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2011 HSC Paper 2 Section III Module C

Explore how the poetry of Ted Hughes and ONE other related text of your
own choosing represent conflicting perspectives in unique and evocative
Prescribed text: Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes, 1998 (Poetry)
Related text: Autumn Laing by Alex Miller, 2010 (Novel)
Opening general
sentence about
controversy which
links the two texts
with the idea of
perspectives and
then is narrowed
to the topics of
creativity and

A logical
connection is
made between the
context of the
poems, which is
followed by an
overview about
perspectives in
the poems, and
then a link to the
thesis about

Writers and artists attract controversy. In breaking

barriers they develop new creative forms that
challenge accepted perceptions and lead to conflicting
perspectives about their work. But often the divided
opinions are not just about the act of creativity but
about the relationships of people around them. Divided
opinion around fraught relationships is what,
paradoxically, connects British poet, Ted Hughes, with
Australian artist, Sidney Nolan. Ted Hughes collected
poems in Birthday Letters are addressed to his wife,
Sylvia Plath, and underpinning them there is a sense
of constant conflict as he implicitly attacks her
perspective. In his novel, Autumn Laing, Alex Miller
creates a new story that uses the relationship of
Sidney Nolan (Pat Donlon) with Sunday Reed (Autumn
Laing), to explore conflicting views of art and
relationships. These two texts use different forms but
they both represent conflicting perspectives in unique
and evocative ways through careful choices of
The poems in Birthday Letters are memories of events
that took place during the turbulent relationship of Ted
Hughes with poet Sylvia Plath and as such cannot be
divorced from their context. On the surface they are a
search for truth, asking questions, thoughtfully
considering and weighing up events to come to an
understanding. But, underlying this rationality, lies a
clear personal agenda, to reclaim Hughes reputation
from the criticism he faced after his relationship from
Plath ended with her suicide. However, even without
this knowledge, the poems are defensively responding
to perspectives. The thing that links all the poems
apart from the sorting through memories is the
passion of the relationship moving from romantic to
violent moments, from critical to wondrous.

Uncertainty is
explored through
the technique of
Techniques are
used to drive the
discussion on the
poems, showing
how language
choices influence

The idea of
focusing on a
technique in this
case, it is looking
at modals and

Long quotations
should be
indented and do
not need to have
quotations marks

A repeated feature of all the poems is uncertainty

which is conveyed through such techniques as the use
of questions. Fulbright scholars opens with a question
on place (Where was it, in the Strand?) and moves
on to questions on people (Were you among them?)
and then ends with question on actions (Was it then I
bought a peach?). These questions serve to guide the
reader through the process of recovering memory.
Hughes examines the photo closely but not too
minutely. He anticipates attacks on his version of the
story when he asserts I remember that thought but
at the same time he admits that he does not remember
her (Not your face).
Uncertainty takes over in the repeated use of the
modal maybe, contrasted with the detail of the
reference to her appearance long hair, loose waves /
Your Veronica Lake bang. This suggestion of
attraction and moment of loving is quickly dispelled by
the negative phrase, Not what it hid, which
immediately alerts the reader to a darker side. The
elusiveness of the memory is captured in his
contradictory admission: Then I forgot. Yet I
remember/The picture: the Fulbright scholars. The
first person pronoun is set against the second person
throughout the poem reflecting the subsequent
opposition of Hughes and Plath. In the last few lines
the poem moves away from the issue of unreliable and
oppositional memories stimulated by the photo to the
certainty of what he was doing at the time, walking
sore-footed, under hot sun, hot pavements, when he
bought a peach from Charing Cross Station. It is in this
section that the poem changes in tone from conflictual
to sentimental and even romantic. The purchase of the
peach can be seen as a metaphor for the beginning of
their relationship which came at a time when he was
not comfortable with himself:
the first peach I ever tasted.
I could hardly believe how delicious.
At twenty-five I was dumbfounded afresh
by my ignorance of the simplest things.
These last few lines demonstrate the power of the
poem and of poetry to convey a point of view. The
pleasure of this memory of something new and fresh
becomes associated with Plath, despite the uncertainty
of how they first met. All the contradictions that
characterise the first part of the poem are lost in the

These paragraphs may focus on a technique but the techniques are used to
support and argument about uncertainty. Just explaining techniques without is
not a good way to discuss poems as it can lead to explanation of isolated lines
without analysis or synthesis of ideas

certainty of the experience. It is a subtle but pointed

comment that illustrates different perspectives in the
poem: from factual account of a newspaper photo to a
sensual account of the experience of eating a peach,
imbued with sexual connotations.
The word same
connects to last
The opening is
linked to

evidence is given
to continue the
argument of the
The paragraph
ends with as
strong analysis of
the purpose of
perspectives that
related directly to
the module and
the questions

The word epoch

in the past
paragraph moves
on to link with
stages in life
The discussion
focuses on the
effect of the
pronoun to
convey different

