The Capriccio Poems


Here you can read articles and see photos of the real story behind “Capriccio: A Novel”, soon to be published by Cilento Publishing. I took the title of my novel from a series of poems by Ted Hughes, which were written about his relationship with Assia Gutmann Wevill. My book tells the story of their love affair, from the viewpoint of the woman who came between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Apart from one biography, ‘Lover of Unreason” by Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren, Assia herself has been written out of history, or else maligned by the brief mentions she gets in many of the reference books about this famous love triangle. My novel aims to redress the balance, and to restore Assia to her proper place in literary history.


EXCERPT from ‘On Ted Hughes’ Capriccio’ by Dina Davis.

Hughes’ collection of twenty poems, Capriccio, was produced in 1990 as a beautiful boxed volume with leather covers. Printed on hand-made paper, and at $4000 a copy, the book was designed to be rare.[1] Each of the fifty volumes was signed by the author, and also by the illustrator, Leonard Baskin, whose company Gehenna Press was the publisher. (Ironically, ‘Gehenna’ is the Hebrew word for ‘Hell’, perhaps a reflection of the dark themes of these poems.)

In the many biographies, reviews, and scholarly works on Ted Hughes and his poetry, the sequence Capriccio barely gets a mention. It is seen as a minor work compared to such better-known collections as The Hawk in the Rain, Lupercal, Gaudette, Birthday Letters or Crow. For example, Diane Middlebrook, in her biography of Hughes, devotes a chapter to his Birthday Letters, Hughes’ homage to Sylvia Plath, but only a few lines to Capriccio.[2]

Next to Hughes’ award-winning Birthday Letters, the autobiographical nature of Capriccio went barely noticed for many years. In 1990, when the book was published, few people knew of the affair between Ted Hughes and Assia Wevill. Five years later, when eight of the twenty poems were reprinted in New Selected Poems, 1957-1994, there was still no revelation of Assia as the woman addressed in Capriccio. Hughes himself said, in a letter to Seamus Healey in 1998, that his poems about Assia were ‘written very differently’ to those about Sylvia. Indeed, Ted Hughes told Assia’s biographers that he felt the poems were so obscure, most people wouldn’t realise he’d ‘given his secret away’.[1]

[1] Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, ‘Lover of Unreason,’ NY, Carroll & Graf, 2007

[1] Feinstein, Elaine, The Life of a Poet, London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson,    2001

[2] Middlebrook, Diane, Her Husband, Little, Brown, 2004


One Comment Add yours

  1. Elizabeth Hicklin says:

    Thankyou for getting in touch. I will read your bookwith interest. Di Bedow, a Cambridge PHD student, has recently studied my letters at the British Library.


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