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Fulbright Scholars Ted Hughes

Analysis of Fulbright Scholars by Ted Hughes

Fulbright Scholars is an exceptional poem by Ted Hughes that was first published in the 1998 poetry collection called “Birthday Letters”, written probably as a response to the “Ted Hughes controversy”, suspecting his role in the frightening suicidal death of the American poet and writer who later became his wife, Sylvia Plath. This poem is the first entry to this collection and portrays a recollection of his first impression of Plath. Fulbright Scholars recounts significantly, the themes of the role of memory and remembering as well as their tone of uncertainty and unreliability to produce a poem devoid of any static truth to the personal relationship of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

Fulbright Scholars | Summary and Analysis 

Written in plain but captivating language, the poem is suggestive of a subjective tone and an impressionistic perspective, clearly evoking the style of personal and confessional poetry. The poem begins with an attempt to remember a distorted memory.

 Fulbright Scholars Analysis, Lines 1-6 

Where was it, in the Strand? A display

Of news items, in photographs.

For some reason I noticed it.

A picture of that year’s intake

Of Fulbright Scholars. Just arriving –

Or arrived. Or some of them.

Fulbright Scholars begins with a question that suggests the wicked play of memory. The poet seems to not quite remember the setting of his first glance upon the photograph of the Fulbright Scholars that appeared in the newspapers. The speaker doesn’t even recall the reason behind his noticing that particular image on display as the third line of the poem evokes. In addition to this, in the last two lines of this part of the poem, the poet wonders about the arrival of these scholars, “Just arriving/ Or arrived. Or some of them”, the use of the conjunction, “or”, indicating a tone of doubtfulness to them. Here, we are certain that this portion of the poem is abundant with vagueness and obscurity. Moreover, the technique of enjambment in some of these lines and the arrangement of dash right after the phrase, “Just arriving”, invokes a pause or break that creates a tone of interruption or hesitation from the side of the poet in recollecting a memory.

Fulbright Scholars Analysis, Lines 7-13

Were you among them? I studied it,

Not too minutely, wondering

Which of them I might meet.

I remember that thought. Not

Your face. No doubt I scanned particularly

The girls. Maybe I noticed you.

Maybe I weighed you up, feeling unlikely.

 From here on, the poet devices contradictory phrases to build a tone of ambiguity to connote the forgetfulness that accompanies the memory. The speaker of the poem, within which the structure embodies the form of monologue within one long stanza, confronts the subject at this point with the use of the second-person pronoun, ‘you’, once again in the form of a question. The poet studies through the photograph and “Not too minutely”, he even warns us. Yet, he can’t remember “Your face”. But the poet remembers “that thought” of “Which of them I might meet”. Herein, the employment of an enjambment at the word “Not” that breaks the continuity of the line to emphasize the following words in the next line, “Your face”, might evoke a subtle way of mocking his subject as if to say, your face was not worth noticing or remembering. Moreover, the following lines elevate such a tone, as the poet undoubtedly brags that, “No doubt I scanned particularly/ The girls. The speaker’s intelligent way of placing a line-break right after the word “particularly”, once again suggests the significance of “The girls” so as to highlight the importance of their memory.

The impression of the poet’s subject is more and more associated with a vague memory, as the readers witness the speaker curiously and obsessively searching over his doubtful memories. Such a tone of interruptive memories is heightened by the emphasis on the repeated use of the word “Maybe” in the last two lines of this part of the poem. Moreover, the poet emphatically brings forth the line, “Maybe I weighed you up, feeling unlikely” and in all sense, the word “weighed” and “unlikely” denotes shallowness and questionable memory. Assumption of a presence of such a tone in this beautifully knit poem might be a little disregarded but in the poetic lines that follow, a more heightened tone of mockery and imitation can be evidently noted.

Fulbright Scholars Analysis, Lines 14-23 

Noted your long hair, loose waves –

Your Veronica Lake bang. Not what it hid.

It would appear blond. And your grin.

Your exaggerated American

Grin for the cameras, the judges, the strangers, the frighteners.

Then I forgot. Yet I remember

The picture: the Fulbright Scholars.

With their luggage? It seems unlikely.

Could they have come as a team? I was walking

Sore-footed, under hot sun, hot pavements.

