Hughes, Ted 1930–1998

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Hughes, Ted 1930–1998

(Edward James Hughes)

PERSONAL: Born Edward James Hughes; August 17, 1930, in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, England; died October 28, 1998, in Devon, England; son of William Henry (a carpenter) and Edith (Farrar) Hughes; married Sylvia Plath (a poet), 1956 (died, 1963); partner of Assia Wevill (died, 1969); married Carol Orchard, 1970; children: (first marriage) Frieda Rebecca, Nicholas Farrar; (with Wevill) Shura (daughter). Education: Pembroke College, Cambridge, B.A., 1954, M.A., 1959.

CAREER: Poet and educator. University of Massachusetts, Amherst, instructor, 1957–59. Military service: British Royal Air Force, 1948–50.

AWARDS, HONORS: First prize, Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association Poetry Center contest, 1957, Guinness Poetry Award, 1958, for The Hawk in the Rain; Guggenheim fellowship, 1959–60; Somerset Maugham Award, 1960, Hawthornden Prize, 1961, and Abraham Wonsell Foundation awards, 1964–69, all for Lupercal; City of Florence International Poetry Prize, 1969, for Wodwo; Premio Internazionale Taormina, 1972; Queen's Medal for Poetry, 1974; Season Songs was a Children's Book Showcase title, 1976; Officer, Order of the British Empire, 1977; voted Britain's best poet by New Poetry readers, 1979; Signal Poetry awards, 1979, for Moon-Bells and Other Poems, 1981, for Under the North Star, and 1983, for The Rattle Bag; Royal Society of Literature Heinemann Award, 1980, for Moortown; runner-up for 1981 Neus-tadt International Prize for Literature; honorary doctorate degrees from Exeter College, 1982, Open University, 1983, Bradford College, 1984, and Pembroke College, 1986; named poet laureate of England, 1984; Kurt Maschler/Emil Award, National Book League (Great Britain), 1985, for The Iron Man: A Story in Five Nights; Guardian Award for children's fiction, 1985, for What Is the Truth?: A Farmyard Fable for the Young; honorary fellow, Pembroke College, Cambridge, 1986; Whitbread Award, 1997, for Tales from Ovid; Whitbread Prize for Poetry and Whitbread Book of the Year award, and Forward Prize, all 1998, all for The Birthday Letters; appointed to British Order of Merit, 1998.



The Hawk in the Rain, Harper (New York, NY), 1957.

Pike, Gehenna Press (Northampton, MA), 1959.

Lupercal, Harper (New York, NY), 1960.

(With Thom Gunn) Selected Poems, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1962.

The Burning of the Brothel, Turret Books (London, England), 1966.

Recklings, Turret Books (London, England), 1966.

Scapegoats and Rabies: A Poem in Five Parts, Poet & Printer (Woodford Gree, Essex, England), 1967.

(With Ruth Fainlight and Alan Sillitoe) Poems, Rainbow Press (London, England), 1967, reprinted, 1971.

Animal Poems, Gilbertson (Crediton, Devon, England), 1967.

Gravestones, Exeter College of Art (Exeter, Devon, England), 1967, published as Poems, 1968.

I Said Goodbye to the Earth, Turret (London, England), 1969.

The Martyrdom of Bishop Farrer, Gilbertson (Crediton, Devon, England), 1970.

Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1970, Harper (New York, NY), 1971, revised edition, Faber and Faber, 1972, reprinted, Harper (New York, NY), 1981.

Fighting for Jerusalem, Mid-NAG (Ashington, Northumberland, England), 1970.

A Crow Hymn, Sceptre Press (Frensham, Surrey, England), 1970.

A Few Crows, Rougemont Press (Exeter, Devon, England), 1970.

Amulet, privately printed, 1970.

Four Crow Poems, privately printed, 1970.

Autumn Song, illustrated by Nina Carroll, Steane (Kettering, Northamptonshire, England), 1971.

Crow Wakes: Poems, Poet & Printer (Woodford Gree, Essex, England), 1971.

In The Little Girl's Angel Gaze, Steam Press (London, England), 1972.

Selected Poems, 1957–1967, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1972, Harper (New York, NY), 1973.

Prometheus on His Crag: 21 Poems, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Rainbow Press (London, England), 1973.

