Today is the 46th anniversary of the deaths of Assia Gutmann Wevill, and Shura Hughes Wevill. They both died on 23rd March, 1969. Assia was 41 years old, and her daughter Shura was four. After a fraught phone conversation with her lover, Ted Hughes, Assia took pills, turned on the gas, and lay down to die with her daughter, whom […]
Notes found in Ted Hughes’ loose leaf notebook in the British Library summarise the story of a Jewish Talmudist, Rabbah bar Hannah, who set down his life story of perilous adventures,etching them onto a rock. Kabbalah (Hebrew קַבָּלָה) literally mens “receiving/tradition”. It is an ancient series of spiritual teachings originating in the twelfth century BC, in the town of Safed in […]
I practice yoga at home most mornings, wherever I happen to be. My practice is rather eclectic, comprising Japanese Tibetan and Iyengar yoga, and lasts anywhere between twenty and forty-five minutes. Even a short practice gives me a feeling of being centered and ready for the day. I always finish my yoga practice feeling both energised and relaxed.I once devised a sequence of asanas, which can be practiced on a boat, which presented major challenges in terms of space and stability. It’s amazing how these challenges can be met, even on a boat rocking on its moorings.
Why did Ted Hughes call one of his poems in the Capriccio sequence ‘Shibboleth’? Perhaps the title is a comment on Assia’s upper-crust British accent, which failed to gain her acceptance Into London’s society. A shibboleth, in biblical times, was a linguistic marker to distinguish the outsider. The last line of Hughes’ poem ‘Shibboleth’ reads ‘lick of the tar brush?’ In my chapter ‘Shibboleth’ Assia’s German accent (Hochdeutch) betrays her origins, leading to an anti-Semitic attack on her by the innkeeper’s wife. In another chapter, Assia muses ‘my differences will never go away’. Image of Assia Wevill from www. Pinterest..com
A shibboleth is a linguistic marker that is characteristic of members of a group, which is used by another group to identify members of the first group. Such identification typically has bad consequences for the members thus identified. The story behind the word is recorded in the biblical Book of Judges. The word shibboleth in ancient Hebrew dialects meant ‘ear of grain’ (or, some say, ‘stream’). Some groups pronounced it with a sh sound, but speakers of related dialects pronounced it with an s. In the story, two Semitic tribes, the Ephraimites and the Gileadites, have a great battle. The Gileadites defeat the Ephraimites, and set up a blockade across the Jordan River to catch the fleeing Ephraimites who were trying to get back to their territory. The sentries asked each person who wanted to cross the river to say the word shibboleth. The Ephraimites, who had no sh sound in their language, pronounced the word with an s and were thereby unmasked as the enemy and slaughtered. Adapted from: Words in English public website Ling/Engl 215 course information Rice University Prof. S. Kemmer
Note: This chapter comes half way through the novel. Assia has returned from a clandestine trip to Spain with her lover, Ted Hughes. She and her husband are on a holiday in Germany, when Assia discovers she’s pregnant. Chapter 13. SHIBBOLETH Germany, October 1962 The countryside in autumn was beautiful; in the forest, russet and gold leaves quivered on the great pine trees, standing tall and straight like sentinels. After picnicking in the shaded woods on dark pumpernickel bread, and cream cheese with paprika, their walk had slowed. It was getting dark, and both of them were weary. Towards nightfall they reached a pretty little township, straight out of Hansel and Gretel. Assia felt at home in this rural village, as if she’d returned to the enchanted life of her early childhood, when she was protected by her mother, adored by her father, and cossetted by her German grandparents. She felt faint, and in spite of her fears, protective of the tiny life that might be growing inside her. Her body craved rest. She imagined sinking into clean white sheets under an eiderdown filled with soft goose feathers. ‘Let’s stay here tonight, darling. I’m worn out, and that little gasthaus we passed just now looks so welcoming. Not nearly as dilapidated as some of the houses here. I remember those little inns, like our bed-and-breakfast cottages in England. Vati and Mutti used to take me and Cissy to little gasthausen […]
HOLDEN Caulfield, the teenage protagonist of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, says: “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him (sic) up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” That’s how […]
This precious volume was published in 1990, almost thirty years after Hughes’ began his affair with Assia Wevill. It was illustrated by artist Leonard Baskin, and published by Baskin’s Gehenna Press in a limited edition of fifty. At $4000 each, and filled with richly coloured engravings by Baskin, the beautifully boxed leather volume was a collector’s copy. All twenty poems in ‘Capriccio’ deal with some aspect of his relationship with Assia Wevill. Many of the poems in Capriccio were written in the second person; the ‘you’ was not identified, although there were hints here and there (as in Folktale: He wanted the seven treasures of Asia). Apart from its musical connotation, Hughes’ title Capriccio bears several interpretations, from ‘capricious’, derived from the Latin caper, the goat, to the ancient Latin ‘racapriccio’ meaning ‘horror’. Thus these poems are thematically linked, by the idea of the capriciousness of fate, to the elements of shock or horror, which Hughes often expressed by reference to ancient myths.
“Sylvia’s rival had been misrepresented. She was a touch too elegant for her own well-being, fundamentally very vulnerable, needed a lot of affection, and could remembe SS boots outside the railway carriage compartment as her family, half Jewish, approached the Swiss border.” – Lucas Myers, ‘Ah, Youth … Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath at Cambridge and After’ (from ‘Bitter Fame’ […]
Our Randwick Writers’ Group has the following simple guidelines: Numbers are limited to five, so that critiqueing is detailed and resiprocal. Most of us are working on a novel or memoir, rather than short stories or poems. We hold fortnightly meetings of two and a half hours, allowing each writer time to give and receive feedbback. One of us is timekeeper, dividing time equally according to how many are present. We rotate venues from house to house as convenient – giving us a private and friendly environment. Word limits of excerpts max 3000 are submitted by the Monday before the meeting, which is held every second Wednesday morning. Submissions can be online, or on hard copy. if desired (and if time) we read aloud one or two pages. We keep feedback constructive, starting with a global review, then a more detailed look atwhat works and what doesn’t, finishing with positive suggestions on how to improve our writing. (See Post on Randwick Writers’ Feedback Guidelines)