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Birthday Letters

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,630 Ratings  ·  253 Reviews
Formerly Poet Laureate to Queen Elizabeth II, the late Ted Hughes (1930-98) is recognized as one of the few contemporary poets whose work has 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.

The poems in Birthday Letters are addressed (with just two exce
Paperback, 198 pages
Published March 30th 1999 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 10th 1998)
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Huda Yahya
Jan 05, 2016 Huda Yahya rated it did not like it
Shelves: poetry, shit

لو أن هيوز أظهر ندمه
لو أنه ترك هذا العالم معترفا بذنبه
لو أنه أحب سيلفيا حقا
هل ستعود
هل سينتهي عذابها..؟؟

لما نحن القراء مهووسين بقصة سيلفيا مع تيد
ماذا سيعود بالنفع علينا إن ظللنا نتهمه حيا وميتا

سؤال وجيه

والإجابة ببساطة لأن سيلفيا لم تمت
لأنها تسكن كل من قرأها وتنبض بداخله
لأن أنينها لا نزال نسمعه بوضوح مع كل حرف جديد نقرؤه
ومع كل إعادة قراءة لأبياتها أو ما نثرته على الورق

لأن تيد قتلها
ولم يعتذر..


لا أكره تيد
أو على الأقل كنت أحاول ألا أفعل
ولكن بعد قراءة هذا الديوان
ما الذي علي
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.
Mar 31, 2010 Jamie rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, read-in-2010
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
Sep 27, 2012 Jonathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: university literature students, poetry lovers, anyone interested in Sylvia Plath
Recommended to Jonathan by: university course
Shelves: university, poetry
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 ...more
Jul 26, 2016 James rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
This is poetry like soppy paper towels left under a dripping sink, growing slightly rancid but not even having the right temperature for proper spoilage.

I have tried reading this collection all the way through a couple times. Perhaps this will be my last attempt. I admire Hughes so much, but he should never have published these scraps of confessional mush.

This poetry is like Bukowski poetry but without the grit and concentrated language - something that cries out for imitation because it echoes
Alexis Hall
I'm not actually a huge fan of Ted Hughes as a writer.

As a human being--whose life and misdeeds are basically publicly property--I have no comment.

I like this, I'm almost afraid to say, because it is ugly. Self-justifying and painful and tender and unpleasant. An raw mixture of unspeakable things.
Tom Bensley
Sep 19, 2011 Tom Bensley rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 12, 2010 Zoë rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
"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
Jun 05, 2013 R. rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 09, 2013 Laura rated it it was amazing
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
James Murphy
Jan 29, 2016 James Murphy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a reread. I've read a lot of Hughes in the 10 years since I first read it, his poetic memoir of his and Plath's life together. Enjoyed it more, I think, saw more in it, being 10 years improved as a reader. Some of these poems are beautiful. Some are powerful. One or two are elegant. Many of them see their relationship in cosmic terms, a treatment I like a lot. Toward the end they spiral into the surreal as if they follow the arc of her madness. Like everyone else I was gobsmacked by Ari ...more
Aug 15, 2015 Ygraine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
maybe one day i will revisit these poems with a more comprehensive biographical knowledge. maybe one day i will join the mythological dots to form a constellation of further meaning that i cannot, at this moment, with my fragmented and disjointed understanding fully discern. maybe one day i will approach these poems as things to be understood, rather than experienced. but not this time, my first time reading them. i have gathered only impressions, brief glimpses of memory, resonating with guilt ...more
Courtney Kellner
Mar 23, 2012 Courtney Kellner rated it really liked it
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.
K Gomez
Jun 13, 2013 K Gomez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
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
Mar 11, 2012 Yona rated it really liked it
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
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
May 22, 2013 Amy rated it it was ok
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
Jul 25, 2013 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 11, 2014 Pink rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, england
I wanted to hate this.

I've read enough by Sylvia Plath to know that I love her.

I've read enough about her relationship with Ted Hughes to know that I hate him.

What bullshit is that?

Of course I know nothing about either of them.

I know what's been written of their marriage, it's breakdown and the next chapter of suicides in Ted's life.

That tells me nothing.

What I read in this collection was rawness of love and loss. His side of their relationship.

Was it any truer than the accusations that f
Michael Ransom
Jan 09, 2015 Michael Ransom rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Ted Hughes can do no wrong, poetically speaking, in my mind. However I only gave 4 stars instead of the 5 I usually give to all his works, because I feel these poems don't quite match up to the lyrical intensity of his wildlife focused poems of either his youth (Lupercal, Crow) or his older, wiser age (Wolfwatching). These poems are remembrances of his former life (many if not all with S Plath) and as such they can't really steer clear of sentimentality because that's the whole point. Nonetheles ...more
Aug 21, 2016 Dhiyanah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
"I was a whole myth too late to replace you." - A Picture of Otto

I have to disagree with those who think this collection can stand without its biographical aspect -- these poems, especially as a collection, need Plath (at least some knowledge of her life, art, and death) or else they sink deeper into the shadows of their specially-tailored world.

Hughes has a knack for beautiful observations and so far this is what I like most in his works. There are fragments, phrases, that I cherish and a few f
Aug 23, 2011 Evelyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011, poetry
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
Karlo Mikhail
Aug 28, 2014 Karlo Mikhail rated it did not like it
Shelves: poetry
'Drawing calmed you. Your poker infernal pen / Was like a branding iron. Objects / Suffered into their new presence, tortured / Into final position.' I like two or three of the more than eighty poems here. But in general I find Ted Hughes an abominable figure and this aestheticized denigration of Sylvia Plath distasteful. For instance: 'What I remember / Is thinking: She'll do something crazy. And I ripped / the door open and jumped in beside you.' Most unfortunate is the fact that Plath can no ...more
Seth Kupchick
Mar 22, 2016 Seth Kupchick rated it it was amazing
I was a huge fan of Sylvia Plath before I ever read Ted Hughes, but I had read all about him, and their insane marriage, that ended in Plath's suicide. I knew he was the 'poet' and she was the apprentice at the beginning, and he had more early success than Plath, but that sounds pretty bloated considering she was a legend by her early '30's! I don't know why I never read Ted Hughes but he was more of an English phenomenon, and Plath was a New Englander, who'd moved back to England, almost like a ...more
Dec 13, 2013 Alan rated it really liked it
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.

May 18, 2008 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
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.
Aug 19, 2014 Rachel rated it liked it
I know a lot about Plath. Like many women, I discovered her as a teenager. "The Bell Jar" was on a required summer reading list for my high school, and I loved it at the time. I started reading her poetry, then her unabridged journals, then the published collection of her letters to her mother, the collection of essays and short fiction Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Short Stories, Prose and Diary Excerpts, then all the biographies I could find. Even the verse fictionalization of her life ...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
Aug 25, 2012 Emespre rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
May 31, 2012 Brian rated it really liked it
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:
The Tender Place
Karlsbad Caverns (I love the comparison of the b
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All About Books: Week 4 - (1998) Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes 17 20 Mar 28, 2016 07:20AM  
  • Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and the Story of Birthday Letters
  • Ariel: The Restored Edition
  • North
  • Her Husband: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath - A Marriage
  • Transformations
  • The Wild Iris
  • Collected Poems
  • Collected Poems
  • Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes' Doomed Love
  • Satan Says (Pitt Poetry Series)
  • Diving Into the Wreck
  • Collected Poems, 1948-1984
  • The End of Beauty
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 about Ted Hughes...

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“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.”
“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”
More quotes…