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Ted Hughes wrote many poems and tales for children, several stage and radio plays, nonfiction works on William Shakespeare and other writers, and translations of poetry from many languages. Hughes was also a prolific editor and anthologist, having edited several volumes by his wife Sylvia Plath and other poets.

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Ted Hughes was undoubtedly one of the major British poets of the twentieth century, and probably the most influential English poet of the post-World War II era. His writing began as a reaction to the Movement poetry of the 1950’s—a poetry marked by understatement, classical restraint, and a refusal to go beyond everyday reality. By contrast, Hughes signed himself as a poet who distrusted the intellect and the narrow conformity of ordinary activity. His poetry embraces the violent life of nature, particularly as exemplified by animals and birds, but also by people who allow instincts and drives to reveal a language of the heart. He thus returned English poetry to a romantic tradition, critical of the materialism and soullessness of contemporary society.

He produced poetry regularly, besides editing and dramatizing, particularly for radio. He also wrote extensively for children, in various genres. He became Britain’s poet laureate on December 19, 1984—a largely honorary role, but one that carried considerable prestige, bespeaking his acceptance by the British literary establishment. He was awarded the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II for his service to poetry. In 1998, Birthday Letters received the Whitbread Poetry Award the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry.

Discussion Topics

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Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 74

How did Ted Hughes’s undergraduate work in anthropology influence his writing?

How does Hughes perceive nature?

What role do animals (particularly birds) play in the poetry of Hughes?

Why is “The Thought-Fox” one of Hughes’s most anthologized poems?

How does his trickster figure Crow serve as an iconic representation of Hughes’s poetry?

How does biographical knowledge and familiarity with the poetry of Sylvia Plath enrich one’s reading of Birthday Letters?


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Bentley, Paul, ed. The Poetry of Ted Hughes: Language, Illusion, and Beyond. New York: Longman, 1998. An introductory guide to Hughes that places him within the context of developments in poetic and literary theory during his lifetime.

Feinstein, Elaine. Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001. Feinstein attempts to clear away the “he said, she said” controversies that surround Hughes’s life and offers a more complex depiction than has usually been presented.

Greening, John. The Poetry of Ted Hughes. London: Greenwich Exchange, 2007. A guide that provides analysis and criticism of the poetic work of Hughes.

Malcolm, Janet. The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. A provocative inquiry into the controversial lives of Plath and Hughes.

Middlebrook, Diane. Her Husband: Hughes and Plath—A Marriage. New York: Viking, 2003. Middlebrook brings insight and empathy to a probing examination of the literary marriage of the century.

Roberts, Neil. Ted Hughes: A Literary Life. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Hughes is the focus of this biography, and while Roberts does address his marriage to Sylvia Plath, he treats Hughes as a talented and influential poet in his own right. He examines Hughes’ unpublished letters and notebooks to glean information about his early life, his thoughts on his position as poet laureate, and the impact that his wife’s suicide had on him and his writing. This is a well-written study of Hughes’ life and his development at a poet.

Sagar, Keith. The Challenge of Ted Hughes. London: Macmillan, 1994. Sagar is a leading British writer on Hughes, having edited and written several other critical books on him. Includes a bibliography.

_______. The Laughter of Foxes: A Study of Ted Hughes. Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 2000. A thorough literary study.

Sagar, Keith, and Stephen Tabor. Ted Hughes: A Bibliography, 1946-1995. London: Mansell, 1998. A complete bibliography.

Scigaj, Leonard M. Ted Hughes. Boston: Twayne, 1992. Scigaj is one of the United States’ leading exponents of Hughes and rightfully chosen to write this introductory volume in the well-known Twayne series of introductions to major authors.

_______, ed. Critical Essays on Ted Hughes. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992. One of the best collections of essays on Hughes. Some other collections are fragmentary or celebratory.

Wagner, Erica. Ariel’s Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of the Birthday Letters. London: Faber & Faber, 2000. Offers a careful examination of the writings that detail the minds and relationship of poetry’s most harrowing couple.

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