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View full screen - View 1 of Lot 377. Sylvia Plath | The Colossus and other poems, 1960, inscribed by Plath, manuscript poem inserted.

Property of Frieda Hughes

Sylvia Plath | The Colossus and other poems, 1960, inscribed by Plath, manuscript poem inserted

Lot Closed

July 19, 04:17 PM GMT


20,000 - 30,000 GBP

Lot Details


Property of Frieda Hughes

Sylvia Plath

The Colossus and other poems. London: Heinemann, 1960

First edition, INSCRIBED BY SYLVIA PLATH ON DEDICATION LEAF, 8vo, pressed four-leaf clover between pp. 66-67, original green buckram, spine lettered in gilt, dust-jacket, small dots in pen next to titles of poems in table of contents, residue from pressed flower on inner margin of pp. 66-67, some spotting and browning, dust-jacket frayed at extremities

[with, loosely inserted:] a poem entitled "Frieda Rebecca's Cup" (), (“Mother's cup is curliqued/Father's cup is grand…”), believed to be in the hand of Ted Hughes' mother Edith (Farrar) Hughes (1898-1969), 1 page

THE DEDICATION COPY OF PLATH'S FIRST COLLECTION, INSCRIBED ON THE AUTHOR’S BIRTHDAY ("October 27th, 1960 | A birthday book dedicated | to the source of my birthdays | With love ~ | Sylvia").

This book was inscribed four days before the publication date of 31 October 1960. Plath had asked if the book could be published on her birthday, but Heinemann responded that they only published on Mondays. However, she ordered ten copies of the book for herself, as well as receiving six complimentary copies, and those had arrived by the 27th (see Stephen Tabor, Sylvia Plath. An Analytical Bibliography)Plath celebrated her 28th birthday at home with Ted Hughes with their favourite Fortnum and Mason chicken pie, pink champagne, and a reading of The Lord of the Rings. The young poet also inscribed several copies of The Colossus and Other Poems on that auspicious day. Amongst those to receive the first inscribed copies of the first book by Sylvia Plath were her mother, Ted’s sister Olwyyn, the poet Bill Merwin and his wife, Sylvia's college friend Marcia and her husband Mike Plumer, and Jack Sweeney, the curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room in Boston. She continued to give away her copies to friends and family in the weeks that followed and on 28 December 1960 she bought another two copies. Only three of Plath’s 18 copies of this book now remain unaccounted for. However, none of these presentation copies have the significance or resonance of the current copy, given to her poet husband and the book’s dedicatee.


The inscription, in which she describes Hughes as the “source of my birthdays”, evidently had a meaning that was deeply personal. Ted Hughes was a serious student of astrology (see lot 370) and the couple took seriously the meaning of dates and signs so will undoubtedly have found significance in the appearance of Plath’s first volume so close to her birthday. We catch another glimpse of the significance of her birthday to the couple in Plath’s letter to Hughes of 20 October 1956, in which she wrote that: “I am living only for next Saturday – birthday, day of being born again with you – my love – all of it & let it burn your mouth” (this letter was sold in these rooms, 21 July 2021, lot 18). In both the letter and the inscription her birthday is intimately connected to her relationship with Hughes, which is itself figured as a form of rebirth. The date remained significant to Hughes, who of course gave his collection of poems on his relationship with Plath the title Birthday Letters.


The Colossus and Other Poems was published in an edition of 500 copies. Plath was delighted with the book and its jacket artwork (although she did notice a couple of typos) and the collection was positively reviewed, most notably by Al Alvarez in The Observer: “most of her poems rest secure in a mass of experience that is never quite brought out into daylight […] It is this sense of threat, as though she were continually menaced by something she could see only out of the corner of her eye, that gives her work its distinction.” It did not, however, bring Plath the acclaim that Hughes had received for his first collection, The Hawk in the Rain. Her disappointment was somewhat assuaged when Knopf agreed to publish an American edition, somewhat shortened on the advice of Marianne Moore, which was published in May 1962 (the copy of the US edition inscribed to Hughes is now in an important private American library).




Sotheby’s is grateful to Peter K. Steinberg and David Trinidad for their assistance in cataloguing this lot.