Birthday Letters
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Birthday Letters

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  4,742 ratings  ·  181 reviews
A collection of poems addressed to Hughes' late wife, poetess Sylvia Plath, dealing with the psychological breakdown that led to some of her greatest poems and her untimely death..Title: .Birthday Letters..Author: .Hughes, Ted..Publisher: .Farrar Straus & Giroux..Publication Date: .1999/03/30..Number of Pages: .208..Binding Type: .PAPERBACK..Library of Congress: .98122...more
Paperback, 198 pages
Published March 30th 1999 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 28th 1998)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonThe Amber Spyglass by Philip PullmanThe Tenderness of Wolves by Stef PenneyAn Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo IshiguroBehind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
Costa/Whitbread Book of the Year Winners
10th out of 32 books — 26 voters
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult84, Charing Cross Road by Helene HanffThe Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan PoeThe Friendship Test by Elizabeth NobleP.S. Longer Letter Later by Paula Danziger
Letters
7th out of 89 books — 31 voters


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Matt
Feb 21, 2011 Matt added it
Ted Hughes has an uncomfortable place in the room where Sylvia Plath killed herself (and another in the room where his next wife, Assia Wevill, killed herself and their only daughter) -- he was the gas, he was the ovens, or he was the mark to which the the dial was turned. Maybe he was the sealed doors.

In Birthday Letters he places himself in and around that first room, Plath's room. And those places are horrifying, those he occupies and also those spaces he seems to have to leave empty.
Jamie
I need to get something off my chest with this one. I'd read Birthday Letters a few years ago, I guess when I was first getting into Plath and was not particularly interested in the warzone of the Plath/Hughes legacy. I also didn't really give much thought to poetry at the time--if it was pretty or vaguely shocking, I'd nod and think, 'Well, look how smart I am, for reading this.' So I think I let Hughes off the hook last time--and I should clarify to say that I don't hate Hughes' poetry; I'm no...more
Jonathan
Sep 27, 2012 Jonathan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: university literature students, poetry lovers, anyone interested in Sylvia Plath
Recommended to Jonathan by: university course
Shelves: poetry, university
Ted Hughes wrote Birthday Letters across his life and published it shortly before his death. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath had once been married and divorced before Plath committed suicide. This anthology of poetry is as a result a collection of poems addressing Plath as 'you' like a letter, a response to her Ariel (as seen in the references to 'ariel' and 'bees' in various poems. One problem of criticism of the poetry however, is a criticism that haunts many books unfairly. That this is merely a...more
Tom Bensley
My last review for a book of poetry (Plath's Ariel) was only a few lines long. Perhaps it was because I was tired, I'd just written another review or, the more plausible, I was scared of reviewing poetry. Poetry is not something you casually bring up with your mates after a few beers or during a penniless poker game because chances are that they couldn't care less. Or, you just don't want to sound like a fool. My reason was the latter. I was convinced that to review poetry one is required to hav...more
Justin Sewell
Aug 11, 2013 Justin Sewell rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of confessional poetry, Ted Hughes fans, Sylvia Plath fans, and Hanged Men
Shelves: poetry
As a typical self-loathing teen poet, I was drawn like a moth to a shocklight by Tragic Poets And Their Works of Great Suffering. Plath was, of course, the Queen Mother, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I'd memorized "Edge" word for word- grasping only enough of it to know it was the one of the Greatest Works of Great Suffering Ever. Poetry meets suicide note and becomes the exclamation point on the short life sentence of Sylvia Plath.

Like many teens invested in the literary drama of the tragi...more
Zoë (In The Next Room)
"A new soul, still not understanding,
Thinking it is still your honeymoon
In the happy world, with your whole life waiting,
Happy, and all your poems still to be found."

