This notebook contains undated autograph drafts of 'Fulbright Scholars', 'St Botolph's' and '18 Rugby St', poems by Ted Hughes later published in Birthday Letters. It is hardback bound, in a paper printed with lion and stag motifs.
It belongs to the 15 folders and volumes held by the British Library that contain poetry drafts, notes, personal reflections and correspondence relating to the creation, development and publication of Birthday Letters. Hughes originally stored this notebook with other material in a box file titled 'B.L. Drafts III' (forming Add MS 88918/1/6-8). Some notebooks feature the sequence’s early working title, ‘The Sorrows Of The Deer’ (this title is found across the archive). These books also contain drafts of poems which were not ultimately included in Birthday Letters.
Birthday Letters, a collection of 88 poems by Hughes, was published to public and critical acclaim in 1998. Their subject is Hughes’s relationship with the American poet Sylvia Plath, to whom he was married from 1956 until her death in 1963. Written over a period of 25 years, all the poems, except two, are addressed directly to Plath.
What do the drafts reveal?
Although undated, these drafts show the later stages of the poems’ composition. Unlike other draft poems within the Birthday Letters folders, these pages are not struck through. The poems are not given titles, although they are numbered. ‘Fulbright Scholars’ is labelled ‘1’ and, correspondingly, appears first in the published collection. 'St Botolph's' and '18 Rugby St' are labelled 5 and 8, respectively, but in the final publication their position shifted due to the addition of other poems.
The draft of ‘Fulbright Scholars’ (f. 6r) – a poem that reflects on Plath’s arrival at Cambridge University – is close to the published version. It contains only subtle differences in single words and short phrases. The noun, ‘the frighteners’, for example, is missing from the line that was published, ‘Grin for the cameras, the judges, the strangers, the frighteners’.
By contrast the drafts of ‘St Botolph’s’ (ff. 8r–9r) and ’18 Rugby St’ (ff. 10v–12v) were significantly edited before publication. The drafts are rawer, more revealing, and feature conversational language. For example, ‘St Botolph’s’ begins in the physical world with an almost mundane description of the lead-up to the party, portraying Hughes and his friends out selling copies of the magazine. The party was planned to celebrate the launch of Saint Botolph’s Review, the magazine founded by Hughes and his friends. The published poem loses this scene-setting, and in its place opens with striking astrological imagery. Towards the end of the draft, Hughes writes of his and Plath’s famous first kiss at the party. This detail was removed before publication.