Notes and Queries
© Ann Skea.

What is the difference between a raven and a writing desk?” asked the Hatter.
Come, we shall have some fun now!” thought Alice. “I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles – I believe I can guess that,” she added aloud.
(From Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll).

On this page you will find links to notes and answers to questions about Ted Hughes’ work.

Questions are listed alongside the subject or the title of the book in which the poem or work first appeared.
If you are using Ted Hughes: Collected Poems, the original book title is at the foot of the left-hand page.

Click on the Title to get to the answers and notes.

Answers are based on my own knowledge and my own interpretation of Hughes’ work. Other interpretations are possible.

The titles of poems and other works mentioned in the queries are highlighted in green.

Abbreviations used: THCP = Ted Hughes: Collected Poems; WP = Ted Hughes: Winter Pollen ( Ed. Scammell, Faber, 1994); LTH = Letters of Ted Hughes, (Ed. Reid, Faber, 2006.


Questions. Click on the title of that section to see more.


“Why can’t I find any of Ted Hughes’s poems on the internet?”

“I want to reproduce one of Ted Hughes’s poems to display with my artwork, do I need permission?”.

“I am trying to obtain theatrical rights to produce Spring Awakening. Who currently owns the rights to the Ted Hughes translation?”

“Does copyright apply to these ‘Notes and Queries’ pages?”


“When the subject is somebody else, the accounts & reports & interpretations sound plausible. When it’s yourself you realize what the creative demon is… the world of biography is a world of lies. Perverse lies, too, mainly”. (Ted Hughes, in a letter to Keith Sagar. 10. June, 1988).

"Where can I find out more about Ted Hughes’s life? Is there a biography?”

“Where might I find photographs of Ted Hughes for use in my book?”

“What time of day were Hughes and Plath married? As an astrologer, I would like to cast the chart for their wedding to see if it sheds light on their marriage”.

“What is the origin of the quotation which Ted Hughes chose for the headstone on Syvia Plath’s grave?”

‘A Pink Wool Knitted Dress’ (THCP 1064). Notes.

British Library Ted Hughes Archive: Notes on Add Ms 88918/129/2: (25 Sept. 2014)

These notes outline the contents of this archive, including a précis of a number of diary–like pages, and details of their links to published work by both Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Hughes’ page of notes on the events of the days immediately prior to Plath’s death is included.

Reading and understanding a Ted Hughes poem.

“Finally poems belong to the reader – just as houses belong to those who live in them not to the builder” (Ted Hughes, in a letter to Keith Sagar. THL 23 May 1974).

“What is the meaning of the flander, waif and idiot images in Hughes’ poems; some of the contents are difficult to understand. What does he really want to express?”

“I am about to teach one of Ted Hughes’ poems to my class but other teachers have told me that my interpretation of the poem is wrong.”

“I do not have a background in English literature but have been asked to write an essay about the images of nature present in Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Relic’ (THCP 78 ). Can you suggest how I should approach this?”

“I have been asked to discuss the metre and rhythms of Ted Hughes’s poem ‘Wind’ (THCP 36). How do I do this?”

The Environment and Society
Hughes involvement with ecology – poems, essays, letters, The Sacred Earth Drama Trust, Your Environment magazine.

“I am told that there is social commentary and ecological activism ‘hidden’ in Ted Hughes’s poems and I have to take part in a seminar discussing this. I have looked everywhere for information about this, can you help?.”

Ted Hughes and Religion

I am interested Ted Hughes’ religious background and in his use of religion and religious imagery in his poems, especially as inspiration for such poems as ‘Theology’

NOTE on the British Library Ted Hughes Archive: Add. Ms 88918/9/9 in which Hughes discusses his relationship with the divinity.

Ted Hughes and History

My project is to examine the influence of history in the work of Ted Hughes; and how this might influence us.

Would you consider Cabbala as ‘history which influenced Hughes’ poems’?

Ted Hughes’ Papers in the British Library

Roy Davids (archivist, collector, and friend of Ted and Carol Hughes) worked with these papers for six months before they were sold to the British Library. This essay contains his informed and valuable reflections on the papers and their contents.

