Hughes, Ted (Vol. 119)
Ted Hughes 1930–1998
British poet, playwright, children's author, and editor.
See also Ted Hughes Criticism (Volume 2), and volumes 4, 9, 14.
Named Poet Laureate of England in 1984, Hughes is a versatile poet who is perhaps best known for creating powerful poems that feature bold metaphors and resonant language, imagery, and speech rhythms. He often comments on the human condition through the use of myth and symbol, describing natural phenomena and animals in evocative language. Hughes contends that Western civilization has overvalued intellectual faculties, dividing humans both from their instinctual urges and from nature. He suggests that the poet can be a reunifying source by employing such creative energies as imagination and emotion, as well as rationalization, to probe the mysteries of nature and life. In Hughes's poetry, according to Seamus Heaney, "racial memory, animal instinct and poetic imagination all flow into one another with an exact sensuousness." While Hughes is regarded as one of the most accomplished poets to emerge since World War II, he is often discussed more for his relationship with American poet Sylvia Plath than for his work. His seven-year marriage to Plath has been a source of controversy and speculation, and his silence on the subject was considered by his detractors to be a sign of guilt over her death. Not until Birthday Letters (1998), a poetry collection created over the span of a quarter of a century, did Hughes present his side of his tumultuous relationship with Plath.Hughes was born Edward James Hughes on August 17, 1930, the youngest child of William Henry Hughes and Edith Farrar Hughes. In 1948, Hughes won an Open Exhibition to Cambridge University, but delayed his enrollment for two years to serve in the Royal Air Force. After completing his service, Hughes entered Pembroke College, Cambridge, to study English but switched in his final year to study anthropology. In the two years following his graduation, Hughes published several poems in Cambridge literary magazines and supported himself by working a number of odd jobs. In 1956, he met Sylvia Plath, who was at Cambridge as a Fulbright fellow; within four months, they were married. After Plath's suicide in 1963, Hughes took an active role in raising their children, Frieda and Nicholas. Hughes grew up in the rugged landscape of Yorkshire, and the natural world became central to his poetry. His father fought in the trenches of World War I and violent imagery is a central feature in much of Hughes's work. His poems do not idealize nature, but present the brutal, ugly aspects and violent struggles inherent in the natural world. Hughes died of cancer, at the age of 68, in 1998.
Hughes's early poetry is emotionally intense and features elaborate imagery and natural settings. His first book, The Hawk in the Rain (1957), made an immediate impact on critics, poets, and readers. The poems in this volume display charged, assonant language which commentators likened to that of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Critics were particularly impressed with the sensual language of "The Thought-Fox," one of Hughes's most anthologized poems. Lupercal, (1960), Hughes's second volume, confirmed his reputation as an important and inventive young poet. Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow (1970), is considered one of his most startling achievements. The poems follow the adventures of Crow from the genesis of life to nuclear apocalypse, presenting Hughes's version of the creation story. The protagonist, the Crow, is at war with the world, including his creator. Throughout his long journey, Crow experiences individual and universal tragedies and assesses both human pretension and life itself with coldly sardonic observations. The poems in Remains of Elmet (1979), Moortown (1979), and River (1983) offer vivid descriptions of animal life and nature and generally project a more positive view of humanity than Hughes's previous works. Remains of Elmet traces the history of the Elmet region of England as it develops from an ancient kingdom to a modern industrial area. Moortown is composed of four sequences of poems. "The Moortown" sequence, which was singled out for acclaim by critics, recounts in diary form Hughes's experiences as a dairy farmer deeply engaged in the birth and death cycles of animals. The poems in River follow a series of rivers through the course of a year, describing their sundry landscapes and animal life. These volumes reveal what many agree are Hughes's finest qualities as a poet: his ability to evoke the natural world in rich, sensuous detail and his unsentimental yet respectful view of life. In Birthday Letters, Hughes reveals many personal feelings and intimate details regarding his relationship with his wife, Sylvia Plath.
