Review: Lucas Myers: Crow Steered / Bergs Appeared. A Memoir of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath

Like Ted Hughes, Lucas Myers studied at Cambridge. And like Hughes, he had changed his course of study from English to Anthropology. Myers

had gone up to Downing College [...] in the Autumn of 1954, having spent a year in the United States Navy, four years at an American university in Sewanee, Tennessee, and a year first as an ordinary seaman then an able-bodied seaman on merchant ships. [3]

Hughes had entered Pembroke College already in 1950, graduating in 1954. But he kept visiting his "Alma Mater" regularly after graduation,

to work at the University Library and to meet friends with interests close to his. It was also his custom in 1955 and the first half of 1956 to work long enough at a job to save a little money, leave the job, and stay in Cambridge until the savings were depleted. [2]

In Crow Steered / Bergs Appeared Lucas Myers writes about their friendship. He writes about the group of young men who were to publish the St. Botolph's Review, and about the party held to celebrate the launch of the magazine. He describes how he remembers Sylvia Plath, and Assia Wevill. And he tells of his many and detailed exchanges with Ted Hughes.

Inevitably, Crow Steered is also about Lucas Myers himself, and a sense of personal loss, caused by Hughes's death, shimmers through the writing: Crow Steered is written from the perspective of a close friend, but Myers offers this perspective openly and he is well aware of a likely colouring of his memories.

In the thirty-seven short chapters or sections of the book, then, he is most concerned with "errors of factual detail", with the actual chronology of events and with "historical fact" in the portrayals of Plath and Hughes.

For example, of the famous inauguration party for the St. Botolph's Review he writes:

Sylvia approached me. We hadn't met before. I was dancing the twist with someone else. Sylvia began to recite my "Fools Encountered" from the St. Botolph's Review. I was flattered. I would have been even more flattered if I had read what she had written about me in her journal that morning. But I was also embarrassed for her as a fellow American and furthermore my soulful English girlfriend, a painter, was watching Sylvia's red shoes and flash and my response or lack of it. Mostly lack of it, as I hoped my girl friend would believe. Sylvia asked me where Ted Hughes was, I pointed towards the end of the hall, and she went off. [...].

[In her Journals] Sylvia has me very, very drunk at the party. All men were drunk except Ted. Ted didn't get drunk since he was always unwilling to lose control of himself. Sylvia has herself very drunk as well. I was probably just drunk, not very, very drunk - otherwise I wouldn't have been able to escort my girl friend illicitly to St. Botolphs's Rectory long before 2 a.m. when another of the infamous figures in the tale (who like many has recorded the evening, but not this incident, for academic enlightenment) broke all the windows in the hall where the bacchanal was held. And Sylvia must have exaggerated her own condition as well. Otherwise, even with help, she could hardly have climbed over the spiked wall of Queens College with Hamish Stewart after leaving the party as related in her Journals. [32-3]

But Lucas Myers also offers and elaborates on his interpretations of the "unusual love affair" [23] between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. His accounts of events and circumstances of this love affair are very interesting to read, and many of the details he provides will help readers to further engage in a dialogue with many of Ted Hughes's and some of Sylvia Plath's works. His criticism of several Plath biographers is enlightening too, as are his attempts to disspell some of the tales that have been growing around that "love affair". Myers's memories and interpretations are aided by material from the about eighty surviving letters written to him by Hughes. And those wishing to verify his statements will find most of these available for research at Emory University (seventy).

The book Myers discusses most broadly is Birthday Letters, and a number of the poems in the book refer to events which he witnessed. For him,

Birthday Letters, read as a whole, constitutes a striking account, beyond the commonplaces of daily incident, of two unusual people and their unusual love affair and their governing destiny as seen by the survivor. I know personally of a few errors of factual detail and one or two misapprehensions, but these do not affect the solidity and persuasiveness of the account. [23]

Ted Hughes's relationship with Assia Wevill is another important aspect of the Crow Steered. Myers's account is compassionate, and like the rest of the book it convinces with its refusal to settle for easy answers or accusations. He shares his views with great openness and honesty, and he does not shy away from uncomfortable readings and interpretations. The air of ready-made, well-presented scandal and simplification which is to be found in so many similar publications is something thoroughly lacking from Crow Steered as a whole.

It should be mentioned that Myers's style is loose, very readable, and that the book has its light, even comical sides, too, as in the following description of an incident mentioned in the poem "18 Rugby Street":

"How did Lucas delete himself ...?" the poem asks. On 13 April I wasn't there at all, but on 23 March [Michael] Boddy and I withdrew because we immediately saw what was predicated with Ted and Sylvia. We went to The Lamb [a pub], stayed till closing, understood that privacy was still required in the flat, and sat down on the curb across from the house. After forty-five minutes (I remember quite clearly looking at my watch and judging the comparative wisdoms of going up or sitting out there indefinitely), we went upstairs, this to the evident discomfort of Sylvia. Ted and Sylvia went out to her hotel and we didn't see him until the next day. [43]

The title? – refers to a beautiful little poem which Ted Hughes had inscribed into a copy of The Selected Poems of Keith Douglas, and which Myers's came to see as an image of Hughes's life-story:

A bee set sail
To catch a whale.
The crow steered.
Bergs appeared ... [20-1]

Claas Kazzer

Related Publication
Lucas Myers:  Crow Steered / Bergs Appeared. A Memoir of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath

Lucas Myers: Crow Steered / Bergs Appeared. A Memoir of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Proctor's Hall Press, 2001 [more].

Related Publication

Lucas Myers: "Crow Steered / Bergs Appeared. Additional Notes and Minor Corrections" [more].