In Birthday Letters Ted Hughes offers 88 responses to Sylvia Plath in chronological order, beginning when he first met her, following her 1963 suicide and the years after as he raised their two children amidst the legend his wife left behind following her early death. Although I knew both Plath and Hughes were poets, I had neve...more
Laura
I read this alongside the Feinstein biography of Hughes, which was illuminating. i'd recommend doing the same as it helps place the locations and events that inspired the poetry. The collection is raw in places and reflective in others, frequently nail-on-the-head brilliant. He's a poet who teaches that the big fancy words aren't what's always needed ('wet shops' - God, can you think of a better description of Yorkshire? - 'the canteen clutter of the British restaurant'- this is pre-coffee shop...more
K Gomez
I noticed that my understanding of these poems is far better seven years after I first read them. I felt less like I needed to 'study' them than I once did. The rawness of the emotion and the sometimes startlingly clear biographical references make these very important poems. The best poems in this collection are, in my opinion: 'The Shot', 'Fullbright Scholars', 'Freedom of Speech', 'Isis', 'Being Christ-like', 'Epiphany', 'Setebos', 'The Tender Place', and 'Telos'. There is a beautiful line in...more
Yona
I feel like Plath has become a becon for many women writers, and Hughes is cast as the villain in her life, the man holding the knife. This collection finally gives readers access to his perspective. Through his lens, we see Plath's unpredictability, self-loathing, and the pressure she put on him: he was her lightning rod. In particular, I loved his verson of the Rabbit Catcher, as that is my favorite of Plath's poems, and his take on it brings the story to fascinating new light. I enjoyed the w...more
R.
Jun 05, 2013 R. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
Picked this up at the library after viewing the 2003 biopic Sylvia starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig as Literature Kingdom's second-best star-crossed angel-handed demon-scratched lovers. Very intriguing how again and again Hughes fetishizes Plath's apple-pie-eating, horseback-riding blonde-tall-muttmix Americaness as some sort of alluring alien Otherness: we in the New World might as well be stepping down from a hovering silvership when we (she, really, she, pretty Plutonian Plath) visit...more
David Schaafsma
I read this because I am teaching a postwar American fiction class this spring and we are reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (and some of her poetry) for the class. I hadn't wanted to read it so much, I hadn't wanted to revisit my anguished feelings about her life and poetry prior to her suicide, but I had given the enrolled students a chance to choose novels from this period, and some of the class wanted to read it, so I added it. Then, I recalled never having read this book by Ted Hughes, her...more
Sarah
I really liked about 80% of these poems. The other 20% just didn't interest me, perhaps because they were so specific that I couldn't grasp Hughes' intent? I loved the way in which Hughes used this book as sort of a good-bye to Sylvia. Though everybody has their theories about the reason behind her suicide, and no one can necessarily say Ted was a good husband, I have to admit that I found a good handful of the poems quite romantic. They were tragic, yes, but I do think, despite Ted's screwed up...more
Evelyn
I'm sure that many Plath fans will have read Birthday Letters and wished that they could have been a fly on the wall of Sylvia and Ted's marriage. This collection of reflective and emotionally charged poetry will be the closest any of us will come to gaining such a private insight. Although it's painfully clear in these works that Hughes loved Plath dearly, there's also an uneasy tone of sadness and judgement which made some of the poems especially difficult to read. Birthday Letters is a book t...more
Courtney Kellner
The freezing soil
Of the garden, as I clawed it.
All around me that midnight's
Giant clock of frost. And somewhere
Inside it, wanting to feel nothing,
A pulse of fever. Somewhere
Inside that numbness of the earth
Our future trying to happen.
I look up - as if to meet your voice
With all its urgent future
That has burst in on me. Then look back
At the book of the printed words.
You are ten years dead. It is only a story.
Alan
Dec 13, 2013 Alan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
just come across some notes on this from my 1998 notebook:
- a cruel, accurate view of Sylvia's suffering and breakdown. To Hughes signs are everything, he is as superstitious, locked into the stars as she was, rationalism has a flimsy hold here; numerical signs, names, stars, omens.


Christopher
I like Ted Hughes a lot. Parts of this book are very good, but this "personal" style doesn't really suit him, I don't think. Still, it's required reading for those with a serious interest in Hughes/Plath.
Amy
May 22, 2013 Amy rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
Ugh, what a chore this was to get through. I've read random Hughes poems before and have liked them, so I was surprised and disappointed that I did not like this collection--at all. Where to begin? Maybe with "You had a fever. You had a real ailment." This was the condescending tone that Hughes employed throughout many of his poems. I am sure he had a very complicated relationship with Plath, and being involved with someone with mental illness is very challenging (and I can imagine the anger I'd...more
Emespre
I didn't really read many of the poems in depth. Like any collection of poems (or short stories), some of them were really interesting while others were boring and it constantly changed to different ideas every few pages. We're studying Conflicting Perspectives in the Hughes-Plath relationship in class and we're studying about six of the poems in this book, so while I didn't have to read this collection it did help with creating a better understanding of the situation. My natural inclination is...more
Brian
An amazing collection full of pathos and tenderness. I'm glad I read it as part of a poetry class and at the same general time as Ariel, because I didn't know anything about Sylvia Plath's story before and these poems would be pretty pointless without at least a basic understanding of that relationship. That said, there is a lot of powerful writing, some fabulous insights and metaphors in here. Some of the highlights for me were:
Sam
The Tender Place
Karlsbad Caverns (I love the comparison of the b...more
Christopher Ingham
This is a stunning collection of poetry. The poems were written over the period of years since Sylvia Plath's death and published in 1998, just before Hughes himself died. All of the poems, with the exception of two which are for his children, are addressed to Sylvia Plath and trace their love and somewhat tempestuous relationship. Whilst all of the poems are beautifully constructed and moving in their examination of both Hughes and Plath, my two favourites are "Wuthering Heights", which could b...more
Jeremy
I love Hughes' work, but found the bulk of these poems so obviously personal that I had difficulty finding an 'in', as opposed to the bulk of Hughes' other work. There are, of course, great exceptions to this, and the one poem 'The Dogs are Eating Your Mother' is worth the entire book. I have never been a Sylvia&Ted'ophile, and couldn't care less for all the chiefly political responses to their personal relationship. There are few poets anymore in the way that Ted was---poets that are willin...more
Tanvi
Not being a Plath scholar or having much of a stake in the Hughes/Plath situation, I'm not going to comment on who was to blame for what, or why he wrote the poems. I'll just say that for me these poems rarely seemed to sing. Yes, they were full of symbolism, personal details, thoughts, feelings and experiences, but 'Red' was the only one to reach the jewelled, faceted brilliance of Plath's best work. Let me be clear here: I'm not a literature student, and I am certainly not casting aspersions o...more
Golnoosh
I am in love with this kind of poetry. Although it's got not much rhyme and rhythm, it's so full of sensation and intellect and creative images, that u don't feel the need for any kinda rhythm to move you.
Andrea Graham
Jan 28, 2010 Andrea Graham is currently reading it
Wading through the tumult that is Ted Hughes. With my dictionary.
Chris
Ted Hughes, author of The Iron Man (later to changed to “The Iron Giant”), has easily become one of my favorite poets of all time. He takes such a close, hard look at life, and speaks so very honestly and bravely. He does exactly what a poet ought to be doing: speaking passionately, imaginatively, complexly, uniquely, and relatably about life. He didn't relish being misunderstood and passed over by the masses, as some poets do. I can keep up with much of it, but not so easily that I get bored.

