For this assignment, I transcribed a 1961 BBC interview of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. I decided to go for this one because I am interested in the symbiosis or lack there of in relationships between creatives and this interview touches on that subject quite a bit. Additionally, the way the interview was conducted was very clear and structured which allowed me to understand the flow of it and the words better. I had tried transcribing a Daniel Johnston and Gibby Haynes interview but it was too fast and I spent too much time trying to understand the words.
When keeping utmost fidelity in mind, what I struggled the most with (aside from understanding the correct words— there is a few that I still couldn’t make out) was writing down the phatics (I think that’s what they are?) the umm, ahh, uhh of the conversation. Is that something that should be included in a transcription? How much is lost, if any, when it’s not included? I also struggled with the tendency to auto fill sentences in my head before the person was done speaking.. Even though the overall meaning or intention of the words were correct, it was still not exactly the same. I kept going back and switching words around to make sure fidelity was met as much as i could.
Here is the link to the original source and below the transcript:
BBC: Where do you come from, Ted?
Hughes: From, um, originally Fromm Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire near Halifax
BBC: And what about you Sylvia?
Plath: Oh I was born in Boston Massachusetts but, um, I think I’m over here in England to stay now
BBC: Well somehow now there’s a making between Yorkshire and the United States, um, would you like to tell us how it happened?
Hughes: Well I left Cambridge in, uh, 1964, but I still had friends there that I used to go back and see now and again. And one of these friends produced a poetry magazine., this magazine just sold one issue, anyway, I had some poems in this and we had a celebration the day it came out
Plath: To which I came, I happened to be at Cambridge, I was sent there by the government on a government grant and I had read some of Ted’s poems in this magazine, I was very impressed and I wanted to meet him and uh, I went to this little celebration and that’s actually where we met.
BBC: and How did you develop this first meeting?
Plath: Well I think we saw each other again, on a Friday the 13th of something, in London didn’t we somehow after this. And, um, then we saw a great deal of each other… til I came back to Cambridge and suddenly we found ourselves getting married a (laughs) few months later
Hughes: I had saved some cash, uh, I had been working for about 3 months and everything I saved a blew it on a courtship which lasted about 3 months
BBC: What was the actual form of this proposal?
Plath: We kept writing poems to each other, and, uh, then it just grew out of that, I guess, a feeling that that we both were writing, so, so much, and having such a fine time doing it we just decided that this should keep on
Hughes: Mmhmm, the poems, the poems haven’t really survived, the marriage overtook the poems
BBC: Well I was going to say, I mean, in none of these books of poetry is there anything, apart from the dedications to Ted, to Sylvia, which, um, really, I couldn’t interpret as being to each other or even about each other.
Plath: Well I think that, that, all the poems that we wrote to each other and about each other were really um before our marriage and then something happened, I don’t know what it was, I, I hope it was ultimately good but we began to be able to, well, somehow, free ourselves for other subjects and, uh, I think the dedications, at least as far as mine goes, I feel that I never be writing as I am and as much as I am with- without Ted’s uh understanding and cooperation really.
BBC: Did you - have you actually been to the states yourself, Ted?
Hughes: Yes, I was there about 3 years and while I was over there I taught and, uh, we travelled around America and I got enough money to live. When we came back here we’ve been living on this cash ever since.
BBC: and what about your childhoods, cause they must have been quite considerably different, I think? Uh, there’s a, a poem of yours called The Disquieting Muses, in which, I think (—) there’s a certain amount of autobiography and um, also you write a lot about the sea
Plath: I was brought up on the, uh, northern coast of, uh, Massachusetts and my whole childhood was spent on the ocean and I remember the uh the very spectacular hurricanes we used to have where my grandmother’s cellar would be flooded and there would be sharks washed up on the garden and so forth and the image of the sea has been with me ever since even though I’ve I’ve um been in England for a few years and I think one always goes back to to something as vivid and colorful as that sort of experience and I know that the sea comes into, um, a great many of my poems sometimes it’s just a subconscious sea, a sort of flow of thoughts and so other times its the real sea itself
BBC: Were you a happy child, did you have a sort of sporty life or did you live in your imagination a great deal?
