his sister. Mr. Hughes, 47, was a fisheries biologist who studied stream fish and spent much of his time trekking across Alaska on field studies. Shielded from stories about his mother’s suicide until he was a teenager, Mr. Hughes had lived an academic life largely outside the public eye. But friends and family said he had long struggled with depression. Last Monday, he hanged himself at his home in Alaska, his sister, Frieda Hughes, said over the weekend. “It is with profound sorrow that I must announce the death of my brother, Nicholas Hughes, who died by his own hand on Monday 16th March 2009 at his home in Alaska,” she said in a statement to the Times of London. “He had been battling depression for some time.”

This is such a profound acknowledgment of how mental illness can slide through a family like electricity through a frayed wire, how the suicide of a parent grips a person through and through, increases the chances of suicide for those who knew it best.

What a strange and horrible time for Frieda, as the last of her family of four, Sylvia of course gone so many years, head in the oven, Ted gone in old age, a man who lost not one, but two wives to suicide, and the second- Assia- who killed herself taking along their small toddler with her. Now Ted has lost two children to suicide, one on the beginning loop of the wire, the other on the end. Even more bizarrely, today is the 40th anniversary of Assia's suicide, considered a copycat of Sylvia's.

Still, a friend says this: “Nick wasn’t just the baby son of Plath and Hughes and it would be wrong to think of him as some kind of inevitably tragic figure. He was a man who reached his mid-forties, an adventurous marine biologist with a distinguished academic career behind him and a host of friends and achievements in his own right. That is the man who is mourned by those who knew him.”

Here is Sylvia's poem on her infant son:

Nick and the Candlestick

I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Waxy stalactites
Drip and thicken, tears

The earthen womb
Exudes from its dead boredom.
Black bat airs

Wrap me, raggy shawls,
Cold homicides.
They weld to me like plums.

Old cave of calcium
Icicles, old echoer.
Even the newts are white,

Those holy Joes.
And the fish, the fish -
Christ! they are panes of ice,

A vice of knives,
A piranha
Religion, drinking

Its first communion out of my live toes.
The candle
Gulps and recovers its small altitude,

Its yellows hearten.
O love, how did you get here?
O embryo

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

In you, ruby.
The pain
You wake to is not yours.

Love, love,
I have hung our cave with roses,
With soft rugs -

The last of Victoriana.
Let the stars
Plummet to their dark address,

Let the mercuric
Atoms that cripple drip
Into the terrible well,

You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.
You are the baby in the barn.
Cid said...

I can't imagine what drives a person to do this. All I ever think is what about those left behind?

Bee said...

Depression and the weight of tragic history: who can say which of these was the greatest contributing factor?

Your line is brilliant, though: mental illness can slide through a family like electricity through a frayed wire.

I read this story on the train today, coming home from London. Lots of deaths this week. A pervading feeling of melancholy.

heather kathleen said...

i know what drives a person to do this....

Beth said...

I'm surprised as to how much this news affects me. How very sad - for all.

Unknown said...

There is so much we don't know about Depression and Depression Related Illnesses because those who suffer often suffer in silence.

Peace - Rene

Sandi said...

I lost my brother-in-law to suicide. I still lack the words to describe how horrific his death was and how it has impacted us, still, 8 years later.

Lacey said...

This gives me chills, especially considering my adoration for Miss Sylvia. It's a tragic loss, and a continuation of... something... that shouldn't belong...

aurbie said...

I agree with Cid.

She was such a talented person. I have one of her books in our studio.

Ms. Moon said...

Depression is a horrible illness. I read about this earlier today and it brought sorrow to my heart.

Vashti said...

A whole family devestated by mental illness....So sad.

Holly said...

wow :(

Chris Stone said...

I was sorry to hear this. Plath was such a beautiful poet.

shrink on the couch said...

I only just watched the Sylvia Plath movie (played by Paltrow, as told by Hughes). I thought the movie was excellent, although she was painted as neurotically jealous and it was left unclear whether Hughes was victim or perpetrator of all that she accused him. Anyway, I feel incredibly sad reading this horrific legacy of loss.

Maia said...

It's funny, since my mother and I both had the same rare form of cancer at a similar age, I have to believe that cancer runs in my family...but I feel so very, very grateful that it is "only" cancer, and not depression. Given the choice between the two, I would gladly take cancer. We survived, and staid buoyant. Is it weird that I feel lucky?

Jason, as himself said...

Yes, it is frightening how this sort of thing plagues certain families. Speaking from almost first hand experience.

Anonymous said...

i am petrified

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