I started reading Plath about maybe four or five years ago. Hard as I tried, had difficulty making sense of many of her poems so you’re not alone there. Having lost my birth mother to suicide, guess I was sort of drawn to Plath’s work in an effort to try and understand the pain that would cause a woman to leave her children motherless. More or less driven by that need, I read everything I could get my hands on about Plath and a little later, Hughes. I read all her work, her journals, letters and every bio out at that time, searched all the articles about her work online and followed the Plath discussion forums. Little by little, the pieces started falling in place. I could pretty much figure out the inspiration for her poems and what she was saying. Needless to say, as a confessional poet, her writing was based on her life experiences and the emotions she felt because of those experiences. The more you know about her life, the easier it becomes to understand her poetry.
As for Hughes, definitely a womanizer, with a very weak moral compass. On the other hand, living with a person who suffers from mental illness, extreme mood swings, temper tantrums, violent rages is emotionally exhausting to say the least. Many have failed the test. Took me a while to understand life with Sylvia couldn’t have been easy, was a nightmare at times. The first time I read his “Birthday Letters” I thought him callous, shallow, a money hungry letch using her name for monetary gain. As I learned more about their history together, I went back and read his Birthday Letters over and over. Now I’m of the opinion that he truly loved her, but because of his own character flaws and Plath’s mental illness, their relationship was doomed from the start.
Another totally excellent read would be Hughes collected works. Weighs about a ton and isn’t something you carry around to read while waiting in the checkout line, but definitely something to consider. As a matter of fact, just today I was listening to Hughes read on YouTube. Worth checking out.
Still waiting for the Gertrude Bell to arrive ILL. Read a little of it at Amazon online and it looks really good.