Birthday Letters Quotes


"Your son's eyes, which had unsettled us

With your Slavic Asiatic

Epicanthic fold, but would become

So perfectly your eyes,

Became wet jewels,

The hardest substance of the purest pain

As I fed him in his high white chair."

Life after Death

After his wife dies, this man writes her a poem. Their son, whose eyes look so like his mother's, now reminds him every single day of her. At first, they were delighted to see that their son had eyes like hers, but now they are painful to him, now that she's gone. As he feeds his toddler, he has to stare into the eyes of the one person he adores but will never see again.

"She had too much so with a smile you

took some.

Of everything she had you had

Absolutely nothing, so you took some.

At first, just a little"

The Other

A third-party narrator addresses a man who was abusing his lover. Jealous of her, he decided to rob her of her joy, beauty, and grace. Hughes applies enjambment here in a fascinating way. Each line seems to say one thing, but the very next line completes the thought and radically changes the idea. The result is that the poem feels like it progresses rapidly, each word running on top of the next, building concepts.

"I remember going out there,

The tide far out, the North Shore ice-wind

Cutting me back

To the quick of the blood -- that outer-edged nostalgia,

The good feeling. My sole memory

Of my black overcoat."

Black Coat

Hughes writes this poem after visiting the grave of his father-in-law. His travel was long, and he hadn't been back home in years. Just as the wind was harsh on his body, the memory of his father alive was painful in his soul. He remembers how it felt to be around his dad, but he's quickly losing that.

"She had got what she wanted -- to see

The islet or reef or rock he'd ended up on.

Her eyes went over the walls and into

Every corner, like a dog in a new home. Like a dog

That had seen a rat vanish, that smelt a rat.

There was his bed, yes. There was his phone.

But she had that number.

The Inscription

Hughes' ex comes to visit his new digs one day. Separated from his family, he is now an island. Inspecting his fortress, she is looking for any indication of his feminine company these days. Like a dog hunts out a rat, she can smell that there's another energy in the room. His bed and his phone are the two objects with which she is most likely to interact.

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