‘Anniversary’ by Ted Hughes belongs to “New Selected Poems 1957-1994, Uncollected”. Hughes wrote this poem commemorating the death anniversary of his mother. His mother, Edith Farrar Hughes died on 13 May 1969. In this poem, the poet visualizes the angelic beauty of his mother’s soul. In the poet’s imagination, she is with her sister, Miriam who is also dead. Her sister died when she was only 18. However, through this poem, the poet glorifies his mother and recollects how she cared about him.
‘Anniversary’ by Ted Hughes is a commemorative poem that glorifies the spirit of the poet’s mother. Her soul has an angelic outlook in the poet’s imagination. The poet revisits the thoughts of his mother after seeing the torn diary page marked 13 May. On it, his brother had written, “Ma died today”. But, for the poet, she is still alive, in his poetic imagination, brimming with heavenly light. There is an out-worldly feature in her voice and her complexion. Hughes can hear what his mother tells his sister who is also dead. Their conversation forms the basis of the poem and in the end, the poet imaginatively goes nearer to the weeping spirit of his mother. Sadly, she doesn’t weep for him. As a jealous sibling, the poet thinks she cries only for his brother. And, she loves the poet through the thoughts of his brother.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Anniversary’ by Ted Hughes is an exceptionally long poem without specific line-lengths. The poem moves with the flow of the poet’s thoughts like a stream-of-consciousness text. There are a total of six stanzas. The size of the poem expands from the first stanza till the third one and then starts contracting to depict the fading thoughts in the poet’s mind. However, there isn’t any specific rhyme scheme in the poem and it’s in free verse. Though there are some instances of irregular rhyming in the poem, the sound scheme mostly depends on its internal rhyming. Moreover, the poet contains the iambic meter, anapestic meter, and trochaic meter. The mixed meter scheme presents a conversational approach that the poet chose while composing this lyric.
‘Anniversary’ by Ted Hughes displays various literary devices. In the first stanza, the poet uses a metaphor in “feather of flame”. It is also a symbol of an angel. Hence, it is a metonymy too. In the second stanza, “perpetual” is a metaphorical reference to how the poet thinks about his mother on Sundays. There is an antithesis in “Creation and destruction of matter/ And of anti-matter”. There is also personification in this stanza. In the third stanza, there is onomatopoeia in, “Her voice comes, piping,/ Down a deep gorge of woodland echoes”. Moreover, there is alliteration in, “Down a deep gorge”. In the fourth stanza, the poet uses a simile to depict the face of his mother. In the following stanza, “weeping love” contains a personal metaphor. And, in the last stanza, the poet uses irony in the last line.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
My mother in her feathers of flame
“Ma died today” – and there they are.
‘Anniversary’ by Ted Hughes presents the subject matter of the poem in the first stanza. The poet refers to the “torn-off diary page” where the poet’s brother wrote, “Ma died today”. The poet sees what he wrote in his diary on 13 May when his mother died. Moreover, the poet imagines the growth of his mother’s angelic wings. She is with her sister, Miriam in his imagination. Moreover, the “feathers of flame” refers that the poet’s mother had become an angel after death.
She is now as tall as Miriam.
Ringing in their orbits.
The second stanza of ‘Anniversary’ by Ted Hughes describes the physical features of the poet’s mother. According to the poet’s imagination, she has become as tall as her sister. It is a “Sunday Morning” when the poet is thinking about his mother. He is so attached to his mother’s thoughts that he can’t think anything else. It appears that the day will never end for the poet. Moreover, he sees the spirits of his mother and her sister, strolling together and circling in their orbits like planets. The onomatopoeia in the phrase “Listening to the larks” depicts the image of the sky.
… The work of the cosmos,
Like the Northern Lights in their feathers.
In the last few lines of this stanza, the poet makes use of different images such as the “cosmos”, “creation and destruction of matter/ And of anti-matter”, and the movement of his mother’s wings. The specific reference to the “pulses” and “flares” of the wings glorifies his mother. In the following lines, using a simile, the poet presents the color of the feathers. It is like the “Northern Lights” or Aurora that is seen in the polar regions. The use of the northern lights creates a mysticism in this section.
My mother is telling Miriam
Where I dragged him from the reservoir.
‘Anniversary’ by Ted Hughes describes the conversation between the mother and her sister. As the poet is thinking about his mother, what his mother says is, in reality, the poet’s thoughts. Her voice seems to the poet as if it is coming from “a deep gorge of woodland” having an echoing quality. She mentions the water-mark on her dress and tells his sister that it is the marks of the poet’s tears. It seems that while she was dragging her son from the reservoir, he clung to her dress and cried.