Hughes is one of a very few contemporary British poets to have gained a significant reputation outside of Britain. In England, Hughes's stature is reckoned not only with regard to his unique poetic achievement but to the effect of his style and ideas on his younger contemporaries. In the 1950s, Hughes's poetry signalled a dramatic departure from the prevailing modes of the period. The stereotypical poem of the time was determined not to risk much: politely domestic in its subject matter, understated and mildly ironic in style. By contrast, Hughes marshalled a language of nearly Shakespearean resonance to explore themes which were mythical and elemental. Many critics felt Hughes's appointment as Britain's Poet Laureate in 1984 rather incongruous, given that the Laureate's role typically involved celebrating the Christian milestones of the monarchy, including marriages and christenings. Hughes's poetry encompasses mythology and pre-Christian religion and often presents Christianity as a destructive force. Despite the incongruity of the appointment, commentators praised the work that Hughes produced while he was Laureate. In addition to his poetry, Hughes has distinguished himself for other literary endeavors as well. His ambitious critical study entitled Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (1992), his insightful social and literary criticism, and his poems and books about poetry for children have also been commended.
The Hawk in the Rain (poetry) 1957
Lupercal (poetry) 1960
Meet My Folks! (juvenile poetry) 1961
The Wound (drama) 1962; revised version produced 1972
The Earth-Owl and Other Moon-People (juvenile poetry) 1963; published as Moon-Whales and Other Moon Poems, 1976; revised edition published as Moon Whales, 1988
The Burning of the Brothel (poetry) 1966
The Price of a Bride (juvenile drama) 1966
Gravestones (poetry) 1967; published as Poems, 1968
Poems: Ted Hughes, Fainlight, and Sillitoe (poetry) 1967
The Iron Giant: A Story in Five Nights (juvenile literature) 1968
I Said Goodbye to the Earth (poetry) 1969
A Few Crows (poetry) 1970
Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow (poetry) 1970; revised edition, 1972 and 1981
Fighting for Jerusalem (poetry) 1970
Eat Crow (drama) 1971
Selected Poems, 1957–1967 (poetry) 1972
The Iron Man [based on his juvenile book] (drama) 1973
Orpheus (drama) 1973
Prometheus on His Crag: 21 Poems (poetry) 1973
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter (juvenile poetry) 1974; revised and enlarged edition published as Season Songs, 1975
Cave Birds (poetry) 1975; enlarged edition published as Cave Birds: An Alchemical Drama, 1978
Earth-Moon (juvenile poetry)...
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Sarah Lyall (obituary date 30 October 1998)
SOURCE: "Ted Hughes, 68, a Symbolic Poet and Sylvia Plath's Husband, Dies," in New York Times, October 30, 1998, p. 1.
[In the following obituary, Lyall discusses Hughes's life and death from cancer at the age of 68.]
Ted Hughes, the British poet who was known as much for his doomed marriage to the American poet Sylvia Plath as for his powerful, evocative poetry, replete with symbolism and bursting with dark images of the Devonshire countryside in which he lived, died Wednesday, his publisher said. He was 68.
Hughes, Britain's poet laureate, had been suffering from cancer for about 18 months, but had told only his closest friends and had never discussed details of his illness, said Matthew Evans, the chairman of Faber and Faber, Hughes's publisher. "He felt that being ill was, for him, very private," Evans said. Hughes died at his home in North Tawton.
It was his illness, and his sense that time was running out, that persuaded Hughes to publish his last work, Birthday Letters, a collection of poems about his fraught, fragile relationship with Plath, who committed suicide in 1963, soon after the two separated. After a silence of 35 years, in which Hughes had steadfastly refused to discuss Plath publicly or to respond to charges—leveled in her own work and by her admirers—that his callousness...
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Ted Hughes with Carolyne Wright (interview date November/December 1998)
SOURCE: "What Happens in the Heart," in Bloomsbury Review, Vol. 18, No. 6, November/December, 1998, pp. 3, 12-3.
[In the following interview, Hughes shares personal revelations about his relationship with Sylvia Plath.]
Just when every literary critic and Sylvia Plath devotee thought that they had sorted out the truth about Plath and her husband Ted Hughes, along came the February 27, 1998, publication of Hughes' Birthday Letters, a remarkable sequence of love poems about his and Plath's tumultuous seven-year marriage. In front-page articles on both sides of the Atlantic, critics and poetry lovers speculated as to why Hughes, Britain's Poet Laureate since 1984, had abruptly broken his unrelenting and controversial silence about his life with Plath, 35 years after she laid her head on a gas oven door and committed suicide. Nobody, it seemed, had any idea that Hughes was quietly composing this poetic memoir over the last three decades.
Nobody, that is, except a few close friends and at least one serendipitously encountered individual. In November 1989, Hughes himself had disclosed this extraordinary information to me in a most unlikely place—on a boat cruise on the Buriganga River in Bangladesh. What he was writing would clarify the true nature of his and Plath's relationship, Hughes...
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SOURCE: "Something of His Own to Say," in New York Times Book Review, October 6, 1957, p. 43.
[In the following review of The Hawk in the Rain, Merwin praises Hughes's young talent for its originality and intelligence.]
Ted Hughes is a young English poet; The Hawk in the Rain is his first book. Its publication gives reviewers an opportunity to do what they are always saying they want to do: acclaim an exciting new writer. There is no need, either, to shelter in the flubbed and wary remark that the poems are promising. They are that, of course; they are unmistakably a young man's poems, which accounts for some of their defects as well as some of their strength and brilliance. And Mr. Hughes has the kind of talent that makes you wonder more than commonly where he will go from here, not because you can't guess but because you venture to hope.
Whatever he may be writing ten years from now, Mr. Hughes in his first book has already achieved a great deal. The poems abound in the one sort of originality that ultimately matters; they are quick with a life that is uniquely their own. They are not without occasional echoes, not so much of other poets in particular (Robert Graves, perhaps, as distinctly as any) as of bits of the current poetic tradition. Indeed, if anything these echoes enhance the excitement of reading the poems since they are able to contain such echoes without ever...
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SOURCE: A review of Crow, in New York Times Book Review, April 18, 1971, pp. 6, 35-6.
[Hoffman is a poet and professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. In the following review, he analyzes Hughes's Crow, calling it "a new version of the gospel."]
"In the beginning was Scream," begins a poem revising the Book of Genesis. Ted Hughes's substitution, on this early page in Crow, of Scream for Word suggests the violent, primitive energy and the furious assault upon despair which striate the nearly 80 poems in this book. Reading Crow is a profoundly disturbing experience. This is no mere book of verses, but a wild yet cunning wail of anguish and resilience, at once contemporary, immediate, and as atavistic as the archaic myths it resembles.
In Crow, Ted Hughes, like Blake among others before him, has written a new version of the Gospel.
Crow realized there were two
One of them much bigger than the
Loving his enemies
And having all the weapons.
And who is Crow? He is offered in the same relation to ourselves as the totem bird or animal of an Indian tribe to the members who believe in its myths. That is to say, sometimes Crow is literally a crow,...
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SOURCE: A review of Gaudete, in World Literature Today, Vol. 52, No. 3, Summer, 1978, p. 467.
[In the following review, Holkeboer lauds Hughes's Gaudete.]
Praise for Hughes has been grudging for some reason. Called the finest poet of his generation (the competition scarcely threatens this equivocal honor), he is at the same time patronized as a flashy wordsmith, master of the consonantal dazzle, like Fry or Dylan Thomas, the rhetoric meretriciously masking and emptiness beneath, a certain cruel sentimentality. Hughes deserves better.
Gaudete, his first volume of poetry since Crow (1971), is an extraordinary book, strange, visionary and deeply moving. Its protagonist is an Anglican minister by the name of Lumb (the name suggests a functionary—dumb, numb, lumbering) abducted from his sleepy parish by spirits who fashion a new Lumb, an exact replica, out of an oak log. The new Lumb ministers to his parish in a Dionysian way, seducing its women and forming a coven of worshipping supplicants. The poetic narrative culminates in a ritual sacrifice interrupted by the outraged, loggish Apollonian husbands who attack Lumb and kill him. The original Lumb returns, apparently altered inexorably by his concourse with the fairies, and wanders the countryside making inquiries of nature and composing hymns (collected in an epilogue) to a nameless deity.