Cave Birds, Scolar Press (London, England), 1975, enlarged edition published as Cave Birds: An Alchemical Drama, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1978, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1979.

The Interrogator: A Titled Vulturess, Scolar Press (London, England), 1975.

Eclipse, Sceptre Press (Knotting, Bedfordshire, England), 1976.

Sunstruck, Sceptre Press (Knotting, Bedfordshire, England), 1977.

Chiasmadon, Charles Seluzicki (Baltimore, MD), 1977.

Guadete, Harper (New York, NY), 1977.

Orts, Rainbow Press (London, England), 1978.

Moortown Elegies, Rainbow Press (London, England), 1978.

A Solstice, Sceptre Press (Knotting, Bedfordshire, England), 1978.

Calder Valley Poems, Rainbow Press (London, England), 1978.

Adam and the Sacred Nine, Rainbow Press (London, England), 1979.

Henry Williamson: A Tribute, Rainbow Press (London, England), 1979.

Four Tales Told by an Idiot, Sceptre Press (Knotting, Bedfordshire, England), 1979.

Remains of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence, photographs by Fay Godwin, Rainbow Press (London, England), 1979, second revised edition published as Elmet: Poems, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1994.

In the Black Chapel (poster), Victoria and Albert Museum (London, England), 1979.

Moortown, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1979, Harper (New York, NY), 1980, portions published as Moortown Diary, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1989.

Sky-Furnace, painting by Roger Vick, Caricia Fine Arts (North Tawton, Devon, England), 1981.

A Primer of Birds: Poems, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Gehenna Press (Lurley, Devon, England), 1981.

Selected Poems: 1957–1981, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1982, enlarged edition published as New Selected Poems, Harper (New York, NY), 1982, expanded edition published as New Selected Poems, 1957–1994, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1995.

River, photographs by Peter Keen, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1983, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.

Flowers and Insects: Some Birds and a Pair of Spiders, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Alfred Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.

Tales of the Early World, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1988.

Wolfwatching, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1989.

Cappriccio, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Gehenna Press (Searsmont, ME), 1990.

Rain-Charm for the Duchy and Other Laureate Poems, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1992.

The Birthday Letters, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.

Lire Ted Hughes: New Selected Poems, 1957–1994 (in French and English), edited by Joanny Moulin, Du Temps (Paris, France), 1998.

Selected Poems, 1957–1994, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.

Collected Poems, edited by Paul Keegan, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2003.

Also author of broadsides Woodpecker, Wolverine, Eagle, Mosquito, Tapir's Saga, Wolf-Watching, Mice Are Funny Little Creatures, Weasels at Work, and Fly Inspects, Morrigu Press (North Tawton, Devon, England), 1979–83. Contributor to All around the Year by Michael Morpurgo, J. Murray, 1979.


The House of Aries (radio play), broadcast 1960.

The Calm, produced in Boston, MA, 1961.

A Houseful of Women (radio play), broadcast 1961.

The Wound (radio play; also see below), broadcast 1962, revised version produced in London, England, 1972.

Difficulties of a Bridegroom (radio play), broadcast 1963.

Epithalamium, produced in London, England, 1963.

Dogs (radio play), broadcast 1964.

The House of Donkeys (radio play), broadcast 1965.

The Coming of the Kings and Other Plays (juvenile; contains Beauty and the Beast [broadcast 1965; produced in London, England, 1971], Sean, the Fool [broadcast 1968; produced in London, 1971], The Devil and the Cats [broadcast 1968; produced in London, 1971], The Coming of the Kings [broadcast 1964; televised, 1967; produced in London, 1972], and The Tiger's Bones [broadcast 1965]), Faber and Faber (London, England), 1970, revised and expaned edition published as The Tiger's Bones and Other Plays for Children, illustrated by Alan E. Cober, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1975.

The Price of a Bride (juvenile radio play), broadcast 1966.

The Head of Gold (radio play), broadcast 1967.

(Adapter) Seneca's Oedipus (produced in London, England, 1968; produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1973; produced in New York, NY, 1977), Faber and Faber (London, England), 1969, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1972.

Orghast, produced in Persepolis, Iran, 1971.

