Louis Esterhuizen. Ted Hughes se brief aan sy seun, Nicholas


Die webblad Letters of Note is ‘n besonder interessante blad in die mate dat hulle briewe versamel (en publiseer) wat volgens hulle ‘n wyer lesersgroep verdien; trouens, hulle beoog selfs om later vanjaar ‘n boek te publiseer met die vernaamste briewe uit hul versameling van meer as 804 briewe.

Die een brief wat egter my aandag getrek het, is die brief wat Ted Hughes (foto) in 1986, 23 jaar na sy vrou, Sylvia Plath, se dood geskryf het aan hul seun Nicholas wat op daardie stadium 24 jaar oud was. Oënskynlik was die aanloop tot dié skrywe Nicholas se voortslepende depressie terwyl hy op besoek in die VSA was:

Dear Nick,

I hope things are clearing. It did cross my mind, last summer, that you were under strains of an odd sort. I expect, like many another, you’ll spend your life oscillating between fierce relationships that become tunnel traps, and sudden escapes into wide freedom when the whole world seems to be just there for the taking. Nobody’s solved it. You solve it as you get older, when you reach the point where you’ve tasted so much that you can somehow sacrifice certain things more easily, and you have a more tolerant view of things like possessiveness (your own) and a broader acceptance of the pains and the losses.

Hierna volg ‘n uiteensetting van sy tydperk in die VSA, waar hy drie jaar lank saam met Sylvia Plath gewoon het. Vir hom was die tydperk soos dit sal wees om binne ‘n kous te leef; wat hy veral gemis het, was sosiale kontak. Veral met vroue, danksy Sylvia wat hom deurentyd onder oog gehou het:

It meant, Nicholas, that meeting any female between 17 and 39 was out. Your mother banished all her old friends, girl friends, in case one of them set eyes on me-presumably. And if she saw me talking with a girl student, I was in court. Foolish of her, and foolish of me to encourage her to think her laws were reasonable. But most people are the same. I was quite happy to live like that, for some years.) Since the only thing we both wanted to do was write, our lives disappeared into the blank page. My three years in America disappeared like a Rip Van Winkle snooze.

Hierna volg daar egtter ‘n passasie wat enige vader aan die keel sal beetkry; ‘n paar reëls waarin hy sy seun se onsekerheid en vertwyfeling oor die ding van “volwasse man” wees, probeer besweer:

When I came to Lake Victoria, it was quite obvious to me that in some of the most important ways you are much more mature than I am. And your self-reliance, your Independence, your general boldness in exposing yourself to new and to-most-people-very-alarming situations, and your phenomenal ability to carry through your plans to the last practical detail (I know it probably doesn’t feel like that to you, but that’s how it looks to the rest of us, who simply look on in envy), is the sort of real maturity that not one in a thousand ever come near. As you know.

Sy advies aan Nicholas is dan om juis nié die kind in hom te versmoor of beveg nie, maar om ten volle uiting te gee daaraan:

It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of only as a general crisis of sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master inner storms that come from an unexpected angle. But not many people realise that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them. Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it. So everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances. And when we meet people this is what we usually meet […]Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It’s been protected by the efficient armour, it’s never participated in life, it’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs, it’s never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it’s never properly lived. That’s how it is in almost everybody […]Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own.

Aangrypend. En tragies genoeg het dié raad (en insigte) wat sekerlik telkens met verloop van tyd herhaal was, klaarblyklik nie gehelp nie, want in 2009 het Nicholas Hughes in die ouderdom van 47, selfmoord gepleeg deur homself op te hang.

Maar, gaan lees gerus die volledige brief.

By wyse van groet sluit ek af met Ted Hughes se slotparagrawe.

The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all. It was a saying about noble figures in old Irish poems-he would give his hawk to any man that asked for it, yet he loved his hawk better than men nowadays love their bride of tomorrow. He would mourn a dog with more grief than men nowadays mourn their fathers.

And that’s how we measure out our real respect for people-by the degree of feeling they can register, the voltage of life they can carry and tolerate-and enjoy. End of sermon. As Buddha says: live like a mighty river. And as the old Greeks said: live as though all your ancestors were living again through you.



Nicholas Hughes

Nicholas Hughes








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