The same passion is a feature of the encounter of

Autumn Laing with Pat Donlon in the novel Autumn
Laing. The novel opens, like Hughes poem, looking
back. They are all dead, and I am old and skeletongaunt. Autumn Laing remembers the place in the
shadows of the old coach house Blue smoke in the
sunblades cutting the interior dark into shapes in
imitation of a painter we once admired. This visually
intense opening reinforces that this is a novel about a
painter and about painting; it also reminds us that
perspectives on painters change as time moves on.
Autumn Laings strong views on artists are not always
in agreement with the views of others and she
acknowledges this and her own changing perspective
as she revisits the past and her memories. She finds a
painting by Edith, Pats first wife. Autumns husband,
Arthur Laing, had admired it with musical metaphors
as being lovely. A piece of music. A little nocturne
but it is only after the passage of time that Autumn
realises its merit. I had never really looked at her
painting before I was so one-eyed in my belief in the
rightness of modernisms cause that any artist who
worked in the conservative tradition as Edith did was
automatically excluded from my serious attention.
Autumns revelation reveals that perspective is about
reinforcing your own beliefs and values, defensively
and selectively. Perspectives are not just a personal
response: they are philosophical ways of being that are
self-preserving, excluding all other views. They are
also contextualised, part of different epochs and stages
in ones life.
It is in visiting different stages and places in his life
that Hughes continues his exploration of the
relationship with Plath. The poem provocatively titled
Your Paris immediately implies a conflicting
perspective in the second person possessive pronoun.
Hughes sets up his and Plaths view of Paris as
oppositions. He presents himself positively as sensitive
to the role of Paris in the then recent violence of World
War II, which he reads in each bullet scar in the Quai
stonework. Paris becomes their own battleground
where their individual perspectives indicate a deeper
conflict. Plath, in contrast to Hughes, is insensitive
and can only see the Impressionist paintings, the
writers who lived in Paris, Hemingway, Fitzgerald,
Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein. His choice of writers

critically emphasizes Plaths narrow world-view,

centred on America and indicated in the opening of the
poem: Your Paris, I thought, was American. The
inclusion of I thought in many ways tempers the
exclusive effect of the statement but the criticism is
pervasive. He implies that her view may be literary
and artistic but it lacks sympathy for the people of
Paris. I kept my Paris from you.
This paragraph
continues the
ideas developed
in the previous
paragraph but
focusing this time
on the metaphors
to explore

Sums up the ideas

conveyed by the
evidence in the

There is clear animosity in this poem but Hughes

perseveres in presenting himself as the one with
insight, staring at the stricken exposure of
pavement. His negative attitude to Plath is further
developed in the metaphors of her expressions as she
faces Paris (your ecstacies ricocheted, a shatter of
exclamations, your lingo / Always like an emergency
burn-off) suggesting that her ignorance of the past
was as violent as the war that had marked so much of
Paris. All of Hughes senses are heightened: he sees
the controversial relationships formed in the Nazi
period with SS mannequins; he tastes the coffee
still bitter / As acorns; he smells the stink of fear
still hanging in the wardrobes all signs of Paris as a
post-war utility survivor. In contrast, the sustained
metaphor of the artist persists in reference to Plath
with her immaculate palette. Despite these very
antagonistic views of Plath resented in anger, the
poem changes in tone as it progresses. Hughes
becomes a dog who seeks out the underground, the
hide-out /That chamber where Plath waited for her
stone god. From here there is a classical allusion to
the labyrinth, a motif that pervades many of the
poems, implying the difficulty of coming near the
centre of Plath but also the fear of her father, the
minotaur. Suddenly we see a very different
perspective of Plath, as Hughes excuses her gushy
burblings as part of her pain and torment seen in
her flayed skin. As her dog he is loyal and happy
to protect.
The poem is originally an attack, setting up Hughes
perspective as superior to Plaths, but we see Hughes
turn the poem around to acknowledge the inner pain of
Plath. He justifies the attack on Plath by placing blame
for her psychological torment on her father, the stone
god, the minotaur. Hughes has used strong
oppositional imagery to track the breakdown of a
relationship in a way that does not allow us to hear the
other voice. That he is responding to a conflicting
perspective about his relationship to Plath is clear in
the defensive language used, but by silencing her voice
and only offering his voice, we do not fully comprehend
the whole argument. The meaning is further veiled in
the poetic form, which favours a perspective by subtle

and creative language selection. In the two poems

Fulbright Scholars and Your Paris, there is also a
clear structure which foregrounds the negative view of
Plath and offers excuses near the end. In this way,
Hughes further controls the voice we hear.
This paragraph on
the related text
moves through
the different ways
operates in the
text: firstly
through the point
of view of the
narrator, then the
readers own
and finally
through the
author who makes
the critical
decisions about
which characters
point of view to

Conclusion links
the author, the
text and
perspective and
ends with a
comment about
the way
mediate reality

Just like Hughes, Autumn Laing is dealing with the

past and is controlling the perspective. She has been
hounded by a biographer who wants her life story. Let
her struggle for her own truths, she says, believing
our truths are written in our hearts and are not a
currency of exchange. This perspective is seen in the
way she reacts to seeing Edith, the ex-wife of her lover
Pat. A chance encounter has awakened a search for
truth but what she finds is that expectations about
perspectives are not always accurate. Even in her own
past, her Uncle Matthews relationship with her as a
young girl from the age of eleven is presented as
positive and a source of love and yet as readers we can
understand this differently as exploitation of a child.
Her young adult years after her uncles death are
confused and immoral, indicating that his effect on her
was not positive. Presenting the text from one point of
view can remove dissenting voices but Miller cleverly
allows us space to read our own interpretation. He
moves from the first person perspective to third person
but even this is mediated by Autumn who is writing the
biography and presents herself as she wants to be
seen. Miller does, however, give space for different
views by subtly inserting a letter from Pat, the opinions
of others as reported by Autumn and the final word
from the biographer who claims that Autumn has had
to distort my identity to serve her purposes. We
have to decide which perspective is valid.
Hughes writes about a reality, about his wife, but is in
fact the central character in his own grand narrative
with a meandering plot that wanders through events in
his married life from the perspective of time and in
reaction to public criticism. As a novelist, Millers book
takes real people and a relationship that was publicly
criticized but crafts his own story. His narrator,
Autumn, warns the reader that realism is that most
difficult of styles, filled as it is with intricacy and
contradiction. It is therefore through understanding
different perspectives, especially conflicting
perspectives, that we come to a realisation that truth is
a mediated reality, a representation that is controlled
by the person speaking.