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About this book

This Reader's Guide charts the reception history of Ted Hughes' poetry from his first to last published collection, culminating in posthumous tributes and assessments of his lifetime achievement. Sandie Byrne explores the criticism relating to key issues such as nature, myth, the Laureateship, and Hughes' relationship with Sylvia Plath.

Table of Contents

Introduction Hughes’s Life

Abstract
Edward James Hughes was born on 17 August 1930 in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, although the family moved to Mexborough, South Yorkshire, when he was 7 years old. After attending Mexborough Grammar School, where he wrote poems for the school magazine, in 1948 Hughes won an open exhibition to Pembroke College, Cambridge, but chose to complete his two years of National Service before going up to read English in 1951.
Sandie Byrne

Chapter One. Early Work

Abstract
The poetry of Ted Hughes elicited strong responses from the beginning of his career as a published poet, though opinions about its merits and meanings were divided. This chapter looks at responses to Hughes’s early poetry, broadly categorised as ‘nature poetry’ in the sense of having animals, landscapes and the elements as its subjects. Criticism which looks at Hughes’s poems about the natural world in terms of psychology, anthropology or philosophy is discussed in Chapter 2.
Sandie Byrne

Chapter Two. Nature Poetry

Abstract
As has been seen, critical evaluation and even categorisation of Hughes’s work has been varied. There is, however, some critical consensus about the importance in Hughes’s writing of certain concepts, one of which is ‘Truth’, a concept significant enough to be figured in Hughes’s writing about poetry and writing for children,1 as well as in his poems. Daniel Weissbort, writing about Hughes’s co-foundation of the periodical Modern Poetry in Translation, stated that ‘Hughes was looking for the Truth. That which underlies language and survives translation.’2 His children’s fable, What is the Truth?, depicted characters who in their sleep came most close to describing animals in a way that captured each creature’s essence, but the story does more than that, interrogating poetry, Hughes, and the kind of poet that he has been and was still capable of being. Weissbort concludes that the Truth cannot be contained in description, ‘however mimetically powerful’.3
Sandie Byrne

Chapter Three. The Sequences

Abstract
The middle phase of Hughes’s poetic career was in part characterised by a movement from external phenomenological reality to internal and metaphysical landscapes in themed collections and sequences. Animals do not disappear from the poems, but they are increasingly less observed object and more protagonist. The Crow poems and CB feature figures which are and are not simply birds. These were not Hughes’s only modes of writing during this period; the M poems, for example, are firmly located in the daily life of a farm, and Hughes continued to write for children and to produce translation and adaptation.
Sandie Byrne

Chapter Four. Hughes and Plath

Abstract
This chapter looks at discussions and speculations about the working relationship between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, their mutual support and influence, and Hughes’s editing of Plath’s work. It also touches on reviews of Birthday Letters which discuss the relationship, though close critical analyses of the Birthday Letters poems appear in Chapter 5. A number of critics have written about Hughes’s and Plath’s relationship, both personal and literary, and a number of biographies of Sylvia Plath and studies of her poetry also touch on that topic, but this chapter looks at criticism whose primary focus is the work of Hughes or the mutual influence of Hughes and Plath.
Sandie Byrne

Chapter Five. Later Work

Abstract
Simon Armitage, writing in the Guardian in 2006, suggested that at Hughes’s death eight years earlier, his reputation had been as high as at any time during his life. Armitage contrasted the ‘resounding acclaim’ for Hughes’s final collections, TfO and BL, with the reaction to public support for either the poetry or the poet, during the 1970s and 1980s, when the former was seen as ‘stubborn and entrenched’ and the latter as ideologically unfashionable.1
Sandie Byrne

Conclusion Overviews of Hughes’s Achievement

Abstract
The death of Ted Hughes was followed by a flurry of posthumous summaries of his career and assessments of his achievements. The Guardian included the news of Hughes’s death on its front page,1 and obituaries and tributes were published in both British and international newspapers and periodicals. Authors paying tribute in British and Irish newspapers included Katherine Viner in the Guardian; John Redmond and Alan Sillitoe, also in the Guardian; Peter Forbes in The Financial Times; Sandra Barwick in the Daily Telegraph; Boyd Tonkin, Ruth Padel and Lachlan Mackinnon in the Independent; William Scammell in the Independent on Sunday; A. Alvarez in The Observer; Glenys Roberts in the Daily Mail; John Carey in the Sunday Times; Heather Neill in the Times Educational Supplement; John Bayley and Anthony Thwaite in the Times Literary Supplement; and Rosita Boland in the Irish Times. American writers who published at the same time included Marjorie Miller in the Los Angeles Times, Sarah Lyall in the New York Times and Marina Warner in Time. Le Monde also featured an article by Geneviève Brisac.
Sandie Byrne
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