Duke Gardens Dragon Fly & Lily

How to Paint a Water Lily

Remembering Ted Hughes (August 17, 1930–October 28, 1998): What excites my imagination is the war between vitality and death, and my poems may be said to celebrate the exploits of the warriors of either side.”

A green level of lily leaves
Roofs the pond’s chamber and paves

The flies’ furious arena: study
These, the two minds of this lady.

First observe the air’s dragonfly
That eats meat, that bullets by

Or stands in space to take aim;
Others as dangerous comb the hum

Under the trees. There are battle-shouts
And death-cries everywhere hereabouts

But inaudible, so the eyes praise
To see the colours of these flies

Rainbow their arcs, spark, or settle
Cooling like beads of molten metal

Through the spectrum. Think what worse
Is the pond-bed’s matter of course;

Prehistoric bedragoned times
Crawl that darkness with Latin names,

Have evolved no improvements there,
Jaws for heads, the set stare,

Ignorant of age as of hour―
Now paint the long-necked lily-flower

Which, deep in both worlds, can be still
As a painting, trembling hardly at all

Though the dragonfly alight,
Whatever horror nudge her root.

Ted Hughes composed the poems in Birthday Letters over 25 years. It’s a haunting collection of love notes, memories, and reflections that recall his life with poet Sylvia Plath.


  1. Bea dM

    I’ve never read any of his poems. The description of what goes on a closer look beneath the beauty of nature is disconcerting to say the least, but your perfect photo helps us get our balance back.

  2. Karen Albright Lin

    Rumors have it he was an abusive husband to Silvia Plath (psychologically). 🙁 My grandmother used to compare me to Silvia Plath (first wrote poetry and shorts) and I always thought that was a strange thing to do given her demise. The Bell Jar… not one of my favorite books. I feel very bad for all those who’ve suffered Bipolar and Unipolar depression in a time when they didn’t have good medications. So many creative people gone needlessly. And their sensitivity and volatility was part of the package…. want great poetry, paintings etc., take the package. But give the package a bow… 🙁

    1. Cynthia Jobin

      There was a cult of deep and dark psychological delving in the poetry of the 1970’s when I was beginning to write poetry seriously and looking about for models and what was happening on the poetry “scene”. It was not my cup of tea….Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, et al…It seemed as if to be crazy and sick was what a woman poet, especially was supposed to be…poems were all Freud and Marx…..but Academia–the arbiter of success in professional poetry— was supporting and promoting that so it was very discouraging for one who had a different vision for poetry. I stopped writing, in despair of it, for many years. Now that I am retired, I devote all my time to reading and writing poetry, old and new. I can’t say that I enjoy or spend any time on the work of Ted Hughes.

      1. Catherine Hamrick

        Yes, those poets were promoted a good bit in my time. All interesting–but I found the reading somewhat depleting. I would count William Carlos Williams, H.D., Wallace Stevens, and Marianne Moore among my favorites. Maybe W.H. Auden. Thanks for commenting.

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