Assia and Shibboleth

Why did Ted Hughes call one of his poems in the Capriccio sequence ‘Shibboleth’?

Perhaps the title is a comment on Assia’s upper-crust British accent, which failed to gain her acceptance Into London’s society. A shibboleth, in biblical times, was a linguistic marker to distinguish the outsider. The last line of Hughes’ poem ‘Shibboleth’ reads ‘lick of the tar brush?’

In my chapter ‘Shibboleth’ Assia’s German  accent (Hochdeutch) betrays her origins, leading to an anti-Semitic attack on her by the innkeeper’s wife. In another chapter, Assia muses ‘my differences will never go away’.

Image of Assia Wevill from www.



  1. I found this word by chance in the dictionary several years ago, and was fascinated by it, as I am by all things Hebrew. A karmic connection, I think.


    • I refer to Ted Hughes’ poem, ‘Shobboleth’, several times in my essay ‘On Capriccio: the Lost Poems of Ted Hughes’. The poem clearly show Hughes’ disgust at the anti-semitic attitudes towards Assia. My essay won second place in the NT Literary Awards 2015. You can read an excerpt of it on my Blog at


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