Ted Hughes and the Arvon Foundation

In 1968 poet, John Moat, approached Hughes with the idea of a scheme in which would-be writers could work with established writers in a secluded place for five days, learning and creating. Hughes was intially sceptical but once John Moat and fellow poet, John Fairfax, implemented their plan he became a strong supporter both practically and financially.

The Hawk in the Rain (1957)

“Ted has said that ‘song’ (THCP 24) was his first ‘real’ poem, written when he was 18 or 19. Is this true?”

“I have heard that Ted Hughes once worked at the London Zoo and that the poem ‘the Jaguar’ (THCP 19) was written there. What sort of work did he do?”

‘the Thought Fox’ (THCP 21). Notes.

Lupercal (1960)

“Almost all the poems in Lupercal were written as invocations to writing. My main consciousness in those days was that it was impossible to write. So these invocations were just attempts to crack the apparent impossibility of producing anything”. Ted Hughes in an interview with Ekbert Faas (1977). Faas, The Unaccommodated Universe, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Barbara, 1980. p.209.

“I am a French student and I have to translate the poem ‘thrushes’(THCP 82). What is the meaning of ‘attent’ in “attent sleek thrushes”, and ‘hosanna’ in “Orgy and hosanna”?”.

“I need to trace the inner structure and coherence of Lupercal. In your essay ‘Regeneration in Remains of Elmet’ you say that Lupercal begins and ends with poems which symbolically and ritually evoke the creative energies. Could you make this statement clearer? How does the double meaning of the Lupercalia as both fertility and purification rite relate to this statement?”

‘The Perfect Forms’ (THCP 82). “Concerning your interpretation of this poem in your book (Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest), what does the comparison between Buddha and Priapus mean in your opinion? What is the meaning of Socrates being born under Pisces?”

‘Sunstroke’ (THCP 96). “What is the meaning of ‘Sunstroke’ with its hallucinatory quality?”

‘Crag Jack’s Apostasy’ (THCP 84). ‘Familiar’(THCP 691) “Who was Crag Jack?”

‘Nicholas Ferrer’ (THCP 69-70.) “Who was Nicholas Ferrer? What is the meaning of ‘In the Atlantic holes tire-’?”.

“To what does ‘some vigorous souls// That had Englished for Elizabeth’ refer and what does ‘Englished’ mean?”

“What does ‘crabbed’ mean in “the tree that crabbed// In Cromwell’s belly as it bloomed in Rome” ? What does Rome have to do with the context and what is the meaning of ‘as’ here?”

‘the Retired Colonel’ (THCP 77). Notes.

‘Hawk Roosting’ (THCP 68). Notes.

Wodwo (1967)

“Author’s Note: The stories and the play in this book may be read as notes, appendix and unversified episodes in the events behind the poems, or as chapters of a single adventure to which the poems are commentary and amplification. Either way, the verse and the prose are intended to be read together, as parts of a single work”.

“I have difficulty understanding ‘the Rain Horse’ (Wodwo pp.45-55; also published in Difficulties of a Bridegroom (1995)). What do you suggest?”

‘Karma’ (THCP 167), refers to a number of historical events which I cannot make out. In particular, the lines concerning Victoria and the Chou emperors. Can you help? And how about the millions of Zion? And the Irish?”

“I do not understand Ted’s idea that all the pieces of Wodwo were designed to stand together as part of a single work. What am I missing?”

“I am looking for some help with a deconstructive and feminist analysis of the poem ‘theology’ (THCP 161). It would be very helpful if you could point me in the right direction. I am also looking for the date of this poem as I have been unable to trace it”.

“Is ‘Second Glance at a Jaguar’ (THCP 151) related to the poem ‘The Jaguar’ (THCP 19) in any ways?”

‘Out’ (THCP 165) and ‘Last of the 1st/5th Lancashire Fusiliers’ (THCP 950). Notes.

The Iron Man (1968)

“Do I need permission to reproduce the drawing of The Iron Man which is on your web page?”

“Where might I find things to supplement lessons on The Iron Man for primary school children. I would like to bring the story to life so that they will never forget it?”

