‘Her Husband’ is a poem that brings to light the selfish nature of both spouses with a focus on the husband who works in a mine, in a way showing the reader how the problem of a distant marriage needs to be addressed from both sides, and not just one. Hughes elaborates on a type of jealousy that some spouses can develop when they feel like they are overworked compared to their partner. ‘Her Husband’ is written in the third person and consists of five stanzas. Ted Hughes grew up in a mining village himself, so this entire poem could be a reflection of his own relationship or relationships of those he grew up around.
Explore Her Husband
‘Her Husband’ is quite original because the title can be considered as the first line of the poem, especially considering Hughes’s excessive use of Caesura throughout the poem. Every line in the first stanza practices Caesura which makes it safe for us to conclude that the title is indeed the first line (as there is no punctuation after the title as well).
You can be read in full here and more poetry from Ted Hughes here.
The themes of ‘Her Husband’ are marriage and revenge. The mood of the poem is spiteful and resenting throughout. The resentful tone magnifies the vengeful nature of the man. Hughes purposefully created such an overbearingly hateful personality in the man to make clear the disgusting nature of being spiteful to your spouse, especially for circumstances they can not control. Hughes forces the reader to see the irrationality of despising your spouse because of the difficulty of your own life and reminds us that marriage is not about revenge and hate but about working together and finding solace in each other. The title of the poem is strikingly brilliant, because not only does it serve as the first line of the poem it also serves to remind us that this miner is, in fact, her husband. A husband is someone who takes care of and happily provides for his wife, a man who loves and sacrifices just as his wife does for him, but throughout the poem, the reader is shown how contrary his actions are towards his role as a husband.
Analysis of Her Husband
Comes home dull with coal-dust deliberately
To grime the sink and foul towels and let her
Learn with scrubbing brush and scrubbing board
The stubborn character of money.
The first stanza discusses the broken nature of the marriage that this mine worker is currently in. He comes home in a terrible state, not bothering to have even cleaned up a little bit to show his wife how hard he has worked. Not only as a lesson but as a punishment. It is clear that this worker is fed up with his job and seeing his wife at home, presumably not working as hard him, it is not something he can handle. He brings soot into the house so she can clean everything with difficulty and therefore have a share in understanding how hard it is to earn money.
And let her learn through what kind of dust
And the blood-weight of money. He’ll humble her
The second stanza goes on taking on a more spiteful tone. He clearly has no love for this woman, or perhaps due to the hard nature of his job he is unable to express love for anyone anymore. He wants her to clean the soot so she realizes what sort of condition he was in all day, while she sat in a clean home. Also, he wants her to understand that he has earned the right to quench his thirst with water and eat, whereas she has not earned it as much as he has. Or perhaps Hughes means that the miner feels he has earned the right to quench his thirst by drinking with his friends before he comes home. The fact that this miner is saying that he exchanged blood and sweat for money shows that he is truly fed up with his job and it is taking all of his energy out of him to continue working.
With new light on her obligations.
Hearing the rest, he slams them to the fire back
The third stanza reveals that the miner had been saying the aforementioned to his wife, reminding her of how hard he worked and how leisurely her life was and he is disgusted beyond belief when he sees his wife has cooked an unpleasant meal of ‘wooden chips’. Clearly, his wife has no care for how hard her husband works, and the reason why is obvious. He seems to be a cold distant man bent on ‘teaching her, ’a man incapable of love. Instead of reminding her of how hard he works, which she obviously knows-and has no control over, he could have simply cleaned up before coming home and she would be in a better mood, more willing to ease his weariness with a fresh warm meal.
And is away round the house-end singing
Her back has bunched into a hump as an insult.
The fourth stanza literally makes the reader lose all sympathy for the miner as he begins to sing a song ‘Come back to Sorrento’, a song centering around lost love. His voice is described as being like iron. Once again showing that he is incapable of loving but he is using every tool he has to hurt his wife. After seeing her poorly cooked meal he starts singing about a love he craved for but lost, perhaps telling his wife that he wishes he had married another woman. Telling his wife that, had it been another woman as his wife, he would try harder and she would as well.
For they will have their rights.
Goes straight up to heaven and nothing more is heard of it.
He seems completely unaffected by his rudeness and in fact proud of the way he ‘taught her’ and put her ‘in her place.’ In the fifth stanza, this miners disdain for his wife becomes clear, as he states that the only ones who will listen to his wife are the crumbs of soot on the floor, and their ‘brief’, or lawsuit, will go straight to heaven and no one will hear it. This miner believes his wife’s opinion is nothing and it seems he has made her the sole point of venting his frustrations from his tiring work. His extreme level of disregard for his wife may be Hughes’s way of saying that some people are literally incapable of love because of the difficult situations they were exposed to through their lifetimes.
‘Her Husband’ is a spiteful poem reflecting the strange way marriage often works, where two people are bound to each other without really having any emotional connection whatsoever. The main purpose of the poem seems to show that in order for a marriage to work sacrifices have to be made on both sides. The man can stop complaining and try to appreciate his wife instead of looking down on her, and the wife should try to compromise and try to help her husband out of his hardships. Of-course this poem was written in the 1900s and reflects an old family structure where the man has to do physical labor while the wife stays home and minds the house but Hughes has still managed to show that in order for the marriage to work there is no room for spite, both sides should be trying to make each other’s life as easy as possible. When spite enters the marriage the only thing left is a downwards spiral of marital destruction where neither partner feels loved or appreciated.