Key ideas:


  • Plath’s self-destructiveness and the things she lost because of it

  • Hughes’ role as a spectator in their relationship


Poems by Plath it can be paired with: 


  • Lady Lazarus

  • Nick and the Candlestick


Red, as the final poem in ‘Birthday Letters,’ serves as Hughes’ final statement on his relationship with Plath. 


Hughes employs colour symbolism throughout the poem to chart Plath’s descent into psychosis and its toll on their relationship. Red symbolises passion and said mental illness, while represents order, and blue hope. Hughes begins by stating ‘Red was your colour.’ He then depicts how it came to consume and corrupt their relationship – ‘When you had your way finally / Our room was red.’ Though initially ‘Only the bookshelves escaped into whiteness’ – a reference to Plath’s intellect and passion for knowledge – the intensity of her psychosis ultimately proved to be too much, as history tells us. With ‘You revelled in red.’ Hughes reflects how Plath came to find comfort in her anguish. He continues: ‘Everything you painted you painted white / Then splashed it with roses, defeated it.’ He suggests that there was once hope for recovery: ‘Blue was better for you. Blue was wings.’ But ultimately, ‘the jewel you lost was blue.’ – Plath’s psychosis denied her liberation and the freedom she spent her life desperately searching for. 


The final poem in ‘Birthday Letters’ offers a poignant reflection on a relationship that, in Hughes’ eyes, was almost doomed from the start given Plath’s psychosis and self-destructive tendencies. He paints himself as a helpless bystander, unable to do anything to stop Plath from continuing down the path set for her by her mental illness – one that, as suggested in other poems, he believes started with the death of Otto Plath. 

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