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Literature/A picture of Otto by Ted Hughes


hi, my name is Hannah, and i am currently studying English lit A2.  I am having trouble with the analysing 'a picture of Otto' by Ted Hughes. please HELP ASAP!

Hello Hannah,

Well, obviously, the poem is about a picture of Hughes' father-in-law, Otto Plath (Hughes' wife, Sylvia's, father), and the references to his daughter are therefore references to his wife, the well-known poet Sylvia Plath, who ended up committing suicide (and it seems quite certain that this poem is written after her death). Sylvia's poetry was often very dark and preoccupied with death, which is why the poem mentions that "This underworld, my friend, is her heart's home." The poem takes place among the dead, where Sylvia belongs and where she wants to be. It is probably written based on Hughes having wandered through the family estate, looking for mementos about the dead Sylvia, and stumbling upon a picture of her father, which made an impression on him.

The lines in the first stanza: "Your idea
Of Heaven and Earth and Hell radically
Modified by the honey-bee's commune."
could possibly refer to Otto having revised his religious ideas based on how a bee-hive is organized. Famously, Charles Darwin changed his beliefs from Christianity to atheism while he was working out the theory of evolution, based on the strange and cruel life-cycles of diverse insects, esp. a certain species of wasp and its parasites. But exactly what this refers to in Otto's case, I can't say.

I also don't know who the Owen mentioned at the end of the poem is, but if you do some research into the life and circumstances of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, maybe you can find out. It may have been a brother or somesuch.

I hope I have given you something to start your analysis with. Good luck.

- Tue Sorensen


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Tue Sorensen


I am an authority on the complete works of Shakespeare, and can answer any questions relating to his plays, poetry and life. I specialize in interpretation, double-meanings and translation into modern language.


I was a top-rated Allexperts expert on this same subject several years ago.

Former member of the Danish Shakespeare Society, as well as an active participant in the scholarly SHAKSPER mailing list.

Three years of studying English literature at the University of Aarhus, Denmark

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