Eat Crow, Rainbow Press (London, England), 1971.

The Iron Man (based on his book; televised 1972; also see below), Faber and Faber (London, England), 1973.

Orpheus (radio play; broadcast 1965), Dramatic Publishing, 1973.

The Pig Organ; or, Pork with Perfect Pitch (juvenile opera), music by Richard Blackford, produced in London, England, 1980.


Meet My Folks! (verse), illustrated by George Adam-son, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1961, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1973, revised edition, Faber and Faber, 1987.

The Earth-Owl and Other Moon-People (verse), Faber and Faber (London, England), 1963, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1964, published as Moon-Whales and Other Moon Poems, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Viking (New York, NY), 1976, revised edition published as Moon Whales, Faber and Faber, 1988.

How the Whale Became and Other Stories, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1963, revised edition, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1964, illustrated by Jackie Morris, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Nessie, The Mannerless Monster (verse), illustrated by Gerald Rose, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1964, revised edition published as Nessie the Monster, illustrated by Jan Pyk, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1974.

The Iron Giant: A Story in Five Nights, Harper (New York, NY), 1968, revised edition published as The Iron Man: A Story in Five Nights, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1968, revised edition, 1984, reprinted under original title, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.

Five Autumn Songs for Children's Voices, illustrated by Phillida Gili, Gilbertson (Crediton, Devon, England), 1968.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Rainbow Press (London, England), 1974, revised edition published as Season Songs, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1975, revised edition, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1987.

(And illustrator) Earth-Moon, Rainbow Press (London, England), 1976.

Moon-Bells and Other Poems, Chatto and Windus (London, England), 1978.

Under the North Star, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Viking Press, (New York, NY), 1981.

(Editor, with Seamus Heaney) The Rattle Bag: An Anthology of Poetry, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1982.

What Is the Truth?: A Farmyard Fable for the Young, illustrated by R.J. Lloyd, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.

Ffangs the Vampire Bat and the Kiss of Truth, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1986.

The Cat and the Cuckoo: Collected Poems, Wykeham Press (Winchester, England), 1987, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1988.

The Iron Woman, Dial (New York, NY), 1995.

The Mermaid's Purse, illustrated by Flora McDonnell, Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.


(With Patricia Beer and Vernon Scannell) New Poems 1962, Hutchinson (London, England), 1962.

(With Thom Gunn) Five American Poets, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1963.

Here Today, Hutchinson (London, England), 1963.

(With Alwyn Hughes) Sylvia Plath, Ariel, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1965, Harper (New York, NY), 1966.

(And author of introduction) Keith Douglas, Selected Poems, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1964, Chilmark Press (New York, NY), 1965.

Poetry in the Making: An Anthology of Poems and Programmes from "Listening and Writing," Faber and Faber (London, England), 1967, abridged edition published as Poetry Is, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1970.

(And author of introduction) Emily Dickinson, A Choice of Emily Dickinson's Verse, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1968.

(And translator, with Assia Gutmann) Yehuda Amichai, Selected Poems, Cape Goliard Press (London, England), 1968, revised edition published as Poems, Harper (New York, NY), 1969.

(And author of introduction) William Shakespeare, With Fairest Flowers While Summer Lasts: Poems from Shakespeare (also see below), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1971, published as A Choice of Shakespeare's Verse, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1971, introduction published as Shakespeare's Poem, Lexham Press (London, England), 1971.

Sylvia Plath, Crossing the Waters: Transitional Poems, Harper (New York, NY), 1971, published as Crossing the Waters, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1971.

Sylvia Plath, Winter Trees, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1971, Harper (New York, NY), 1972.

(And translator, with János Csokits) János Pilinszky, Selected Poems, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 1976.

(And author of introduction) Sylvia Plath, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, and Other Prose Writings, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1977, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.

(And translator, with Yehuda Amichai) Yehuda Amichai, Amen, Harper (New York, NY), 1977.

New Poetry 6, Hutchison (London, England), 1980.

(And author of introduction) Sylvia Plath, The Collected Poems, Harper (New York, NY), 1981.

(With Seamus Heaney) Arvon Foundation Poetry Competition: 1980 Anthology, Kilnhurst, 1982.

Sylvia Plath, Sylvia Plath's Selected Poems, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1985.