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SOURCE: "Wotan and Ted Hughes's Crow," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 26, No. 1, Spring, 1980, pp. 38-44.
[In the following essay, Witte discusses the mythological influences on Hughes's Crow.]
Ted Hughes has collected in Crow what appear to be the fragments of apocalyptic experience. Everything in the world into which Crow survives seems about to explode, compelled by intolerable internal pressures. The most trivial event might be cause for astonishing cruelties. But unlike the brutal naturalism frequently explored in the earlier animal poems, in "Pike" and "Hawk Roosting," the violence in Crow has a martial character. The grass, even, "camps in its tussock / With its spears and banners." And Crow's are the warrior's trails: courage, cunning, the indomitable will to survive, and the sharpness of eye and talon. Battle, furthermore, provides metaphor for the two ideological conflicts dominating Crow's experience: first, Crow's aversion to the Christian myth and, second, Crow's struggle to find the words of song, of poetry in a culture loud (deafening) with the words of advertisements and life insurance policies. Nevertheless, Crow observes from a godlike remove, unhampered by moral concerns, reporting the ghastliest events with the emotionlessness of an immortal. He survives each of his own disintegrations without apparent harm.
Hughes's Cambridge study of...
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SOURCH: "Animal Music: Ted Hughes's Progress in Speech and Song," in English in Studies in Canada, Vol. VII, No. 1, Spring, 1981, pp. 81-92.
[In the following essay, McKay discusses Hughes's use of and emphasis on language in Crow and Gaudete.]
In the blighted landscape of Crow, scarred with the repeated failures of genesis, it is startling to come across "Glimpse" close to the end of the book:
"O leaves," Crow sang, trembling, "O leaves—"
The touch of a leaf's edge at his throat
Guillotined further comment.
Speechless he continued to stare at the leaves
Through the god's head instantly substituted.
Crow, bred out of God's abortive efforts to create, surviving on carrion and garbage, reveals this surprising capacity for awe, and attempts to sing in the manner of a romantic ode. This gesture toward lyric flight, "O leaves," is tossed up and shelved there, a striking exception to the book's policy of using words as stones or sandpaper for their cumulative weight or abrasive action. "O leaves" does preface another of the many failures documented in Crow, but it is a failure of a different order...
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SOURCE: "Is There Life After Crow? Ted Hughes's Poetry Lately," in Poetry, Vol. CXXXVIII, No. 5, August, 1981, pp. 297-304.
[In the following review, Moynahan analyzes the quality and nature of Hughes's poetry since Crow.]
Among the moderns, Ted Hughes has aspired to go farther than any other in following up on the great Anglo-Irishman's tip: farther than Eliot with his Sweeney, Pound with his macho-man "Sestina Altaforte," Lawrence with his "Birds, Beasts and Flowers," Jeffers with his Monterey Peninsula hawks and rocks, Doc Williams with his "Elsie" from the Ramapo Range of North Jersey. Frost with his cackling "Witch of Coös," Maine. Of course, the search to renew poetry's energies from brutal, brutish, or primitive sources was not new to the twentieth century. It is a distinct current in nineteenth-century Romanticism. Think of Wordsworth's Leech-gatherer, a saurian figure amid the rocks and water pools of a far-off geological era. Think of Heathcliff, showing his teeth like a dog, in life and in death, in Emily Brontë's exquisite distillation of Brutal Romanticism, Wuthering Heights. Presumably the Leech-gatherer, if he had at last forgone his virtual mutism and turned poet, would have disappointed us. Surely this "grave liver" would have come on sounding like a born-again Christian. But what if Heathcliff had turned poet, instead of settling for a career of farming, land and...
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SOURCE: "Historical Landscape in Ted Hughes's Remains of Elmet," in Clio, Vol. 14, No. 2, Winter, 1985, pp. 137-54.
[In the following essay, Haberstroh analyzes the changing landscape in Hughes's Remains of Elmet, and traces the historical forces which bring about the change.]
