Birthday Letters Poems

Ted Hughes

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

208 Pages



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Winner of the Whitbread Prize

Formerly Poet Laureate to Queen Elizabeth II, the late Ted Hughes is recognized as one of the few contemporary poets whose work exhibits mythic scope and power. And few episodes in postwar literature have the legendary stature of Hughes's romance with, and marriage to, the great American poet Sylvia Plath.

A national bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic when it originally appeared—and widely celebrated as "one of the century's literary landmarks" (Publishers Weekly)—Hughes's Birthday Letters presents nearly 90 poems addressed, with just two exceptions, directly to Plath. These poems—which were written over a span of more than 25 years, the first of them a few years after Plath's suicide in 1963—take on a variety of guises. Some are love letters, others haunted recollections or ruminations. In them, Hughes recalls his and Plath's time together, drawing on the powerful imagery of his work—animal, vegetable, mythological—as well as on Plath's famous verse.

Countless books have discussed the subject of this intense relationship from a necessary distance, but this volume, at last, gives us Hughes's own account. Moreover, Birthday Letters is a remarkable collection of poems in its own right.


Praise for Birthday Letters

"An extraordinary book . . . [Hughes's] subject is Plath herself—how she looked and moved and talked, her pleasures, rages, uncanny dreams, and many terrors, what was good between them and where it went wrong."—A. Alvarez, The New Yorker

"The critics who are urging us to regard these poems as masterpieces are right. Their intensity of feeling, the clarity of their imagery, the precision, energy, simplicity, and fluidity of their language are still striking."—Paul Levy, The Wall Street Journal

"An emotional, direct, regretful, and entranced [tone] pervades the book's strongest poems, which are quiet and thoughtful and conversational."—Katha Pollitt, The New York Times Book Review

"Most of the poems in Birthday Letters have a wonderful immediacy and tenderness that's new to Hughes's writing, a tenderness that enables him to communicate Plath's terrors as palpably as her own verse, and to convey his own lasting sense of loss and grief. . . . They should be read because they constitute the strongest, most emotionally tactile work of Hughes' career."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"The publication of Birthday Letters is the most sensational event I can think of in the recent history of English-language poetry."—Christopher Benfey, Slate

"The book comes like a thunderbolt from the blue. And reading it is like being hit by a thunderbolt. Its power is sometimes tender, sometimes funny, sometimes anguished, and always springing from a burning, continuous present. Anyone who thought Hughes's reticence was proof of his hard heart will immediately see how stony they have been themselves. This is a book written by someone obsessed, stricken, and deeply loving. There is nothing like it in literature."—Andrew Motion, The London Times

Reviews from Goodreads



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Ted Hughes died in October 1998, having received acclaim in the last year of his life: the Whitbread Book of the Year Prize for Tales from Ovid, the Forward Prize for Birthday Letters, and the British Order of Merit. He was Poet Laureate to Queen Elizabeth II.
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  • Ted Hughes

  • The British poet, translator, author, and critic Ted Hughes, born in 1930, wrote more than forty books, including, in the last decade of his life, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being; Tales from Ovid; verse adaptations of Aeschylus's Oresteia, Racine's Phèdre, and Euripedes' Alcestis; and the bestselling Birthday Letters. Hughes served as Poet Laureate to Queen Elizabeth II from 1984 until his death in 1998.




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