Plath: Well, I think I was happy up to the age of about nine very carefree and I believed in magic which uh which influenced me a good bit and then at 9 I was rather disillusioned, I stopped believing in elves and Santa Claus and all these little beneficent powers and became more realistic and depressed I think and then gradually uh became more adjusted about the age of sixteen, seventeen but I I certainly didn’t have a happy adolescence and perhaps that’s partly why I uh I turned specially to writing as, I I I wrote diary stories and so forth and was quite introverted during those early years
BBC: What about you, Ted? Um, in your poetry, the landscape of the poetry really is the landscape isn’t it, of Yorkshire Dale
Hughes: It was the Yorkshire/orchard, yeah
BBC: and, and the characters are very often um, rural types or in fact, animals, the animal creation um particularly the wild, um, these like otters and stokes and so on?
Hughes: Mhmm. I was interested in the animals, um, I really began being interested in the animals. In fact, my earliest memories are of my, uh, toys which are all little led animals which you could buy then. I had dozens of these. When I was 4 an aunt bought me an animal book, big animal book, which was sort of a bible for me for the next 5 years
BBC: Did you manipulate them or did you really participate, did you feel you were almost a small animal yourself?
Hughes: I don’t know, I can’t remember. And I used to make animals with plasticine and draw them
BBC: Were you a country boy?
Hughes: Mmm yes. Mytholmroyd isn’t really a village but the country comes right down on it, on every sign and uh, my brother was a great one for wandering about with a rifle and in fact he was uh, he did little elves and he used to take me along as a sort of retriever.
BBC: What was the line of your progress from there to Cambridge?
Hughes: Well then, uh, we left Mytholmroyd when I was about 8 and all that we sealed off we moved to — which was industrial and depressing and dirty. Well at the time, it was all very unhappy but it was all a very good thing. Um it became, it became a much richer experience for me than my previous 7 years had been and it being so different it really sealed off my first 7 years so that now I have memories of my first 7 years which, uh, my first 7 years seems almost half of my life. I remembered almost everything because it was sealed off in that particular way, it became a sort of brain, another subsidiary brain for me. And anyway I went to Mexico grammar school and uh, I wasn’t very interested in any lessons, but I was writing and the teachers seemed interested in my writing so this, I gradually concentrated absolutely everything on writing. It began to seem possible that through my writing I might go to university and get scholarships and so on.
BBC: Would you say that, uh, your temperaments are parallel or do you seem they are in conflict in the sense that uh it’s a marriage of opposites?
Hughes: I think superficially we are very alike. We like the same things. We live at the same tempo. Have the same, sort of, um rhythm in um almost every way but obviously this is a very fortunate covering for temperaments that are extremely different. But they live secret lives, you see, they content themselves in a, in an imaginative world so they never really come into a conflict.
BBC: The impression that uh you spend your whole married lives just thinking of poems and reading them to each other
Plath: I think our (—) life is practically indistinguishable from all the people who live around us the only main difference is that Ted doesn’t go out to work at 9 and come home at 5. If he retires about 9 to his room and works but I certainly have a life like the housewives and mothers in our district, shopping dishes and taking care of the baby and so forth and I think very few people have an idea I do anything at all except uh household chores and so on.
Hughes: And really in 4 years if you’ve written 80 poems it’s not really very many. You’re not writing poems the whole time, you seem to go months and never write a thing so really your life is uh very much like everybody else’s most of the time
BBC: Where do you live?
Hughes: In new Camden town
Plath: Really by Primrose Hill Zoo, that’s one of the reasons we like it so much, we’re always going to the zoo with the baby and so forth. We can hear the seals barking in the summertime.
BBC: How much room have you got to live in?
Plath: Oh, not enough (laughs) We have a very small flat, uh, a bedroom, a sitting room, a kitchen and a bar which is a uh, rather juggling feeling when it comes to managing a 9 month old baby and uh we’re dreaming of a house I can shout to Ted from one end to the other and he won’t be able to hear me but I don’t know how far away that is.