In Remains of Elmet, a volume of poems illustrated with photographs by Fay Godwin, Ted Hughes turns to a Yorkshire landscape to create a racial history which places the recent decline of the Calder Valley in an inevitable cycle of natural process and human response to that process. Hughes's headnote describes the latest disaster in the valley in which he was raised:
Throughout my lifetime, since 1930, I have watched the mills of the region and their attendant chapels die. Within the last fifteen years the end has come. They are now virtually dead, and the population of the valley and the hillsides, so rooted for so long, is changing rapidly.
While Hughes's note and Godwin's photographs describe a contemporary landscape dotted with abandoned textile mills, the volume of poems suggests that this collapse is the latest version of the disaster highlighted by the book's title: the defeat of Elmet, the last British kingdom to fall to the Angles. By focusing on Elmet, Hughes places the present plight of the Calder Valley in a historical...
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SOURCE: "Ted Hughes and the Laureateship," in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 2, Summer, 1985, pp. 3-5.
[In the following essay, Roberts discusses Hughes's appointment as England's Poet Laureate.]
The reported expectation of the 'literary world' that the laureateship would be awarded to a poet who had announced that he no longer wrote, and surprise that instead the immensely prolific Ted Hughes was chosen, makes its own comment. But even many of Hughes's admirers must, when the announcement was made, have thought it incongruous. Thinking of Hughes, the celebrator of everything in nature that threatens the decorousness of human arrangements, who has pronounced civilisation an evolutionary error, as a 'member of the royal household' is like thinking of Emily Brontë as lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. As David Holbrook remarked in a not otherwise perceptive critique, referring to the award of the Queen's Medal for Poetry, it is not possible to imagine Hughes reciting 'Song for a phallus' in Her Majesty's presence. How could this poet bring his gifts and imagination to bear on royal births and weddings? Even Betjeman, whom many thought ideally equipped for the task, did not produce any distinguished verse as Laureate, and those who have read the quatrain by Hughes engraved in Queen Square outside the Faber offices, to mark the Silver Jubilee, will not have been encouraged by it.
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SOURCE: "The Crow of Avon? Shakespeare, Sex and Ted Hughes," in Cambridge Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 1, 1986, pp. 1-12.
[In the following essay, Holbrook traces some of Hughes's theories about Shakespeare and strongly disagrees with the poet's interpretation.]
Obviously, Shakespeare had problems with sexuality, and we encounter these over the Sonnets, over King Lear's outburst about the sulphurous pit. Hamlet's feelings about his mother, and in Timon. The intensity of the emotions isn't always modified within the overall meaning of the play—as the treatment of sexuality is perhaps absorbed in Antony and Cleopatra, even in its unresolved ambiguity.
A student recently thought he had found clues to these problems in an essay by Ted Hughes, in the Introductory Note to his Selection from Shakespeare. This selection is no doubt used in schools, and so the Note is worth examining. In discussing it we found with dismay that Hughes seeks to reduce Shakespeare to a single theme. To study the essay perhaps tells us more about Hughes and the contemporary mind than Shakespeare, who, according to this critic, was 'almost invariably hammering at the same thing—a particular knot of obsessions'.
We might accept that there are recurrent themes in Shakespeare—the contrast between appearance and reality, for instance—the outward form that...
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SOURCE: "Ted Hughes In and Out of Time: Remains of Elmet and Moortown Elegies," in World, Self, Poem: Essays on Contemporary Poetry from the "Jubilation of Poets," edited by Leonard M. Trawick, Kent State University, 1990, pp. 37-43.
[In the following essay, Brandes asserts that Hughes's poetry remains out of time and history.]
In 1957, at the outset of his career, Ted Hughes asserted that his poems exist because "they are the only way I can unburden myself of that excess which, for their part, bulls in June bellow away." Hughes's bulls represent his early attempt to claim an imaginative territory outside the ironic understatement and domestic preoccupations of the mainstream of British poetry represented by the Movement in the late 1950s. Although one must take the young Hughes's excessive bulls with a tolerant grin, one must also see the bovine analogy as his attempt not only to distance himself from the affairs of everyday human existence, but also to place his poetry outside the limiting constructs of history. In what approaches self-parody if not blatant mockery, Hughes envisions the poet and his poetry existing in the immediate physical world of the bulls' realm, unencumbered by human time and oblivious to the demands of social or political relevancy. The bulls live according to the rhythms of biological time; their bellowing is an uncontrollable part of the larger creative process....
