‘The Other’ by Ted Hughes belongs to the poetry collection, “Birthday Letters”. It was published just a few months before Hughes’ death in 1998. In this poem, Ted Hughes refers to his “other self”. It is a reference, no doubt, to his wife, Sylvia Plath, the voice that firmly claimed feminine dignity while the patriarchal world was silent for the rights of women. However, in this poem, Hughes recollects the role of his wife in his life vice versa. The poem is a live specimen of how Hughes and Plath made each other better. Moreover, the poem contains the unsaid words of the poet that he somehow wanted to tell his wife.
Summary of The Other
‘The Other’ by Ted Hughes describes how the poet’s better half had a major impact on the poet’s life. In the beginning, the poet focuses on the word “smile”, his only possession. He exchanged it with his wife for her poetic talent and ambitious nature. Still, there was a “vacuum” in himself. Moreover, the poet says, he had to change her “hubris”. That’s why with “A little touch of hatred”, he “steadied the nerves” of his wife. Alongside this, the poet took all the “happiness” from his wife. At last, “she had nothing”. Likewise, when she died, she took away all the “smiles” the poet had.
You can read the full poem The Other here.
Structure of The Other
‘The Other’ by Ted Hughes consists of three stanzas. The line-count of each stanza is irregular. The shortest stanza being the first one contains only 5 lines in it. Whereas, the second stanza has 12 imperfectly rhyming lines. In contrast, the last stanza, having 13 lines, has some occasionally rhyming lines. As a whole, the poem is in free verse, more appropriately in blank verse. The poet doesn’t talk about anything uplifting so using harmonious lines can’t reflect the poet’s mental state addled in the thoughts of his dead wife.
Moreover, in the third stanza, the first two lines have a perfect rhyming ending. In another instance, in this stanza, “happened”, “dead”, and “had” somehow rhyme together. Apart from that, in the first and third stanzas, the poet uses contraction for the sake of emphasizing his thoughts. However, the poem is composed of a mixed iambic-trochaic meter.
Literary Devices in The Other
‘The Other’ by Ted Hughes contains several literary devices. For the sake of emphasis, the poet uses hyperbole in the first line of the poem. The lines of the poem get connected by the use of enjambment. As an example, there is enjambment in the first two lines of the first stanza. In the second stanza, there is a metaphor in the use of the word “vacuum”. Moreover, the poet uses alliteration, consonance, and assonance throughout the poem. Apart from that, there is a personification in the line, “… which nature abhorred”. There is irony in the lines, “Now you had some too, for yourself./ As seemed only fair.”
There is also a simile in the second stanza. It is present in the line, “Like a crossed out page, lossed into a basket”. Here, the poet compares himself to a “crossed out page”. Moreover, there is a synecdoche in the use of the word “nerves” in this stanza. In the third stanza, the poet uses several metaphors. The repetition of the word “little” in this stanza suggests that his wife had demanded less than what the poet took from her.
Analysis of The Other
She had too much so with a smile you
At first, just a little.
‘The Other’ by Ted Hughes begins as if the poet talks with his “other self” in the form of a dramatic monologue. The poet tells his inner self that his wife had “too much” of every quality. And, the poet demanded some from her with a smile, his only possession. In the following lines, the poet emphasizes the same idea of the poet’s insufficiency and his beloved’s abundance. The poet uses the last line of this stanza as a refrain in the last stanza. Here, the poet describes how everything started with “just a little”.
Still she had so much she made you feel
Now you had some too, for yourself.
In ‘The Other’, Ted Hughes describes how he is indebted to his beloved. In the first few lines, the poet advocates why he had taken a “little” from her. She had plenty of the qualities the poet longs for. He found there was a “vacuum” or dearth inside him and he needed to fulfill it. Here, he uses the symbol of all-fulfilling nature and says that he had taken his “fill” for “nature’s sake”.
In the next three lines, the poet refers to how lucky his beloved was. That’s why he had redressed his dearth by demanding “luck” from his lady love. Here, the poet tries to say that, her presence made the poet lucky.
As seemed only fair. Still her ambition
A little touch of hatred steadied the nerves.
In the first three lines of this section, the poet tells his inner self that the lady was too ambitious. She could throw him away anytime from her life like a “crossed out page”. In the last few lines, the poet says that she was excessively proud of her qualities. Even god forbid that. For this reason, as an agent of the gods, the poet using her sternness made his beloved correct her thinking. Here, “steadied the nerves” means helping someone to come to his senses.
Everything she had won, the happiness of it,
Trapped in the heap you took. She had nothing.
‘The Other’ by Ted Hughes presents how the poet made his wife poor of the qualities she had. According to the poet, he had collected the “happiness” from her life as a “compensation” for “having lost” in her love. This beautiful expression refers to how much the poet cared about his deceased wife. Moreover, the poet holds himself responsible for leaving her with “nothing”. Even he had unkindly taken the essence of love from her heart.
In the last two lines of this section, the poet refers to how much he had taken from his wife. The “heap”, a metaphor, represents the possessive nature of the poet. The last line creates a contrast as the poet had everything and his wife “had nothing”.
Too late you saw what had happened.
At first, just a little.
It was too late for the poet to check his greedy attitude toward his wife. He could do nothing as she was dead. Now, the poet questions himself and recollects what he had done in the past. He had too much of everything now as his beloved wasn’t there to lessen the load.
In the last three lines, the poet refers to what his wife took with her during her earthly departure. At first, just like the poet, she had taken “just a little” bit of a smile from him. And now, readers can imagine what the poet was going to write but left for the readers. It is called anticipation or prolepsis.
Historical Context of The Other
‘The Other’ by Ted Hughes can be found in his “Birthday Letters” (1998). It was published only months before his death. The collection brought the poet many accolades. Moreover, the collection of 88 poems break Ted Hughes long silence about his wife, Sylvia Plath‘s suicide in 1963. Through this collection, the poet expressed what he couldn’t when his wife died.
- Love Poem for a Wife by A. K. Ramanujan – A.K. Ramanujan dedicated this love song to his sleeping wife.
- Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea by Sylvia Plath – Here, Sylvia Plath imagines a place where she and her lover were going to be happy.
- Her Voice by Oscar Wilde – This poem by Oscar Wilde is similar to Hughes’ poem.
- Fletcher McGee by Edgar Lee Masters – Here, Edgar Lee Masters describes how a husband made his wife’s life miserable.
You can read about Best Love Poems for Her here.