The nature of Ted Hughes's similes
In 1971, Ted Hughes wrote to his children that they might "earn some cash" by writing stories, by producing paintings or drawings, by making and memorising lists, and, finally, by coming up with similes: "that is, when you say so-and-so is like a so-and-so. For every good simile—threepence". The letter provides a charming insight into Hughes's sponsorship of Frieda and Nicholas's creativity. It also reveals something about the centrality of simile to Hughes's conception of poetic invention and expression. This chapter focuses on similes—especially nature similes—as a mode of poetic thinking in examples ranging across Hughes's career: from early poems to Birthday Letters and including the remarkable series of similes in "Skylarks". Partly as a counterbalance to compelling biographical approaches to his work, the chapter focuses closely on one poetic trope in order to stress Hughes's formal inventiveness. It suggests that Hughes's similes are active in the production of meaning but are also engaged in a poetic examination of how meaning is made. In the process, the chapter argues that Hughes's formal practice provides a different way of thinking about the Romantic idea of "organic form". The particularity of Hughes's organicism—including his deployment of similes—frequently presents openness and rupture in place of the closed perfection of well-wrought urns. The curiously independent life of Hughes's similes demands that we focus not only on nature in the poems but also on the nature of poetry itself.
Castell, J. (2018)., The nature of Ted Hughes's similes, in N. Roberts, M. Wormald & T. Gifford (eds.), Ted Hughes, nature and culture, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 87-106.
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