“I have to discuss the symbolism, the literary content and the author’s purpose in The Iron Man. Can you suggest some background reading?”

“Why did Ted Hughes choose the name ‘Hogarth’ for the little boy in The Iron Man?”

The Iron Man Musical: Notes

Orghast (1971)

“Where can I find a copy of this work?”

Crow (1972)

“In Crow, my notion was, again to re-simplify my language but simultaneously to break it out of dependence on a sacred object for subject – to make it narrative and in a way lyrical-dramatic” (Ted Hughes, in a letter to Anne-Lorraine Bujon. LTH. 16 Dec. 1992.

“I have read that Ted felt that he never finished Crow and that the real intention of the work was not fully realized. It appears that there are many limited editions of Crow poems and I understand that there are numerous drafts of unfinished or abandoned Crow poems in the Emory University Ted Hughes Archive in Atlanta, U.S.A. Do you think that these will ever be collected for publication?”.

“I have chosen to write an essay about ‘Crow’s Theology’ (THCP 227). I was wondering if you could tell me if Ted Hughes was an atheist, and is Crow meant to be an amalgam of man and nature, or is it a guise for Hughes to hide behind as he vents his anger on God?”.

“I have a question concerning Ted Hughes poem ‘Lovesong’ (THCP 255). Did he write it in as the answer Sylvia Plath’s unpublished poem, ‘Mad Girl´s Lovesong’?”.

‘Crow Goes Hunting’ (THCP 236). Notes.

‘Crow Alights’ (THCP 220). Notes.

‘Crow’s Elephant Totem Song’ (THCP 238). Notes.

Gaudete (1977)

Gaudete. Notes

Critics have argued that the body, and in particular the female body, suffers in the central narrative of Gaudete.  Did Hughes want to expose the controlling power of the patriarchal society over female consciousness?

And what does Lumb represent?

Cave Birds: An Alchemical Cave Drama (1978)

A detailed discussion of all the poems in Cave Birds, together with their relationship to the Alchemical process, can be read in Ann Skea, Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest (e-book)

“ Why is ‘The guide’ in the Scolar Press edition of Cave Birds called ‘A Scarecrow Swift’? How is this related to the alchemical pocess and the symbol of the cross which represents the four elements – air, earth, fire and water and the four qualities – hot, dry, wet and cold? Is it a representation of the purification of the soul? ” .

Moortown (1979)
Remains of Elmet (1979)
Elmet (1994)

“Where is Moortown Farm, and do Elmet and Heptonstall still exist?”

“Was Ted thinking of Handel’s Messiah as he wrote ‘the Word that Space Breathes’?”

‘two’ (THCP 480)and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ (THCP 761). Notes.

Historical background information about John Wesley and the Calder Valley. ‘For Billy Holt’ (THCP 483). Note.

'Churn-Milk Joan'. Notes”

River (1983)

The Origin and Publication of River. Notes.

“I am a Geography teacher who has for many years taught pupils about rivers. I plan to introduce some of Ted Hughes’ River but some of the ideas and imagery may be difficult for the age range (Year 7. 11 years old). The two poems I have in mind are ‘The Kingfisher’ (THCP 662) and ‘River’ (THCP 664), and I am very interested in the cycle or hydrological cycle implied within ‘River’. I understand most of the references with the exception of:
Through him, God / Marries a pit /Of fishy mire
…Broken by the world. / …In dumbness uttering spirit brightness / …Scattered… / After swallowing death and the pit.
I would be grateful for some advice or simple analysis. I notice that in both poems he refers to a pit. I am not sure if that is a connection or not. ”

“Who are the “we” in the poem ‘that Morning’ (THCP 209)? Do the salmon represent knowledge and the river imagination?.”

“Why are the bears in ‘that Morning’ called “creatures of light”, do they have any mythological associations?”

Flowers and Insects (1986)

“Who was Norman Nicholson to whom the poem ‘tern: for Norman Nicholson’ (THCP 720) is dedicated?”

