Anniversary is a poem written by Ted Hughes that reflects on complex emotions and memories. The poem is a poignant exploration of the passage of time, the nature of love, and the ways in which relationships evolve and change over the years. In this blog post, we will delve into the themes and imagery of “Anniversary”, exploring the nuances of Hughes’ language and the insights it offers into the human experience of love and loss. Through close analysis and reflection, we will uncover the beauty and complexity of this powerful poem and gain a deeper appreciation for its enduring relevance and resonance.
- Jotted – written briefly or quickly
- Everlasting – endless
- Dragged – to pull something or someone along the ground somewhere, usually with difficulty
- Flares – to burn with a bright but brief light
- Piping – to speak with a high voice, make a high-pitched sound
- Scattering – to suddenly move away in different directions
- Dew – drops of water that form on surfaces outside during the night
- Glistering – to shine, often because something is wet
- Anti-Matter – like matter, the atoms and molecules that make up the stuff of the universe, but with an opposite charge. If anti-matter meets a particle of matter, it blows up
- Iridescent – glowing with light that changes from different angles
- Madonna – another name for Mary, mother of Jesus. Taken from Italian, meaning My Lady.
- Heather – a flowering shrub plant, found in grassland all over Europe and England
- Perpetual – repeating endlessly and never changing
STORY + SUMMARY
My mother grows taller; she is covered in feathers of flame. I see her every year, on the 13th of May, along with her sister Miriam. I pick up the torn-off page of the diary, where my brother wrote ‘ Ma died today. That’s where they both are.
Mother is now as tall as Miriam. In the constant Sunday morning that is eternity, they walk together, listening to the birds singing out as they circle in the sky. The energy of the universe – matter being created and destroyed – anti-matter pulsing and burning – shudders and fades. It looks like the Northern Lights in their feathers.
My Mother is telling Miriam about her life, which belonged to me. Her voice travels to me, making a flute-like sound. Down a deep valley of woodland, these words echo: ‘This is the water-line, dark on my dress, look, where I dragged the man from the reservoir. And that is the horse on which I galloped through the brick wall, and out over the heather, just because I wanted to bring him a new pen. This is the pen that I laid on the altar. And these are the marriages that he and his brother had, where I was never invited as a guest.” Suddenly, she is throwing hot coals with her fingers. She scatters them everywhere, to find where I had fallen for the third time. She laughs in a helpless way, and then she starts crying. Miriam died at eighteen, and she looks like a Maddona – she is listening to my mother with complete wonder. She learns what she missed by dying so young. Now, my mother shows her rosary bead prayers of consistent worry – they look like pairs of shoes, or one dress that follows after another. She says ‘This is the kind of clothing I liked to wear best. You know, I spent a lot of my life sitting at the window, watching the horizon. It was truly wonderful, day after day, knowing that they (it is unclear who ‘they’ are here) were somewhere. It still is. Look.’
And they stop on the edge of the starry droplets of water. They are looking at me. My mother looks darker because of her life, her Red-Indian hair and olive skin which looks so strange and non-human; Miriam has now completely turned into fire beside her. Their deathers pulse softly, in many different colours. My mother’s face is shining, as if she had turned it to face the skyline wind while she was looking towards me. I am writing this poem for her.
She’s using me to fine-tune her self, her crying love through my own love, as if I were the shadow that is cast when she tries to do this.
And when I walked a mile over fields and walls towards her, and found her crying for him – my brother. She thought that I was him, because of all that distance.
SPEAKER + VOICE
Anniversary is a narrative poem. The speaker (Hughes himself) encounters his mother and his aunt, who appear to him in the form of angels after they have passed away. Therefore, it is a memorial poem (an elegy), which glorifies the spirit of Hughes’ deceased mother. The poet analyses key memories, some of which he shared with his mother, and others which she experienced alone.
Hughes also mentioned his older brother, Gerald, in the poem. Gerald’s diary provides a narrative framing device – the first stanza starts with Hughes looking at a ‘torn-off diary page’. He instantly imagines his mother, and she and her sister appear to him as angels: ‘and there they are’.
TASK: Find four different memories that Hughes’ mother experiences in the poem. Explain what happened in each memory.
Edward J. Hughes was born in 1930, in a small village in Yorkshire, England. His talent as a poet was already evident during his school years, and it was encouraged by his teachers. He won a scholarship to Pembroke College, University Cambridge to study English and Anthropology.
‘Anniversary’ was published in ‘New Selected Poems 1957-1994, Uncollected’. Hughes wrote this poem to commemorate the anniversary of the death of his mother, Edith Farrar Hughes, who died on 13 May 1969. In this poem, the poet visualises the angelic beauty of his mother’s soul and imagines her with his sister Miriam, who also died when she was only 18 years old. However, through this poem, the poet glorifies his mother and remembers how she cared for him.
STUDYING TED HUGHES POETRY COLLECTION? Find in-depth poetry analyses on the links below: