Poetics of the Actual: Plath and Hughes

Prof Dianne Hunter
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Plath's 1961 poem “Mirror” can be read as a rejoinder to Ted Hughes's 1958 poem “Pike,” which in turn can be illuminated by lines in Plath's 1957 poem “All the Dead Dears”: “From the mercury-backed glass/ Mother, grandmother, greatgrandmother/ Reach hag hands to haul me in,// And an image looms under the fishpond surface… .” Plath's “Mirror” shrinks Hughes's mythic grandeur to reveal a psychodrama of the self as an aging, vanishing façade. Examination of Plath's notes on Virginia Woolf's use of the Grimm fairytale “The Fisherman and his Wife” in TO THE LIGHTHOUSE opens discussion of how Plath and Hughes transform the actual into the poetic. The poets' respective use of pond imagery of surface and depth reflect their concepts of the unconscious, of the married couple as mutual mirrors, and bear out claims made by Jacques Lacan and D. W. Winnicott on the mirror role of the mother in child development and the formation of the I.

Keywords: Call and Response, Eye Imagery, Death as Uncanny, Fish Imagery, Orality, Psychic Mirroring, Representation of the Unconscious, Underworld
Stream: Meaning and Representation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Prof Dianne Hunter

Professor, English Department, Trinity College

Professor Hunter teaches psychoanalysis of literature, focusing on representations of the unconscious in British Renaissance and modern drama, the novels of Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf, and the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. She wrote her PhD dissertation, in 1972, on violence, theatrical distancing, and primal scene transformation in Thomas Kyd's 'The Spanish Tradegy'. Since then she has published articles on Shakespeare, LeRoi Jones, Juliet Mitchell, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Anna O., feminism, and hysteria in literature. Her edited books include 'The Makings Of Dr. Carcot's Hysteria Shows' (Mellen: 1998), and 'Seduction And Theory' (University of Illinois: 1989). Her work on hysteria and literature has been translated into Italian and Spanish.

Ref: A06P0003