And that is the horse on which I galloped
Where I was not once a guest.”
In this section of ‘Anniversary’, the spirit of the poet’s mother refers to the horse on which she galloped through the brick wall and out over the heather only to bring the poet a new pen. It reflects how much she loved his son. Moreover, she laid the pen on the altar to infuse it with heavenly bliss. Thereafter, she presents the image of the mass marriages of the poet and his brother. She expresses her happiness to be there with her two sons getting married and starting a new journey on the same date. The negation used here, emphasizes her happiness in the recollection of this thought.
… Then suddenly
Helplessly till she weeps.
In this section, the “red coals” contains a metaphor. Here, this image refers to the mistakes of the poet. His mother tried to assist his son when he committed such mistakes in his personal life. In “For the third time”, might be a reference to a mistake that the poet committed thrice. However, the thoughts make her emotional.
Who died at eighteen
“I liked to wear best.”
In ‘Anniversary’, the poet refers to Miriam and says that she died at eighteen. After hearing about her sister’s life, she appears like the innocent “Madonna” or Virgin Mary. For dying at an early age, she missed all such things. In the following lines, the poet’s mother worries about her shoes and dresses. And, at last, chooses her favorite one and points at it by saying, “I liked to wear best”. This section depicts her longing for the worldly life with her sons and their families.
… And: “Much of it,
Knowing they were somewhere. It still is.
In the last few lines of this stanza, she says how she meditated upon the horizons and thought that the horizons geographically existed somewhere. Now, in her spiritual body, she knows where the horizon is. Ironically, it’s in heaven.
And they pause, on the brink
Miriam now sheer flame beside her.
In the fourth stanza of ‘Anniversary’, the poet imagines the sky as if it is the dewy grassland for the souls. The star appears to the poet as “dew”. Hence, “starry dew” is a metaphor. Moreover, the poet says his mother is looking at him from the sky. She is darker and her Red Indian hair and skin are tinged with “olive” green. The image of his mother seems to the poet as if she is now an “out-worldly” creature. Her sister has a “sheer flame” beside her as if she is an angel.
Their feathers throb softly, iridescent.
Looking towards me. I do this for her.
In the last few lines of this section, the poet visualizes their feathers throbbing softly and glittering. His mother’s face is glistening as if she placed her face into the “skyline wind”. She looks at the poet to say something. The poet listens to that and writes this poem for his loving mother.
She is using me to tune finer
As if I were the shadow cast by this approach.
In the fifth stanza of ‘Anniversary’, Ted Hughes says that while writing it seems that as if his mother is fine-tuning his thoughts. Moreover, the poet thinks his mother loves his other son the most. That’s why she cries for her and visualizes the poet in the shadow cast by the poet’s brother.
As when I came a mile over fields and walls
Able for all that distance to think me him.
In the last stanza of ‘Anniversary’, Hughes imaginatively runs miles over fields and walls toward his mother. But, in the end, he finds she is actually not weeping for him. It is his brother whom she misses the most. For this reason, in the end, he says “Able for all that distance to think me him.”
‘Anniversary’ by Ted Hughes commemorates the poet’s mother Edith Farrar Hughes (1898-1969). In this poem, there is a reference to the poet’s brother Gerald Hughes (1920-2016). He was ten years older than the poet. That’s why being the first son in the poet’s family, the poet’s mother adored him the most. In this poem, the poet expressed how his mother loved his elder brother more than him. Still, the poet loved his mother and glorified her soul through this poem.
Like ‘Anniversary’ by Ted Hughes, the following poems also depict the mother and son relationship.
- Mother’s Song by Shirley Lim – In this poem, Shirley Lim speaks on themes of love and motherhood.
- Mother, Any Distance by Simon Armitage – In this poem, the Poet Laureate of the UK, Simon Armitage talks about his mother’s role in his life.
- Mother to Son by Langston Hughes – In this one of his best poems, Langston Hughes refers to a mother’s warning to her son. Hughes one of the best American poets of the 20th century.
- To My Mother by Edgar Allan Poe – This poem is one of the best of Poe’s poems. Here, in this sonnet, Edgar Allan Poe describes his feelings for his mother and the mother of his wife.
You can read about 10 of the Best Poems About Motherhood here.