Centre for Continuing Education

HSC English Advanced Preparation Course - Module A: 'Ariel' and 'Birthday Letters'

HSC English. The smart way to prepare for your HSC.

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Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

This new two-day HSC English preparation course focuses on a pairing of selected poems by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes for the Advanced English Module A: Textual Conversations.

As Plath had died by her own hand when Ariel was published and Hughes was still living when he published Birthday Letters, the complex textual conversation involves a silenced woman still speaking through her best poems and a Poet Laureate speaking finally to his dead wife and to decades of public outcry against his role in Plath’s death and the management of her legacy.

From this demonised yet privileged position, Ted Hughes gives an extraordinary poetic gift to his lamented, mythologised partner who actively conjured an image of herself as an artistic persona perfected in death and therefore beyond both his reach and the public gaze. The poets explore mutual concerns with identity and relationships complicated by sexual politics and the shadow of the Second World War on the modern world.

Hughes introduced Ariel with reference to Plath’s private cosmology so it is this complex symbolism, particular wrought by an idiosyncratic use of colour imagery, motifs, and metaphors that will generate classroom discussion of the texts as a pair. Discussion will focus on how poetic form, in combination with metrical effects, evokes the consciousness of these reflective individuals reading their extraordinary shared tragedy across time and death’s border.

Students will consider the ways in which Hughes' reimagining or reframing of key aspects of Plath’s poems mirror, align or collide with the striking details of the Ariel poems set for study. The poets' shared concerns will splinter into the values and assumptions held in common and those that are violently disparate as their poetry is read with a careful ear for the allusions and intertextual interplay peculiar to these distinctive writers. Students will interrogate the central issue of the mythologised Plath and the damaged Hughes' persona, forever connected in the public mind both when the poets were at war with themselves and with each other and now, perhaps, when the textual conversation between them has found a fragile peace.

Pair of prescribed texts: Sylvia Plath - Ariel (‘Daddy’, 'Nick and the Candlestick, ‘A Birthday Present’, ‘Lady Lazarus’ and ‘Fever 103˚’) and Ted Hughes - Birthday Letters (‘Fulbright Scholars’, ‘The Shot’, ‘A Picture of Otto’, ‘Fever’, ‘Red’ and ‘The Bee God’).


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • analyse and discuss the distinctive aesthetic of the prescribed poems as a pair in terms of literary perspectives on love, loss, the individual and society through consideration of poetic form and the use of private symbolism, whether shared or reimagined
  • recognise that the poetic exploration of key concerns in the poetry of Plath and Hughes highlights tensions around the bitterly conflicted individual in an oppressive society as well as revealing moments of resigned peace with self and others.


  • Review of language forms and features and the appropriate use of language and terminology in interpreting the poems paired for study.
  • Analysis and evaluation of the effectiveness of language patterns in poetry, particularly figurative choices.
  • Explanation of the ways specific language concepts, for example imagery, symbolism or sound, shape meaning for different audiences and purposes.
  • Comparison and evaluation of the use of textual conventions and patterns in texts from different contexts to deepen understanding of how meaning is made.

Intended audience

HSC English Advanced students studying Sylvia Plath’s Ariel and other selected poems and Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters and other selected poems, for the Advanced English Module A: Textual Conversations.

Delivery style

The facilitator will analyse the poems in a blended learning environment that integrates online activities and resources with supplementary materials in a concise course booklet.

Writing activities will generate fresh ideas regarding how a composer may be influenced by another text’s concepts and values. Focus questions derived from the rubric will encourage you to explore the relationship between these poems and their contexts, particularly in terms of the construction of post-war masculinity and the repression of the woman writer in the 20th Century. Passages from the poetry will be used as a stimulus for comparative analysis along with provocative statements about the literary relationship of Plath and Hughes.

Guided group discussion of the poetry as a textual conversation will be supported by comment from the tutor to encourage personal and informed readings in the context of the module.


You will be provided with a course booklet (electronic copy).

Bring your own device

You are required to bring your own device (Windows or Mac) and a power chord. Please ensure your device is fully charged as access to power is limited.

Please note that University does not carry any responsibility for your lost, stolen, or damaged devices whilst on the University premises.


EA 12-3, EA 12-4, EA 12-6

Getting Through Your HSC: A Practical Guide

While you progress through this journey and also the conclusion of your schooling life, we know you’ll have a lot on your mind – exams, future study, careers – but remember, while keeping focused on these bigger goals and aspirations, it’s also important not to forget your own health and well-being.

For tips on staying motivated and keeping focused, dealing with anxiety, keeping healthy, relaxation, pre-study exercise and more, read our article Getting Through Your HSC: A Practical Guide.


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