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Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes

Poet, children's author, translator and editor. There wasn't much Ted Hughes couldn't turn his hand to in a lengthy career spanning over 40 years. Hughes won acclaim internationally for his poetry, often taking an unflinching view of the natural world around him. But his troubled personal life was not without its controversies. Here we will look at the life and work of former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes.

Ted Hughes: biography

Ted Hughes was born on 17 August 1930 in the Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd. He was a poet, translator, and children's author. Hughes served in the Royal Air Force before going on to study anthropology and archaeology at Cambridge. At Cambridge, Ted Hughes developed an interest in mythology, which later went on to influence his work. In 1956, Hughes married Sylvia Plath, the American author and poet.

In 1957, Ted Hughes won the First Book Contest. The competition was run by the Poetry Center and judged by esteemed poets such as W.H. Auden and Marianne Moore. The Hawk and the Rain (1957) won Hughes international acclaim and commercial success. Ted Hughes' success continued throughout his long career, in his poetry collections, such as Lupercal (1960) and Birthday Letters (1998), children's literature The Iron Man (1968), and anthologies such asThe Rattle Bag (1982). Ted Hughes was also the executor of Sylvia Plath's literary estate, editing much of her work.

Ted Hughes had a troubled personal life. His first wife Sylvia Plath committed suicide shortly after their separation in 1963. The woman Hughes left Plath for, Assia Wevill, also took her own life and , tragically, the life of their young daughter Shura. Ted Hughes married again in 1970 and spent the remainder of his life writing and farming in Devon. He was Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998 from cancer.

Ted Hughes, a canal with a basic stone bridge over it surrounded by overgrown wildlife, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Devon, United Kingdom, where Ted Hughes spent the later years of his life writing and farming.

Controversy

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath's marriage was a turbulent one. Hughes was unfaithful in their marriage and Plath struggled with mental health difficulties. Hughes faced criticism for his role in their marriage and her death. As Plath's literary executor it was revealed that he had destroyed some of Plath's journals and heavily edited her collection Ariel (1965). This was seen by some as a form of censorship.

Ted Hughes: poems

Ted Hughes was hailed as one of the greatest poets of his generation. He even earned the prestigious position of Poet Laureate. Hughes' poetry was inspired largely by animals, nature, and mythology. Often Hughes would take an unsentimental look at the natural world around him. Here we will look at some popular poems from his lengthy career.

'The Thought-Fox' (1957)

From the collection The Hawk in the Rain, 'The Thought-Fox' is about writer's block. The struggle to write is represented by the fox in the title. The poem is said to be inspired by a dream Hughes had while studying at Cambridge. In the poem the speaker sees little in the darkness of midnight and the page in front of them is blank. From the darkness a fox appears and leaps into the speaker's mind and a poem is formed: 'The page is printed.'

The poem is written in free verse so it has no fixed rhyme or meter, although the poem's use of alliteration provides some rhythm. The poem is formed of 24 lines, formed by using six quatrains. The use of stanzas could be seen as a way to make the poem more structured.

Free verse is poetry that does not follow strict rules regarding rhyme and meter.

A quatrain is a stanza that consists of four lines.

'Snowdrop' (1960)

'Snowdrop' was published in Hughes' collection Lupercal (1960). It is a poem that explores the harshness of winter. The snowdrop of the title refers to the flower rather than the type of weather. In the poem we see three animals; a crow, a mouse, and a weasel, struggling to adapt to the winter. The snowdrop alone is capable of withstanding the brutality of winter. The snowdrop is personified by the pronoun 'she'. The poem consists of 8 lines of free verse. Though there is no strict rhyme scheme, the poem does make use of slant rhyme.

Slant rhyme is the use of two words that do not quite rhyme but sound similar. These words usually have spelling patterns that are the same with either the consonants or vowels differing. For example, 'worm' and 'swarm'.

Ted Hughes, a close up image of three snowdrops, StudySmarterFig. 2 – Snowdrop flowers, the subject of Ted Hughes' poem.