 This specific part of the poem repeatedly moves between the first-person singular pronoun ‘I’ and the second-person pronoun ‘You’ to produce a full-length personal form of style of poetry. Correspondingly, the speaker transforms the poem to bestow the subject of the poem with more significance, as the change from the word “notice” to the word “noted” suggests. Moreover, the poet imagistically portrays the figure of the subject of his poem as the line goes, “Noted your long hair, loose waves/ Your Veronica Lake bang. Not what it hid”.

Veronica Lake was a popular American actor known for her femme fatale roles. In addition to this, her “peek-a-boo” hairstyle was quite famous and inspired a lot of women to imitate the trademark hairstyle. At first, the readers wonder about the speaker’s intentions upon the allusion of his subject to Veronica Lake. Does Hughes imply that Plath was indeed his femme fatale or is Plath represented as another mere imitation of Veronica Lake?

The trademark hairstyle of Lake that fell over her eyes as a side bang represented a mystery. The lines, “Your Veronica Lake bang. Not what it hid”, clearly manifests the mystery associated with Plath. Herein, the uncertainty surrounding the poem gets elevated with the mysterious nature of the subject of the poem. Moreover, the words “appear” and the line that says, “Your exaggerated American/ Grin…” all provide the portrayal of his subject to be embodying a deceptive appearance. After all, if we notice, Hughes remembers his first impression of Plath through a photographic image, and images in themselves are a set of appearances. Moving on, once again the readers are confronted with the contradictory tone of the speaker as he says, “Then I forgot. Yet I remember”. With an exception of the face of the subject, the memory of the rest of the photograph is clear-cut as the lines that follow the above lines go, “The picture: the Fulbright scholars”.

From here, the poet quickly moves away, once again, from the subject of the poem. This might suggest the abundant thoughts and memories coming into the mind of the poet and hence probably echoing the technique of stream of consciousness. At this point, the poet refers to the “luggage” carried by the Fulbright Scholars. But it is highly “unlikely”, as the poet suggests, that a photograph may be clicked with these scholars carrying their luggage bags. Therefore, here the poet might be overlooking, metaphorically, the emotional luggage carried by them. The line that says, “Grin for the cameras, the judges, the strangers, the frighteners”, might echo the terrifying, strange, and dominating faces, the scholars have to meet up with. But this is just an assumption as the interruption of his thoughts forces him to leave this unsaid. Because we immediately follow the poet to “…I was walking/ Sore-footed, under hot sun, hot pavements”.

Fulbright Scholars Analysis, Lines 24-29

 Was it then I bought a peach? That’s as I remember.

From a stall near Charing Cross Station.

It was the first fresh peach I had ever tasted.

I could hardly believe how delicious.

At twenty-five I was dumbfounded afresh

By my ignorance of the simplest things.

 Here once more we are confronted with the fickle memory of the poet as he begins the line with a question, “Was it then I bought a peach?”, followed by the dubious lines, “That’s as I remember”. Here, the image of the peach might stand as a metaphor, symbolic of pleasure and sensuality. With the description of the peach as “the first fresh peach I had ever tasted” and “I could hardly believe how delicious”, such symbolisms are heightened. The image of the peach might also stand as an extended metaphor for the forbidden fruit mentioned in the Genesis of the Bible. Consequently, the forbidden fruit is symbolic of sin. Precisely, the sin of marriage between Hughes and Plath.

As the poem gave insight into the wide theme of memory and forgetfulness, they could also echo the poet’s “ignorance” of tasting the forbidden fruit. Even though, the poet builds a contradicting tone around this allegory to suggest that the young poet at “twenty-five” was “dumbfounded afresh” by the “ignorance of the simplest things” so as to provoke the idea that the forbidden fruit seems to be “delicious” at his old, reflective times. But does the tone of the speaker evoke any sentimental perspective of regretfulness? The structure of the poem from the beginning to the end is devoid of any tone of nostalgia and therefore, we can assume that the poem too might be surrounded by an unsentimental tone. So in other words, we can say that the final lines of the poem might just be another deceptive trickery from the poet as the final poetic lines may simply evoke a ploy to get out from the wide controversy the poet received after the death of his wife and the great poet Plath.


Fulbright Scholars — About the Author

 Edward James Ted Hughes was prominently known as an English poet. He received Pot Laureate in 1984. One of his notable works is called The Thought-Fox which was published in his first collection, “The Hawk in the Rain”. Some of his other remarkable poetry collections include, “Crow: From the Life and the Songs of the Crow”, “Remains of Elmet”, “Moortown” and “Wolfwatching”. Hughes was not only a poet but also a translator and a children’s writer.





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