BBC: Did you find it necessary to keep yourselves separate from each other?
Hughes: I can write with people in the room quite easily.
Plath: Yes, Ted’s better at that than I am —
Plath: I really need to, need to be by myself otherwise I’m too tempted to talk and and uh so on, I’m much more distracted I think in that way
BBC: Well they say that 2 can live as cheap as one but even so (laughs) it must be quite expensive. Have you got jobs outside of writing?
Hughes: No, not at present. We had in America. Where we both taught.
Plath: and then I was a secretary for a while and I always can take up a secretarial job or a part time job if we get close to starving or if I seem a (larder’s?) to bear or something to that effect, but we’re quite flexible since both of us are able to work and have worked together and then (—) so uh the circumstances have allowed us to.
Hughes: Before then I did jobs just for short times. I worked as a sort of script reader and as a nightwatchman and I worked for a rose gardener for a little while. Present we’re living more or less on what we, uh, writing has helped to eek it out uhh, our last lump of savings which are mainly from teaching is running out, we’ll have to get another lump now from somewhere
Plath: And Ted had a grant, a writing grant, which was a help but um, we actually look ahead to year to year and don’t, uh, try very hard not to look ahead beyond that because uh when you’re writing you don’t have any 20 year pension plans or anything of that sort and need a bit more faith and brazenness perhaps I think than if one has a steady job
BBC: But would you have it any other way?
Plath: I wouldn’t, no. Not at all. Even being a very practical and domestic housewife as I am, I think the advantages are too great to want to change
Hughes: You begin to worry about money if you get a job
BBC: Has the baby made a big difference to the running of the house?
Plath: Well, actually I was amazed when I found how easy she was, I had wondered if I’d be swallowed up in motherhood and never feel any time to myself but uh somehow she’s fitted in beautifully and it’s amazingly little trouble I mean she doesn’t yell and cry and she plays by herself and it’s very, uh, amusing and I think both of us have uh have written good many poems to her and find her more entertaining than uh, than anything —
Hughes: Not just (—) She’s kind of aerial you know, she brings in a whole range of um, feelings. A whole world —
Plath: An experience.
Hughes: Before. Like a cat, only much better.
Plath: I think we’re both very much family oriented. I mean I large house sort of stocked with small children and small animals
BBC: At what stage are you going to start introducing the child to actually listening to poetry?
Plath: She already is listening to nursery rhymes which I consider poetry. I don’t believe in being self conscious about it. That everything from uh little nursery rhymes and songs to Elliot’s practical — what is it? Practical cats is perfect material.
BBC: I take it you can’t continue to draw on your childhood memories and so on for your poetry. What is the more continuing source, continuing inspiration for the writing you’re doing now?
Hughes: Well apart from the experiences of your own life, my experiences in my life, I also have in uh in a way, Sylvia’s experiences of hers and all the experiences that she’s had in the past. It’s like um, uh, a medium who is an automatic writer, you know? Just on a pad. And watch you write it need not be a doll, the contest of her own mind, need’nt be anything she knows but it’s something that someone in the room knows of somebody that she’s very close to now and in this way, two people are sympathetic to each other and who are right, who are compatible in this sort of uh spiritual way, they in fact make up one person, they make up one source of power which you both use and you can draw out, uh, you can draw out material in incredible detail from this single shared mind and I’m sure that this is suddenly a source of a great deal in my poetry I don’t know whether it works the other way around, I suspect it does. It’s not that you choose the same things to write about necessarily, and you certainly don’t write about them in the same way. It’s that, you, uh, you draw on an experience as though you knew more about something than you from your own live have ever really learned and in fact it seems, from what I’ve seen of this, that you’re drawing also, I’m drawing also on my wife’s knowledge of it.
BBC: It’s a very hard thing to put into words, isn’t it?
Hughes: Yes, a complicated idea to get across because you first of all, to believe that this sort of telepathic union exists between two sympathetic people which of course a lot of people don’t believe.
BBC: Is that how you would’ve put it?