Winning Words (stories by children), Faber and Faber (London, England), 1991.

Dancer to God: Tributes to T.S. Eliot, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1993.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, A Choice of Coleridge's Verse, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1996.

(Consulting editor and author of foreword) Frances Mc-Cullough, editor, The Journals of Sylvia Plath, Dial (New York, NY), 1982, reprinted, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 1998.


Wodwo (includes play, The Wound), Harper (New York, NY), 1967.

(Translator, with Assia Gutmann) Yehuda Amichai, Selected Poems, Cape Goliard Press (London, England), 1968, expanded edition published as Poems, Harper (New York, NY), 1970.

The Demon of Adachigahara (libretto), Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1969.

(With others) Corgi Modern Poets in Focus I, edited by Dannie Abse, Corgi (London, England), 1971.

(Adapter) The Story of Vasco (libretto; based on a play by Georges Schehade; produced in London, England, 1974), Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1974.

(Translator) Charles Simic and Mark Strand, editors, Another Republic, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1977.

The Threshold (short story), Steam Press (London, England), 1979.

(Translator, with Yehuda Amichai) Yehuda Amichai, Time, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.

(Translator, with János Csokits) János Pilinszky, The Desert of Love, Anvil Press Poetry, 1988.

(Translator, with Harold Schimmel and Assia Gutmann) The Early Books of Yehuda Amichai, Sheep Meadow Press (Riverdale, NY), 1988.

Essential Shakespeare, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1992.

Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose (essays), edited by William Scammell, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1994, Picador USA (New York, NY), 1995.

The Dreamfighter, and Other Creation Tales (stories), Faber and Faber (London, England), 1995.

Difficulties of a Bridegroom: Collected Short Stories, Picador (New York, NY), 1995.

(Translator) Ovid, Tales from Ovid, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1997.

(Translator) Aeschylus, The Oresteia, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.

(Translator) Jean Racine, Phèdre, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.

(Translator) Euripides, Alcestis, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.

Contributor to numerous anthologies, including Writers on Themselves, BBC Publications, 1964. Contributor to periodicals, including New Yorker, New York Review of Books, and Spectator. Founding editor (with Daniel Weissbrot), Modern Poetry in Translation, 1964–71.

Hughes' papers are contained in a collection at Emory University.

ADAPTATIONS: The Iron Giant: A Story in Five Nights was adapted for film, 1999.

SIDELIGHTS: British author Ted Hughes's reputation as a poet of international stature was secured in the late 1950s with the publication of his first poetry collection, The Hawk in the Rain. According to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Robert B. Shaw, "Hughes's poetry signaled a dramatic departure from the prevailing modes of the period. The stereotypical poem of the time was determined not to risk too much: politely domestic in its subject matter, understated and mildly ironic in style. By contrast, Hughes marshaled a language of nearly Shakespearean resonance to explore themes which were mythic and elemental." Since that time, Hughes's poetry has fallen in and out of fashion with literary critics—he was excluded, for example, from an important anthology of British poetry published in the early 1980s—but his presence continued to be felt even after his death. Many critics point to his poetic works Moortown and River as marking a return to his former brilliance. His 1984 appointment as poet laureate of England assured Hughes's status as a major British poet of the twentieth century.

Usually written contrary to the prevailing style, Hughes's work has always been controversial. "Critics rarely harbor neutral feelings toward Hughes's poetry," ob-served Carol Bere in Literary Review. "He has been dismissed as a connoisseur of the habits of animals, his disgust with humanity barely disguised; labeled a 'voyeur of violence,' attacked for his generous choreographing of gore; and virtually written off as a cult poet…. Others admire him for the originality and command of his approach; the scope and complexity of his mythic enterprise; and the apparent ease and freshness with which he can vitalize a landscape, free of any mitigating sentimentality."

To read Hughes's poetry is to enter a world dominated by nature, especially by animals. This holds true for nearly all of his books, from The Hawk in the Rain to Moortown, an examination of life on a farm. Apparently, Hughes's love of animals was one of the catalysts in his decision to become a poet. According to London Times contributor Thomas Nye, Hughes once confessed "that he began writing poems in adolescence, when it dawned upon him that his earlier passion for hunting animals in his native Yorkshire ended either in the possession of a dead animal, or at best a trapped one. He wanted to capture not just live animals, but the alive-ness of animals in their natural state: their wildness, their quiddity, the fox-ness of the fox and the crow-ness of the crow."

