If Terry and OGIC are playing with Jane chords, I thought I might play too. As my first little foray into the Jane game, I decided to look up the Jane chord of the original edition of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, which has the poems in the order Ted Hughes put them after Plath’s death, and compare it to the Jane chord of the restored edition of Ariel, which came out in 2004 and “reinstates” the order Plath had planned for the book.
In Her Husband, her excellent, balanced biography focusing on the Plath-Hughes marriage and creative partnership, Diane Middlebrook writes:
The Ariel Hughes published was not identical with the manuscript titled Ariel that Plath had organized in the black spring binder he found on her desk after her death. As editor, Hughes reshuffled the poems, destroying the narrative arc that Plath had described in her notes on the manuscript. He omitted some of the poems Plath had intended to include–he cut “The Rabbit Catcher,” for example. And he added poems that Plath had not included, poems written after she finished the Ariel manuscript, poems that Plath intended for another book. His most significant intervention was to replace the hopeful poem “Wintering”–the ending Plath had designed for Ariel–with “Edge”:
The woman is perfected.
Body wears the smile of accomplishment.
Ariel original edition (with “The Edge” as the final poem): “Love drag.”
Ariel: The Restored Edition (with “Wintering” as the final poem): “Love spring.”*
It’s an illuminating difference, isn’t it?
But, as Meghan O’Rourke argued in Slate in 2004, while Hughes’s editing of the original Ariel manuscript is regarded with suspicion by many of Plath’s adherents (“he stole her hope!”), it may have been beneficial:
The real problem with Hughes’ interference is that we can’t separate the emotional relationship from the intellectual, artistic relationship–and we don’t trust Hughes to, either. But from this distance Plath seems fortunate to have had his input. It’s easy to forget now how radical Plath’s poetry–with its elemental female anger, its sexual voracity, its self-loathing knowingness–was in 1963. A number of the poems Plath wrote in 1961 and 1962 had been turned down by editors who didn’t understand them. Plath’s publishers in the U.K. didn’t want to publish Ariel, nor could Hughes convince Knopf, in the United States, to publish the new poems. “People didn’t understand what they were getting at, or didn’t like what they saw,” the critic A. Alvarez later told Janet Malcolm. Hughes did get Plath’s poems. And in a strange way, there is something moving about what he did. It is surely an emotionally complicated task to spend two years carefully reorganizing the work of your dead wife so as to persuade someone to publish a book that will implicate you in her tragic fate. And the irony is that, in reorganizing Ariel to emphasize the ultimate price of Plath’s emotional injuries, Hughes, like Samson, brought down the walls of the temple around him, even as he helped his wife take flight.
* To compare more fully, here are the last lines of each poem that turn the Jane chord around:
The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.
Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.