B...more
Diann Blakely
The sad, shocking news from England of the Poet Laureate's death will doubtless prompt fresh appraisals of Hughes's last book, published only six months prior to his demise. Cancer was a factor in Hughes's decision to release *Birthday Letters*, written over a period of 25 years and chronicling his failed marriage to Sylvia Plath.

While the young Hughes transformed his native fauna into mythic instruments of terror via bitten-off syntax and a doom-thundering tone, *Birthday Letters* documents the...more
Katie Dreyer
This collection is a 'must read' for anyone interested in Sylvia Plath. Ted Hughes, a poet who normally abhorred any intrusion into his private life, writes candidly about his tumultuous relationship with Sylvia Plath. Some of the poems are incredibly beautiful, others are painfully sad. Almost all of the poems are addressed directly to Sylvia and seem incredibly intimate as a result. In one of the most heart wrenching pieces, "Life After Death", Ted tells Sylvia how their son's eyes had "become...more
Maria Ch
I am not the biggest Ted Hughes fan, not in terms of his relationship with Sylvia Plath but in terms of his poetry. I don’t really like it or relate to it. However the nature of these poems is different and very alluring, addressed to a different audience, one that craved to read his version of the story of his marriage and divorce to Sylvia Plath, who Sylvia was beyond her writings, how it was living with her etc. I think this collection gives answers to these questions, it is definitely an acc...more
Grant
this is not a collection of poems to be read in long stretches in my opinion. in fact i found it difficult to read more than a few at a time. though i am a big fan of ted hughes, i was not as impressed with many of these poems. with the exception of two poems, all our addressed to sylvia plath. this hurts stylistically. it means all the poems are bound by a "you". "you did this", "you did that". it injects drama and importance that the poems do not always support. the tone and intensity are in h...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and the Story of Birthday Letters
  • The Colossus and Other Poems
  • North
  • Her Husband: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath - A Marriage
  • Collected Poems
  • The Gold Cell (Knopf Poetry Series)
  • The Wild Iris
  • Transformations
  • Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes' Doomed Love
  • The Collected Poems, 1956-1998
  • Collected Poems
  • Selected Poems
  • Diving Into the Wreck
996
Edward James Hughes was an English poet and children's writer, known as Ted Hughes. His most characteristic verse is without sentimentality, emphasizing the cunning and savagery of animal life in harsh, sometimes disjunctive lines.

The dialect of Hughes's native West Riding area of Yorkshire set the tone of his verse. At Pembroke College, Cambridge, he found folklore and anthropology of particular...more
More about Ted Hughes...
The Iron Man: A Children's Story in Five Nights Crow (Faber Library) Collected Poems Letters of Ted Hughes Selected Poems 1957-1994

Share This Book

“Nobody wanted your dance,
Nobody wanted your strange glitter, your floundering
Drowning life and your effort to save yourself,
Treading water, dancing the dark turmoil,
Looking for something to give.”
120 likes
“The dreamer in her
Had fallen in love with me and she did not know it.
That moment the dreamer in me
Fell in love with her and I knew it”
59 likes
More quotes…