Hughes's apparent obsession with animals and nature in his poetry has incurred the disapproval of some critics. In The Modern Poet: Essays from "The Review," Colin Falck wrote that the "real limitation of Hughes's animal poems is precisely that they conjure emotions without bringing us any nearer to understanding them. They borrow their impact from a complex of emotions that they do nothing to define, and in the end tell us nothing about the urban civilised human world that we read the poems in." Other commentators, however, saw Hugh-es's concentration on animals as his attempt to clarify his feelings on the human condition. "Stated in the broadest possible terms," noted Shaw, "Hughes's enterprise is to examine the isolated and precarious position of man in nature and man's chances of overcoming his alienation from the world around him. In pursuit of these interests Hughes focuses frequently (and often brilliantly) upon animals."

According to P.R. King in Nine Contemporary Poets: A Critical Introduction, Hughes's emphasis on wild creatures was not so much evidence of his concern for them as it was a clue to the importance the poet reserves for what animals symbolize in his work. Through animal imagery, Hughes exalted the instinctive power of nature that he found lacking in human society. "He sees in them," King wrote, "the most clear manifestation of a life-force that is distinctly non-human or, rather, is non-rational in its source of power. Hughes observes in modern man a reluctance to acknowledge the deepest, instinctual sources of energy in his own being, an energy that is related to the elemental power circuit of the universe and to which animals are closer than man." King believed that Hughes's poetry written since 1970 "has moved on to express a sense of sterility and nihilism in modern man's response to life, a response which he connects with the dominance of man's rational, objective intellect at the expense of the life of emotions and imagination."

Hughes's best-known and most intriguing creation is an animal named Crow, who began appearing in his work in 1967 and eventually came to be the main character in several volumes of poetry, including A Crow Hymn, Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow, and Crow Wakes. In a Time review, Christopher Porterfield observed, "Crow is a sort of cosmic Kilroy. Alternately a witness, a demon, and a victim, he is in on everything from the creation to the ultimate nuclear holocaust. At various times he is minced, dismembered, rendered cataleptic, but always he bobs back. In his graceless, ignoble way, he is the lowest common denominator of the universal forces that obsess Hughes. He is a symbol of the essential survivor, of whatever endures, however battered." In Ted Hughes, Keith Sagar commented that in Crow he finds an "Everyman who will not acknowledge that everything he most hates and fears—the Black Beast—is within himself. Crow's world is unredeemable." Newsweek's Jack Kroll called Crow "one of those rare books of poetry that have the public impact of a major novel or a piece of super-journalism," and summarized the effect of the character, noting that "in Crow, Ted Hughes has created one of the most powerful mythic presences in contemporary poetry."

Reviewers such as Richard Murphy and Sandra McPherson found Hughes at his best when he adhered to describing the natural world around him. In his New York Review of Books essay on the author, Murphy noted approvingly that in the progression of Hughes's career, "demons and mythical birds rightly give way to the real creatures of his imagination." In like fashion, in American Poetry Review McPherson found that "when Hughes leaves for the country and helps a halfborn calf in delivery and gets his boots muddy, he gives us rich energized poetry."

In a Los Angeles Times Book Review critique of Moortown, Peter Clothier noted, "The strength of the book is in the first group of raw poems, the 'Moortown' of the title." "The weight and power of the book come in the title sequence," observed Times Literary Supplement contributor Peter Scupham. Christopher Ricks in New York Times Book Review stated, "'Moortown' strikes me as one of [Hughes's] truest achievements in a very long time."

Moortown is a group of thirty-four poems that records Hughes's experiences working his Devonshire farm and culminates in a set of six pieces dedicated to the memory of his late father-in-law, Jack Orchard, who helped him run the farm. Filled with images of sheep and births of lambs and calves, the poems reveal Hughes as a tender observer of nature. The gentle, loving quality noted by critics gives way at times to brutal descriptions of the harsh realities of farm life. In one poem, for instance, Hughes describes a newborn lamb and its mother lying on the ground "face to face like two mortally wounded duelists." While Joseph Parisi noted in Chicago Tribune Book World that these poems show Hughes "at the height of his powers," McPherson explained that their strength comes from Hughes's respect for and intimate knowledge of his subject matter. "Hughes has to write out of love to make the most of his gifts," McPherson maintained. "His poems which grow from close contact with their subject have the real healing effect and are as healthy a poetry as is being written today."

Noting that four volumes of Hughes's poetry and three critical studies of his work appeared in the early 1980s, Murphy began a review of several of Hughes's poetical offerings with the proclamation, "Hughes is surviving." Hughes's survival as a poet seemed to rest on what McClatchy called his "capacity to change." Critics saw his works published during this period as turning points in his career, marking the author with a new sensibility that made him more that just an "animal poet." He used animals to express his insight into the enduring spirituality of nature. "Hughes' reputation rests on his very individual vision of the natural world," wrote Listener contributor Dick Davis. "He is popular for this very reason—he brings back to our suburban, centrally heated and, above all, safe lives reports from an authentic frontier of reality and the imagination. His poems speak to us of a world that is constantly true in a way that we know our temporary comforts cannot be."

Hughes was named poet laureate of England after the death of John Betjeman in 1984. Some of the poems he wrote thereafter are collected in Rain-Charm for the Duchy and Other Laureate Poems. Hilary Corke, writing in Spectator, commented that Hughes, who "had built his whole career on giving God's creation a thoroughly bad press," took on the laureateship "entirely seriously and energetically. This is the most traditional and royal-devoted laureate we have had for ages." "Where once a Hughes baby, or rather a giant windy abstract of a baby," Corke continued, "would be born to a giant windy abstract of a mother in a welter of ripping caverns, thrashing thighs, afterbirths, blood and all bodily juices, now we hear that 'Six Angels came, six bright Blessings / Hover above your fate.'" Corke concluded, "It is all very weird and wonderful." London Observer critic Andrew Motion wrote that "part of the purpose of these poems is to set aside the question 'Who they are about' and ask instead: 'What are they about?' The answer is the primitive idea of nationhood, and the national voice in poetry that Larkin identified. In every case and at nearly every opportunity, Hughes ignores all matters to do with individual character and goes instead for symbolic value." The poems, Motion concluded, "realise monarchy in terms of its natural kingdom. Instead of a family's voice, attitudes, and opinions we get a country's birds, beasts, and flowers."

Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose collects previously published reviews, prefaces, introductions, and other essays that covered a wide range of literary figures and issues. From discussions of the works of Thomas Wyatt, Laura Riding, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, T.S. Eliot, and his late wife Sylvia Plath, to reviews of Wilfred Owen, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and the drawings of Leonard Baskin, Hughes includes in his commentary enough aspects of his personal life that Peter Levi of Spectator wrote that there "are nearly all the essential pieces of an autobiography … scattered among the thirty years of essays in this book." Penelope Laurans wrote in New York Times Book Review that, "while [Hughes] sometimes seems disingenuous in his attempt to write in a disinterested way, at other times he succeeds in being so interesting and illuminating that nothing else seems to matter."

Hughes's New and Selected Poems, 1957–1994 is an expanded edition of a 1982 work. Most critics felt that the best works in the book are those in which Hughes focused on nature, writing with, as a critic in the London Observer put it, "the unselfconscious power of witness." As has been said of his entire poetic oeuvre, the poems in which the metaphors are closely and organically related to a thing in nature are generally considered more successful than those manifestly about people.

Hughes was the author of a number of well-received translations, among them Tales from Ovid. New York Times Book Review contributor James Shapiro called Hughes "well suited to his task…. For Hughes, poets whose work is enduring, like Ovid's, are particularly sensitive to the plate tectonics of historical change, especially the collision between a culture's skeptical, desacralizing impulses and the spiritual nature it would suppress or deny. Hughes's retelling of Ovid's 'Bacchus and Pentheus,' one of the most unnerving stories in Tales from Ovid, turns on just such a collision." Hughes selected for inclusion twenty-four of the more than 200 tales of The Metamorphoses, Shapiro noting that he discarded stories of marital devotion and homosexual love. In the first half Hughes concentrates on stories, said Shapiro, "that focus with great intensity on heterosexual desire, violence and transgression. Ovid's stories of seduction, incest, infanticide, rape, transsexuality, and the instability of identity speak directly to contemporary obsessions…. The second half … is dominated by the fate of those, like Pentheus, who refuse to accept the power of nature and the gods who personify it." Shapiro concluded that "this book brilliantly succeeds at bringing Ovid's passionate and disturbing stories to life." In reviewing The Oresteia in New York Times Book Review, Gary Wills wrote that "Aeschylus, the fifth-century B.C. Attic tragedian, is famous for his knottiness, his clotted images and riddling compound words. Ted Hughes … unties the knots and unpacks the compounded thoughts."