Plath: Me, well, I think perhaps I’m a little more practical about it not quite so abstract. I can give an example. For instance, Ted’s interest in animals made me look back into my own life and my father, among other things, was a biologist and happened to keep bees. And I, oh I didn’t much about this time but I’ve become very interested in bee keeping and the image of bee keeping has become part of my poems and I think this is a direct result of knowing Ted. Somehow I know more about my own past through him than I would otherwise. But I’m also influenced by art, by paintings and sculptures, a lot of my poems describe paintings and take of from a visual image and go on from there.
BBC: I do find, in your poetry, certain similarities to, are interested in that same sort of world and in a way you do write in a similar way about it. Don’t you find, the two of you, that being married, being in close contact like you are, and also having a basic similarity of approach, there’s a great danger that your poetry will tend to almost collapse, the one into the other
Plath: I’d like to know how you think the poems are alike, because this is something that no one else has ever, ever remarked on before and I’ve always thought that our subject matter in particular, and also the form in which we write, the forms, are really quite different and I’m interested to know where you think the coincide.
BBC: I don’t think there’s a difference to all that, I think your type of contortion, the way your line writes over into the next line sort of technical trick of vigor, the way you use syntax words. Also you both have a concern, I think, with with the animal creation. Not that other poets don’t. And also with uh a type of rural landscape and the way it is, it’s very similar I think
Plath: Well I think this was too in our poems really before we knew each other or met each other and uh in that sense we would probably be alike, if we are at all alike, whether we had ever encountered each other and so I don’t think this is a result of our meeting, it’s something that went on before I mean we were writing for 10 years before we ever heard of each other.
Hughes: I think it’s something we share with several other writers too. Several other people writing now.
Plath: And the kind of toughness and naughtiness that we admire, both of us, I think, again, it’s something we both have always, always admired and perhaps that’s why we, um, we met in the first place. Because we both felt that we had the similar interest.
Hughes: Whenever we do happen to write about a similar thing, the main, uh the interesting thing about it is how differently we do treat it and how differently we approach it.
Plath: I think one of the examples of this is we each have a poem on a pig, perhaps this is why people seem to think that we’re alike but I’m sure that anybody compare these two poems and see the immense difference in the handling and attitude towards piggery that uh Ted has and that I have. I know my own distaste for uh a certain kind of slack, lyrical quality or flowerness isn’t really confined to, you know, my own poetry and Ted, but to anybody, anybody we know, anybody we know of who is writing now and what we admire in each other perhaps is something we admire in other people too
Hughes: Sylvia’s pig is a legendary gargantuan pig, um, it’s sort of an assembly of all piggishness and excessive piggeriness —
Plath: Oh come on (laughs)
Hughes: And mine is what’s left when a pig has disappeared. In other words, what’s left of a pig when the pig is no longer a pig, when it’s a dead pig and in a way this is a, this is the complete um reversal of Sylvia’s theme.
BBC: Does music play a part in your lives?
Plath: Well I think Ted’s much more musically inclined than I am. I, I learnt to play the piano and the viola and I played in the school orchestra but this was more forced on me and I happened to be tone deaf and unable to carry a tune and felt quite unhappy because of this and it’s only since I’ve known Ted that I’ve listened to music, particularly Beethoven. Actually, we started living under a was it a death mask, I think it was death mask of Beethoven —
Hughes: It was a live mask
Plath: a live mask sorry —
Hughes: I think Beethoven for instance had more influence on me than any other single artist in any medium
BBC: In what way?
Hughes: Forming my temperament I think or giving it a, giving it a certain direction one which I was very inclined to take
BBC: in other words, you like the way he feels, you like the way that he expresses his own realities, the things he’s seen (and thought about)
Hughes: Yes, And this completely dominated me from the age of seventeen to, well, to, I was twenty six when I really let all my records and gramophone in England and I don’t know how this influences directly writing but it certainly influences your imagination and your, uh, the coherence of your imagination
BBC: A good way to crown off this conversation would be to let the listeners hear a poem from each of you.