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Dead letters

Ted Hughes's angry poems tell us almost nothing original about Sylvia Plath. But they do reflect his own self-image as calm, antique England to Plath's excitable American innocence

By James Wood   May 1998

Ted hughes’s poems are bullied almanacs in which the natural world is forced through a calendar of dark myth and astrological glower. The pike, the stillborn lamb, the aborted piglet, the thistles as vengeful as Vikings, the otter that existed “before wars or burials,” the jaguar “like a thick Aztec disemboweller”: these exist in a Manichean world in which “Life is trying to be life” but “Death also is trying to be life.” This notion of death is entirely unmetaphysical; it is a pre-moral struggle. This may be why Hughes’s poems appeal to adolescents, deep in their eclipses of reason.…

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