He emerged, all of a sudden, in 1957: the most explosive new poetic talent of the English post-war era. Poetry specialised, at that moment, in the wry chronicling of the everyday. The poetry of Yorkshire-born Ted Hughes, first published in a book called "The Hawk in the Rain" when he was 27, was unlike anything written by his immediate predecessors. Driven by an almost Jacobean rhetoric, it had a visionary fervour. Its most eye-catching characteristic was Hughes’s ability to get beneath the skins of animals: foxes, otters, pigs. These animals were the real thing all right, but they were also armorial devices-symbols of the countryside and lifeblood of the earth in which they were rooted. It gave his work a raw, primal stink.
It was not only England that thought so either. Hughes’s book was also published in America, where it won the Galbraith prize, a major literary award. But then, in 1963, Sylvia Plath, a young American poet whom he had first met at Cambridge University in 1956, and who became his wife in the summer of that year, committed suicide. Hughes was vilified for long after that, especially by feminists in America. In 1998, the year he died, Hughes broke his own self-imposed public silence about their relationship in a book of loose-weave poems called "Birthday Letters".In this new and exhilarating collection of real letters, Hughes returns to the issue of his first wife’s death, which he calls his "big and unmanageable event". He felt his talent muffled by the perpetual eavesdropping upon his every move. Not until he decided to publish his own account of their relationship did the burden begin to lighten.