British Library publishes 30 years of letters between Ted Hughes and critic Keith Sagar

By Culture24 Reporter | 26 April 2012
a detail from a manuscript handwritten letter with scribbled words in pyramids and arrows linking them
A detail from Hughes' letter of September 18 1990© Estate of Ted Hughes
The British Library is continuing the process of opening up its impressive Ted Hughes archive to the public with the publication of a 30-year correspondence between Hughes and the literary critic and academic Keith Sagar.

Spanning the years 1969 to 1989 - the year of Hughes’s death - the letters provide literary scholars and the public alike with some valuable insights into a fascinating and frank working relationship between poet and critic.

With topics covering everything from religion, education, the royal family, travelling and his ill-fated relationship with Sylvia Plath, the correspondence is being lauded as providing “a real insight into Hughes’s life and creative process”.

a black and white photograph of Ted Hughes with floppy fringe, shirt and tie
Ted Hughes by Fay Godwin© British Library Board
Sagar and Hughes enjoyed an open dialogue which allowed the critic to make some surprisingly detailed observations and criticisms about the famously elusive former poet laureate’s work. 

Among the exchanges is Sagar’s suggestion that Hughes make major changes to his intense collaboration with the artist Leonard Baskin, Cave Birds.

Hughes received these with enthusiasm, although a less harmonious discussion raged around about Hughes’ "Procrustean" approach to interpreting the “tragic equation” in Shakespeare.

The letters also saw Hughes mount a rigorous defence of his oft-criticised Laureate poems and engage in some lively discussion about hunting.

According to John Moat, poet, novelist and founder of the creative writing charity the Arvon Foundation, the correspondence is a revelation.

“That Keith Sagar was engaged with Hughes in such a correspondence for nearly 30 years and in such detail, is a measure of Hughes’s trust and of how constructive and fortifying he found their exchanges," he says.

Poet and Critic: The Letters of Ted Hughes and Keith Sagar, is published on May 3, coinciding with the Manuscripts Still Matter conference, the second conference of the UK Literary Heritage Working Group, which will be held at the British Library on April 30 2012.

  • Book available from the British Library Shop (020 7412 7735 / e-mail: and online at as well as other bookshops throughout the UK. Price £25 / ISBN 978071235862.

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