Hughes, Ted, # Hughes is considered one of England’s greatest and most prodigious poets of the last century. Despite the controversies surrounding his domestic life with its promiscuous and masculine sexuality, his poetry gained recognition for its realistic portrayal of man in the natural world - he was closely connected to the earth; trees, fields, flowers and especially wild animals. While earlier views sought to elevate man into the angelic modes, the modern world accepts that we are closely related to nature, both plants and the animal world.
‘Fulbright Scholars’ # I. Context & Subject Matter # The first poem of Birthday Letters describes a day in London where Hughes as a young man saw a photograph of the new Fulbright scholars. We see the day through the eyes of Hughes and are taken back into time through flashbacks of his memory. Does Hughes faulty memory influence his perspective of the truth? The Fulbright program is the flagship foreign exchange scholarship program of the United States, aimed at increasing cultural understanding, collaboration and the exchange of ideas.
‘The Shot’ # I. Context & Subject Matter # For this and most of the poems in Birthday Letters, it is important to be familiar with some of Sylvia Plath’s poetry, especially Daddy, Lady Lazarus and Ariel. Her father, Otto, a biologist specialising in bees, was domineering, authoritarian and anti-social, dying of diabetes when she was eight. His early death traumatised her as she worshipped him. She prayed to God to save his life but when her mother told her he had died, she pulled the blankets over her head and swore never to talk to God again.
‘The Minotaur’ # Context & Subject Matter Title: Minotaur – a monster from Greek mythology, a half man-half bull that fed on flesh. Its destructive behavior terrorised the island of Crete. Minos was born from the union of Zeus and the Phoenician princess Europa, whom Zeus had kidnapped while disguised as a white bull and brought to Crete. (Minos was therefore himself the son of a bull of quite heavenly nature.
Nature Poems # Ted Hughes wrote a lot of poems centring on the primaeval passion of the natural world that combusts us into the supernatural. Gerald Hughes, his elder brother by nine years, in his book, Ted and I, recounts an anecdote at school, where a teacher commenting on Ted’s description of “a wildflower’s gun breaking in the cold with frost chilled snap” - That’s poetry! Ted’s response, *“Well if that’s poetry, that’s the way I think and I can give you no end of it”.
Hughes - Sam - Ted Hughes # *I.Context & Subject Matter of Sam # In her first year at Cambridge, Plath had hired an old horse called Sam who was expected to be placid, but bolted with the inexperienced rider on his back. While it was a frightening and dangerous experience, Plath recalled it as a time when she felt immensely alive. It formed the basis of the thrilling horse-ride described in both “Whiteness I Remember” and “Ariel”.
Ted meets Sylvia – a legendary Love story # Accounts vary about the legendary night on February 1956, after scanning a news photo of recently arrived American Fulbright Scholars, Ted Hughes wondered if he might meet one of them. Their eyes met across a crowded room and according to one account they met in another room: She wore red shoes and her blonde hair was held back neatly by a red ribboned band.
‘Your Paris’ # Context & Subject Matter # Shortly after their marriage in 1957, Ted and Sylvia visited Europe for their honeymoon. It is recorded that her mother accompanied them; however this is not evident in any of Hughes poems. Hughes immediately sets out to create their diametrically opposing perspectives on Paris; hers an America idealised, romanticised one based on the writings of expatriate American writers with their bohemian life styles on the left bank in the inter war years, while Hughes has a more realistic recent perspective of Nazi occupied France where many had no choice but to collaborate and submit to the German occupiers or join the underground resistance.