Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts (Thesis)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Chris Wortham

Second Supervisor

Angeline O'Neill


Ted Hughes served as English Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998. In an insightful interview in 1970, Hughes said he connected ‘inwardly’1 to William Blake and Ludwig van Beethoven and that if he ‘could dig to the bottom’ of his ‘strata, maybe their names and works would be the deepest traces’.2 Blake and Beethoven lived and worked at a pivotal moment in history as the Romantic Movement emerged in the late 18th century. This Movement has had a significant and long lasting effect on art, culture, philosophy and politics. Shortly before his death, Hughes reiterated that Beethoven’s ‘music dominated’ his life and ‘preoccupied’ him ‘at some level’.3 Significantly, both Beethoven and Hughes believed that, as artists, they had to embark on the hero's journey for the sake of their art. In 1812, Beethoven wrote in his personal diary (Tagebuch) the following words: ‘Submission, deepest submission to your fate [...] Do everything that still has to be done to arrange what is necessary for the long journey [...] for you there is no longer any happiness except within yourself, in your art.’4 In similar Romantic vein, Hughes wrote in 1964 that ‘once you have been chosen by the spirits [...] there is no other life for you, you must shamanize or die’.5

This research analyses the artistic role of Hughes as quest hero and explores the ‘deepest traces’ of Beethoven in the poet’s work. While there is clear evidence that Hughes, throughout his prolific work, provides specific references to Beethoven, very little is known about the artistic confluences between the British poet and the German composer. What emerges is evidence of fascinating parallels and strong correlations between these two artists notwithstanding that they lived and worked in separate countries and during entirely different historical periods. This thesis shows that both Hughes and Beethoven shared the same Romantic belief in the power of the visionary imagination, the importance of understanding Nature, man’s place in it and the mystical powers in the universe; they were also both drawn to the same mythological figures.

Through an analysis of carefully selected works by Hughes, this research will identify the traces of Beethoven in Hughes’s work, examine the forces of Romanticism at work on both Beethoven and Hughes and consider Hughes’s search for a powerful visionary imagination to get (as T. S. Eliot described) ‘beyond poetry as Beethoven, in his later works, strove to get beyond music’.6

1 Ekbert Faas, Ted Hughes: The Unaccommodated Universe, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Barbara, 1980, p. 202.

2 Faas, The Unaccommodated Universe, p. 202.

3 Letters of Ted Hughes, selected and edited by Christopher Reid, Faber and Faber, London, 2007, p. 722.

4 Maynard Solomon, Beethoven Essays, Harvard University Press, London England, 1997 p. 246.

5 Ted Hughes, Winter Pollen Occasional Prose, Faber and Faber, edited by William Scammell, London, 1994, p. 58.

6 Thomas Stearns Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism: Studies in the Relation of Criticism to Poetry in England (Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 1932-1933).