'A Picture of Otto' (1998)

'A Picture of Otto' is a poem that is a response to another poem, 'Daddy' (1965) by Sylvia Plath. It is from the collection Birthday Letters. In the poem, the speaker directly addresses Plath's father Otto. In Plath's poem her father is described as a tyrant. In Hughes' poem, the speaker meets Otto in the underworld and is sympathetic toward him. Both Hughes and Otto are depicted negatively by Plath and the speaker references that the two are indistinguishable to her. The poem is also written in free verse and is formed of six quatrains.

'Telegraph Wires' (1989)

Published in the collection Wolfwatching (1989), 'Telegraph Wires' is a poem that explores the relationship between the man-made and the natural. The speaker seems impressed by the ability of technology to connect towns through vast spaces. However, the speaker is wary of how technology is ultimately no match for the natural world. The poem consists of twelve lines that are made up of six rhyming couplets. This neat order could be an attempt to the controlled nature of technology. There is no meter but the poem's form and rhyme scheme suggests it is not quite free verse.

Ted Hughes: books

Ted Hughes did not restrict himself to solely poetry. He also tried his hand at children's literature and translating, not to mention anthologising and editing other poetry collections. Here we will look at a range of books from Ted Hughes.

Birthday Letters (1998)

Ted Hughes' final poetry collection was published just three months before his death. The collection contains 88 poems and won many awards. It is largely thought to be a response to Hughes' marriage to Sylvia Plath and her suicide. For 35 years, Ted Hughes had refused to speak of their marriage. He was heavily criticised for his behaviour during their marriage and after Plath's death. This controversy could be a reason why the collection became a bestseller. The collection was also highly rated by critics, winning many prizes including The T.S. Eliot Prize for poetry and The Whitbread British Book of the Year in 1998.

Notable poems in the collection; 'Night Ride on Ariel', 'Pictures of Otto', and 'St Botolph's'.

The Iron Man (1968)

Ted Hughes wrote a science fiction book for children. It tells the story of a colossal 'man' made of metal. The Iron Man arrives in England mysteriously and begins wreaking havoc on the countryside. The Iron Man keeps eating the surrounding farmyard machinery. A young boy befriends the iron man and takes him to a scrapyard where he can eat. This brings peace to the community and acceptance for the Iron Man. The book ends with the titular man saving the world from a dragon from outer space. The story can be seen as a criticism of war because the Iron Man is attracted to the earth by the noises and sounds created by war.

Crow (1970)

This poetry collection was written between 1966 and 1969. This followed the three years after Plath's death when Hughes barely wrote. The poems feature the crow as a character throughout the collection. Ted Hughes took inspiration from myths around the world. Hughes originally wanted to write Crow in narrative form but felt he could not finish the project after the death of Assia Wevill. The collection caused some controversy for its perceived attack on Christianity.

Notable poems in the collection; 'Crow's Theology', 'Crow Frowns' and 'Crow'.

Tales From Ovid (1997)

This is a collection of stories based on Ovid's Metamorphoses (8AD). The book consists of 24 stories translated and compiled by Ted Hughes. As in the original book from Ovid, the major theme is change. Most of the stories compiled feature its characters undergoing physical change. The book makes use of Hughes' keen interest in mythology, earlier explored in the collection Crow. Tales from Ovid includes stories such as 'Echo and Narcissus', 'Phaeton', 'Procne', and 'Actaeon'.

Ted Hughes: facts

  • Ted Hughes was stationed as a ground mechanic for the RAF (Royal Air Force) before going on to study at Cambridge University.

  • While at Cambridge, Ted Hughes switched degrees from English literature to archaeology and anthropology. Hughes felt that it was too difficult to write poetry while studying it.

  • Ted Hughes was a great believer in portents. He is said to be partly influenced to change his degree after having the same dream that inspired the poem 'The Thought-Fox'.

