So suggests the poet Ted Hughes (August 17, 1930–October 28, 1998) in a wonderful letter of advice to his teenage daughter, Frieda, found in Letters of Ted Hughes (public library) — the same volume that gave us Hughes’s immensely moving letter to his son about nurturing the universal inner child.
Frieda had been half-orphaned at the age of three when her mother, Sylvia Plath, died by suicide. Hughes was left to raise the couple’s two children, for whom Plath had written her only children’s books. Shortly after Frieda’s eighteenth birthday, as she stood on the precipice of her own literary career, her father shared with her the most important thing he had learned — from T.S. Eliot, no less — about what it takes to become a poet.
T.S. Eliot said to me “There’s only one way a poet can develop his actual writing — apart from self-criticism & continual practice. And that is by reading other poetry aloud — and it doesn’t matter whether he understands it or not (i.e. even if it is in another language.) What matters, above all, is educating the ear.”
What matters, is to connect your own voice within an infinite range of verbal cadences & sequences — and only endless actual experience of your ear can store all that is in your nervous system. The rest can be left to your life & your character.