Wolfwatching (1989)

“Who is Lord Savile in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’? (THCP 761)”

Birthday Letters (1998)

Capriccio (Limited Edition 1990)

Howls and Whispers (Limited Edition 1998)

“The women characters in Birthday Letters, Howls & Whispers and Capriccio are unnamed but are referred to as “you”, “she” or “her”. Is Hughes’ concealment of identity intended to protect his privacy? What was his intention?”

“Can you identify ‘Lyonesse’? It appears in Birthday Letters and in Plath’s work, too, I think”.

“One thing puzzles me about Hughes’ use of the Sephiroth as a structure in Birthday Letters, Howls & Whispers and Capriccio. In The Sufis Idries Shah points out, “The alteration of basic Cabbalism (from eight elements to ten) deprived the Western development of the system of a great deal of its meaning and usefulness. Hebrew and Christian Cabbala later than the 12th century is therefore only of partial meaning. This includes all aspects of the Cabbala of ten elements as distinct from the ‘Eight Cabbala’
“Given that Hughes seems to have recognized Shah as an authority, why do you think he chose to ignore Shah’s information when he structured the Birthday Letters using the ten elements? And why do you think he chose not to refer to it (Shah’s information) when writing about the Kabbalah’s possible influence in Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being?”

‘Caryatids (2)’ (THCP 1046). Notes.

‘You Hated Spain’ (THCP1068). Notes.

‘A Pink Wool Knitted Dress’ (THCP1064-5). Notes.

Howls and Whispers (Limited Edition 1998)

‘Paris 1954’ (THCP 1173-4). “the first claret he ever tasted”: Olwyn Hughes’ comments.

‘the Offers’(THCP 1181-3). “And suddenly you were sitting in your own home./… Like/ A hallucination”: Olwyn Hughes’s identification of the second woman.

Alcestis (1999)

“I will be acting in a production of Alcestis, can you tell me anything about Ted Hughes’ translation/adaptation?”.


“In ‘Lobby From Under the Carpet’, (THCP 837) what is the meaning of “Ticks the tittering tock”? What is the meaning of “And he goes off half-cock”? And who are “Professor Skakkebaek” and “The Premier”?”

‘Anniversary’ (THCP 854). Notes.


“In 1961, Ted wrote: ‘I’m just finishing a play---a real play. No resemblance to that other at all. 8 people wake up on a desert island without memory---or with only floating fragments of memory’. Can you identify this play?”

“In a letter to Richard Murphy (LTH 9 March 1965) , Ted wrote: ‘And on writing radio plays. I’ve brought one long work out of it---a drama in about 7 scenes, highly poetical & theatrical, which has been amusing to compose & which may have hidden virtues. Most of its visible qualities are vices. It’s a sort of Alchemical Marriage, I now realise, though it began as a grand demolishing of in-laws”. Can you identify this play?”.

“Does a manuscript for The House of Taurus exist?”

The House of Aries’ . Notes.

Essays and Prose

“I have to write about Ted Hughes as an essayist but I cannot find material/criticism on this. Can you help?”

Influences: Jung, Graves, Yeats, Oriental philosophy

“Do you know if Ted Hughes was familiar with the work of Jung?”

“You wrote about myth and religion in the work of Ted Hughes, Robert Graves and William Butler Yeats. In what ways did Graves and Yeats influence Ted Hughes?”

“Ted Hughes, it seems, was absolutely convinced about Graves’ theories about poetry. Does that mean he also believed (in the religious sense of the word) in the White Goddess? Also, do the archetypes you have mentioned in connection with Graves compare at all with Jung’s?”

“Many critics have said that Ted Hughes was influenced by oriental philosophy. I want to know whether he was influenced by the Upanishads specifically. Has he ever acknowledged his indebtedness to the Upanishads?”

Cabbala, Mysticism, Shamanism, Sufism, Magic.

“Do you know when Ted Hughes first became interested in Cabbala?”

“You comment in your book (Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest) about the power of mythology in Ted Hughes’ work. Can you suggest other works on mysticism, myth and religion which would help when approaching Hughes’ work?”

“Do you know of any other theories that relate writing and magic/mysticsm together in a scholarly and critically accepted fashion?”

Shamanism and Cabbala: Notes.

Sufism: Notes

Scholars, Post-graduate Students, Researchers


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