  • 2009 saw the inaugural Ted Hughes Award, which celebrates new work in poetry.

  • Ted Hughes wrote his first poem at the age of fifteen.

Ted Hughes - Key takeaways

  • Ted Hughes was born in the Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd in 1930.
  • In 1956, Ted Hughes married American poet Sylvia Plath. Their marriage turned out to be a tumultuous one and Plath committed suicide in 1963.
  • Ted Hughes' first collection was The Hawk in the Rain in 1957. It won the first book prize run by The Poetry Center.
  • Ted Hughes' poetry often takes an unsentimental look at the natural world.
  • The poetry collection Birthday Letters won Ted Hughes great acclaim, winning many prizes and becoming a bestseller.

Frequently Asked Questions about Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes' most famous earliest poem is 'The Thought-Fox'.

From 1970, Ted Hughes lived in Devon, United Kingdom.

Sylvia Plath was most famously married to Ted Hughes. He later married Carol Orchard.

Ted Hughes was an English poet, translator, and children's author. He was also Poet Laurette from 1984 till 1998.

Ted Hughes grew up in the Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd.

Final Ted Hughes Quiz

Question

What is Ted Hughes' most famous poem?

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Answer

Ted Hughes' most famous early poem is 'The Thought-Fox'

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Where did Ted Hughes live?

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Answer

From 1970, Ted Hughes lived in Devon, United Kingdom.

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Who was married to Ted Hughes?

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Sylvia Plath was most famously married to Ted Hughes. He later married Carol Orchard.

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Question

Who is Ted Hughes?

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Answer

Ted Hughes was an English poet, translator and children's author. He was also Poet Laurette from 1984 till 1998

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Question

Where did Ted Hughes grow up?

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Answer

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What are the major themes of Ted Hughes' work?

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Answer

Ted Hughes frequently uses themes of animal and nature.

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Birthday Letters (1998) was a poetic response to what event?


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Answer

Birthday Letters (1998) was a poetic response to Hughes' marriage to Sylvia Plath and her suicide after.


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Ted Hughes held which title from 1984 until his death in 1998?

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Ted Hughes held the title of Poet Laurette from 1984 till 1998


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What was the name of Ted Hughes' first poetry collection?

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The name of Ted Hughes' first poetry collection was The Hawk in the Rain (1957)

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Ted Hughes most frequently wrote in what form of poetry?

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Ted Hughes most frequently wrote free verse poetry.

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When did Hughes write Birthday Letters?

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English poet Ted Hughes published his poetry collection Birthday Letters in 1998, a few months before his death. The collection was written over a period of 25 years.

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What is the first poem in Birthday Letters?

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The first poem in the collection is 'Fulbright Scholars'(1998).

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Is Ted Hughes still alive?

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Despite suffering from colon cancer, Ted Hughes had a fatal heart attack in 1998.

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Question

What is Ted Hughes' most famous poem?

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Answer

'A Picture of Otto' is one of the more famous poems in the collection, it is a response to Sylvia Plath's poem 'Daddy'(1965).

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What inspired Ted Hughes?

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The collection is inspired by Ted Hughes' desire to speak about former wife Sylvia Plath before his death.

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In which poem does Ted Hughes meet Sylvia Plath's dead father?

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Ted Hughes meets Sylvia Plath's father in the poem 'A Picture of Otto'(1998). 

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'A Picture of Otto'(1998) is a response to which poem?

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'A Picture of Otto'(1998) is a response to Sylvia Plath's poem 'Daddy'(1965).

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Where did Ted Hughes meet Sylvia Plath?

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Ted Hughes met Sylvia Plath in Cambridge.

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In the poem, 'Fulbright Scholars'(1998), Hughes compares Sylvia Plath to which fruit?

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Hughes compares Sylvia Plath to a peach in the poem, 'Fulbright Scholars'(1998).

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All the poems in the collection Birthday Letters (1998) are written in which point of view?

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All the poems in the collection Birthday Letters (1998) are written in the first-person.

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