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This poem is about a flower. There, we said it – and it's true, and it comes from a whole collection of poems about flowers and bumblebees and birds. This sounds kind of lame, right? Aren't there a bazillion poems about flowers in the world? What's one more?
Well, "Big Poppy" is one more, and while it might seem at first glance like just another poem about nature, Ted Hughes is no boring, ordinary nature poet. Though he is perhaps remembered best as the husband of uber-famous poet Sylvia Plath, Hughes was no slouch himself – he published copious volumes of poetry in his lifetime, and in 1984 (two years before "Big Poppy" was published) he became England's poet laureate.
"Big Poppy," in terms of Hughes's work, comes rather late in the game – and it is representative of a stage in Hughes's life in which he was intensely interested in the workings of nature. After having written terrifying books about creation myths (Crow) and strange abominable-snowman-esque creatures (Wodwo), Hughes turned his poetic lens into a hand-lens, of sorts, and began to look at the plants and animals we all find in our backyards. "Big Poppy" examines nature on human terms, giving the outside world a full range of emotions and implications for our own existences. All of Hughes's poetry did this, in a way, but the later poems, which include "Big Poppy," do so in an intensely "outdoorsy" way, often tinged with exuberant, nearly raw sensuality. So sit back and let Hughes tell you about the birds and the bees – figuratively and literally!
Nature poetry may at first seem a little passé – after all, once Scottish poet Robert Burns compared his love to a red, red rose, it's almost like there's nothing else to say on the subject. But of course we know that that's not true – poetry is infinite. That's why it's so cool.
What "Big Poppy" does for nature poetry is to show us what nature poetry can be when it's a little rough around the edges – a lot of beauty tinged with a little scandal, a lot of light with darkness brewing. It's a great example of just how multifaceted one can make a poem, even if that poem is about a single, fairly common object. Hughes takes a poppy and turns it into a queen, a dancer, a dying patient, a mother. This is no simple ode. In other words, it's a study in complexity – and we all know how complex life is.
Ted Hughes's Poets.org Page
A good bio, and a bibliography of all his major poetry collections.
Ted Hughes's PoetryFoundation.org Page
This page has a biography as well as great info on his nature poems (like "Big Poppy").
This website is all about Ted Hughes, and clicking-through is actually a surprising amount of fun, not to mention informative!
Paris Review Interview
An interview with Ted Hughes from 1995.
Analysis of "Thought-Fox"
A loosely academic article about the nature of Puritanism vs. violence in one of Hughes's poems. Great for a model analysis!
Ted Hughes and Romanticism
True scholarly article – difficult, but great in terms of what it means to be a "Romantic" poet. Also includes some thoughts by Hughes himself on the nature of poetry. [PDF]
Tribute to Ted Hughes
Interviews, some readings – eight minutes of Hughes goodness.
Readings of Crow
Mostly audio, but also has a couple of neat, creepy images that go by in mosaic. Hughes is the one reading – definitely worth a listen.
…you know, in case you needed a reminder that these things are brightly colored.
Ted Hughes: The life of a poet
A new-ish biography by Elaine Feinstein that attempts to chronicle, gently, the life of the often antagonized and controversial Hughes.
The Laughter of Foxes: A Study of Ted Hughes
Another study of the life and works of Hughes, published in 2000 – with focus on the poetry more so than the life.
A dramatization of s the unsettling and complicated relationship between Ted Hughes and the poet Sylvia Plath. This movie stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Plath and Daniel Craig (a.k.a. James Bond) as Hughes.
The Iron Giant, 1999
This animated film is very loosely based on a famous Hughes short story by the same name.