Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes met in 1956 at a drunken party for the launch of a Cambridge literary magazine. Hughes had graduated a couple of years earlier and had few poems in it.
Upon her arrival at the party, Plath spotted what she later described in her diary as a “big, dark, hunky boy.” It was Ted Hughes. When he introduced himself to her, she recited a few lines from one of his poems, The Casualty, published earlier that day.
The music was loud making it difficult to converse, so he invited her for a brandy in another room. They joked about one of his editor friends who had written an unfavorable critique of Plath’s poetry in a different literary magazine. At 23, she was already a fairly accomplished author, having her poems and short stories published in a national magazines, including Harper’s and Atlantic Monthly.
Suddenly he kisses her “bang, smash on the mouth,” ripping her headband with such force her earrings popped off. As he moves to kiss her neck she bites his cheek “long and hard.” Blood was gushing down his face as they left the room.
She composed Pursuit two days after the encounter.
Dans le fond des forêts votre image me suit.
There is a panther stalks me down:
One day I’ll have my death of him;
His greed has set the woods aflame,
He prowls more lordly than the sun.
Most soft, most suavely glides that step,
Advancing always at my back;
From gaunt hemlock, rooks croak havoc:
The hunt is on, and sprung the trap.
Flayed by thorns I trek the rocks,
Haggard through the hot white noon.
Along red network of his veins
What fires run, what craving wakes?
Insatiate, he ransacks the land
Condemned by our ancestral fault,
Crying: blood, let blood be spilt;
Meat must glut his mouth’s raw wound.
Keen the rending teeth and sweet
The singeing fury of his fur;
His kisses parch, each paw’s a briar,
Doom consummates that appetite.
In the wake of this fierce cat,
Kindled like torches for his joy,
Charred and ravened women lie,
Become his starving body’s bait.
Now hills hatch menace, spawning shade;
Midnight cloaks the sultry grove;
The black marauder, hauled by love
On fluent haunches, keeps my speed.
Behind snarled thickets of my eyes
Lurks the lithe one; in dreams’ ambush
Bright those claws that mar the flesh
And hungry, hungry, those taut thighs.
His ardor snares me, lights the trees,
And I run flaring in my skin;
What lull, what cool can lap me in
When burns and brands that yellow gaze?
I hurl my heart to halt his pace,
To quench his thirst I squander blood;
He eats, and still his need seeks food,
Compels a total sacrifice.
His voice waylays me, spells a trance,
The gutted forest falls to ash;
Appalled by secret want, I rush
From such assault of radiance.
Entering the tower of my fears,
I shut my doors on that dark guilt,
I bolt the door, each door I bolt.
Blood quickens, gonging in my ears:
The panther’s tread is on the stairs,
Coming up and up the stairs.
FORESHADOW: The pair married after a four-month steamy romance.