ESSAY: Sound and rhyme in Ted Hughes’s poems for children

As part of PACYA’s evolving mission, I’m actively encouraging the writing and sharing of critical, historical, and craft-oriented essays on all aspects of poetry for young people. Following my own direction, I have written a short essay titled SOME WETTER, WITTIER OTTER COULD UTTER: Speech sounds and involving rhyme in Ted Hughes’s poems for children. This is part one of what I hope will become a series of explorations of Hughes’s poems. Please download the free PDF of the essay by clicking Withrow_Hughes_Essay_120111. Thank you!

Steven Withrow
PACYA Founder

9 thoughts on “ESSAY: Sound and rhyme in Ted Hughes’s poems for children

  1. Thank you for this informative essay, Steven. It reminds us that musicality is all important as we write for children. Your analysis of Hughes’ poems is very helpful. This type of piece offers practical knowledge and a starting point for crafting poems that will resonate with youngsters.

  2. As a children’s poet, I really appreciate your essay, Steven! Thanks for taking the time to illuminate his genius. I was unfamiliar with Hughes’ poetry for children, and it was refreshing to read something like this which, ironically, extolls that exact things that agents and publishers seem to rail against these days: slant rhyme, imperfect meter, unevn line length, etc. In many of my poems, I’ve wanted to be more creatively free by adjusting line lengths or working more with internal rhymes to carry the poems more than the end rhymes…but invariably, those are the elements that get beaten down first! These days, I wonder if Hughes – or even people like Silverstein, for that matter – would have ever made it in the chidlren’s poetry market.

    • Thanks, Matt. As a reader, I see form and content as inseparable. But as a poet and critic, it helps to isolate certain aspects of form to see how the mechanism actually functions. To mix metaphors, we can conduct a thorough examination while keeping the patient awake and alive.

      As for poetic freedom nowadays, my spirits are buoyed up by reading new books by Joyce Sidman (a poet I’d rank with Hughes) and Alan Katz (a worthy successor to Silverstein), among so many others.

  3. In writing about Ted Hughes, I got bit by the assonance bug. This is complete nonsense, but it makes me smile:

    Pre and Post
    By Steven Withrow

    The past tense of east should be oast.

    At least that’s at best a most bombastic boast
    When you feast on mashed beast and on roast yeast on toast
    Or you’re hosting houseguests by a vast open coast.
    As a ghost, you at last are deceased, rest in peace.

    Oh, the past tense of east should be oast.


    The future of otter is odder than ever.

    And odds are it ought to be utterly other
    Than what’s in the river, lives under the water.
    Why bother to blather from mother to daughter?
    It’s fodder that tottering time taught her never.

    Yes, the future of otter is odder than ever.

  4. Steven,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments and insight. Your essay should have broad appeal to poets in all stages of practicing their craft. A well constructed poem is not an accident and you remind us of many reasons why that’s so. I think Matt makes a good point too. Poetry is a moveable feast. Just as language evolves, poems of the day reflect current times in rhythms, and meters familiar to readers of the moment. Those relatively few poems that retain their charm and power to inform and entertain over many generations are every poet’s dream.

  5. Brilliant literary criticism. You serve the Uni verse by taking the time to bring your mind to looking microscopically at how a poem works— the in and out of as it grabs us by the throat. The clash and splash.The strange sweet clangs.The syllable spill.The resonance of assonance. Such nonsense is divine so smile a while in simile.

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