Although Hughes was considered one of the finest poets of the twentieth century, his poetic reputation was overshadowed by his marriage to fellow-poet Sylvia Plath, several of whose volumes of poetry he edited following her 1963 suicide. Hughes was also the executor of Plath's estate, and it was in the fulfillment of this post that he drew the ire of many in the literary community whose requests to quote from his late wife's works he rejected, and because he destroyed her final diary.

In the decade after her death, Plath was taken up by some as a symbol of suppressed female genius, and in this scenario Hughes was often cast as the villain. It did not help his case that the married woman for whom he left Plath killed herself and the daughter she had by Hughes in the same manner as had Plath. Subsequently, his readings were disrupted by cries of "murderer!" and his surname, which appears on Plath's gravestone, was repeatedly defaced. Hughes's unpopular decisions regarding Plath's writings, over which he had total control after her death, were often in service of his definition of privacy; he also refused to discuss his marriage to Plath following her death. Thus it was with great surprise that, in 1998, the literary world received Hughes's quite intimate portrait of Plath in the form of The Birthday Letters, a collection of prose poems covering every aspect of his relationship with his first wife.

As a reviewer for Economist noted: "Those who had been expecting a kiss-and-tell about Plath were disappointed. Restrained, oblique, symbolic, tender, by turns ghoulish and melodramatic, 'The Birthday Letters' draws a portrait of a young woman whose life, from first to last, seems to be engulfed by death." Katha Pollitt wrote in New York Times Book Review that Hughes's tone, "emotional, direct, regretful, entranced—pervades the book's strongest poems, which are quiet and thoughtful and conversational. Plath is always 'you'—as though an old man were leafing through an album with a ghost." Hughes wrote of the births of their children, their house in Devon, and other intimate memories in these poems. "The trouble is," said Pollitt, "if you added them all up, you'd have a twenty-page chapbook, instead of a volume of nearly 200 pages in which that intimate voice, insisting on its personal truth, is overwhelmed by others: ranting, self-justifying, rambling, flaccid, bombastic…. The more Hughes insists on his own good intentions and the inevitability of Plath's suicide, the less convincing he becomes."

Pollitt pointed out that some of the poems in The Birthday Letters have appeared in previous Hughes collections, and felt that although it is claimed that the eighty-eight poems were secretly written over twenty-five years, this is "an exaggeration: except for a handful in slant-rhymed quatrains, the poems are identical in style and perspective." Pollitt noted that in The Birthday Letters Hughes borrows from Plath's poems, and "frequently employs Plathian language…. But Plath's poetry is one of intense compression and musicality, its imagery complex and ambiguous, whereas The Birthday Letters is lax and digressive, the symbolism all on the surface, so these allusions, quotations, and re-renderings serve mostly to remind us of what a great poet she was."

Hughes died of cancer on October 28, 1998, in Devon, England. When Collected Poems was published in 2003 in celebration of his achievements, a reviewer for Economist called Hughes the "most important English poet of the post-war era." The book is the largest collection of poems in living memory, even though all his children's poems, translations, and verse dramas were not included. It does include, however, the controversial "The Birthday Letters" and a large number of previously uncollected poems—some reprinted for the first time—and spans four decades of his works. Donna Seaman, writing for Booklist, commented: "Hughes re-mains a controversial and compelling figure, one deserving of the serious attention this mammoth first collected edition of his poems demands."



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Los Angeles Times, October 30, 1998, pp. A1, A12.

New York Times, October 30, 1998, p. A1.

Washington Post, October 30, 1998, p. B6.