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SOURCE: A review of Rain-Charm for the Duchy and Other Laureate Poems, in World Literature Today, Vol. 67, No. 2, Spring, 1993, pp. 385-6.
[In the following review, Firchow gives reserved praise for the poems in Hughes's Rain-Charm for the Duchy and Other Laureate Poems.]
Since succeeding to the office of Poet Laureate in 1984, Ted Hughes has regularly published poems on a variety of appropriate princely and royal occasions. Whereas versified attacks on the royal family, even scurrilous ones, would nowadays probably raise few critical eyebrows if perpetrated by a major contemporary poet, this kind of hyperconventional poetic activity strikes one as more than a little odd. On the face of it, as Hughes himself must be aware (along with, perhaps, at least a few members of the royal family), there is something quite absurd about the whole enterprise, more or less like imagining a royalist poet from St. Louis or a socialist novelist elevated to the peerage.
Part of the reason, no doubt, for this sense of incongruity is that at least since the early nineteenth century, writing poetry on royal or even bourgeois demand has seemed to violate the conception of poetry itself, so that even an establishment laureate like Tennyson would have been viewed as compromising his artistry by stooping to praise the House of Hanover—especially, perhaps, the House of Hanover. For the Stuarts...
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SOURCE: "Riddled With Craziness," in Spectator, Vol. 272, No. 8675, March, 1994, pp. 28-9.
[In the following review, Levi discusses the craziness in Hughes's collection of essays, Winter Pollen.]
There are nearly all the essential pieces of an autobiography of this most surprising and entertaining of poets scattered among the 30 years of essays in this book. But I suspect a psychoanalyst has got at him, because there is also some curious psychological raving, including a piece of lunatic presumption psychoanalysing the poetry and history of T. S. Eliot, based partly on his 'religious vision of St Sebastian'. This is what it must have been like talking to Ezra Pound in the madhouse, but Ezra's mind was as sane then as it ever got, and Ted Hughes' centenary piece for Eliot is a deviation. Other pieces (not all) are simply brilliant. No one has ever written better about Dylan Thomas or Sylvia Plath or the metre of Sir Gawain or about Coleridge; he is sound about Wyatt, and if he is wrong about Pushkin his essay is still worth thinking about. No other poet in English on either side of the Atlantic has produced a more solid body of criticism in our generation, but it is sometimes riddled with craziness like woodworm.
Sometimes, or rather usually, that is very enjoyable. He is one of 'those old-fashioned fouled-up guys' with minds open to astrology and dowsing and Plato's myths and...
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SOURCE: A review of New Selected Poems, 1957–1994, in New Statesman & Society, Vol. 8, No. 348, April 14, 1995, pp. 45-6.
[In the following review, Roberts discusses the suffering and death in Hughes's poetry from New Selected Poems, 1957–1994.]
Woody Allen once said that nature was one big restaurant. Push that one step further—one big morgue, one big abattoir—and we approach Hughes-land, a country loud with the shrieks of beasts caught in sprung traps. Of men too, of course, since Hughes has never been shy of projecting the suffering endemic in the human condition, as he sees it, onto those souls that go clad in fur, feather and leaves.
This new volume of selected poems, a larger version of the compilation he produced 15 years ago, offers a broad sweep through a lifetime's dedication to poetry and reveals, as it gathers momentum, a huntsman's loving preoccupation with the quest and quarry: death. Inevitable death, violent death; of animals, of people. All roads and all pores lead to death in this astonishing collection.
Hughes offers an idiosyncratic spin on the old eternal verity. His poems aren't elegies; the energy behind them makes itself felt as forcefully as hammer blows. Occasionally, life and survival are celebrated, as in the lovely "The Thought-Fox", where inspiration arrives not as predator but simply as unexpected guest: "Brilliantly,...
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SOURCE: A review of New Selected Poems, 1957–1994, in World Literature Today, Vol. 70, No. 2, Spring, 1996, pp. 407-8.
[In the following review, Firchow discusses Hughes's choice of selection in his New Selected Poems.]
It is beginning to look as if Ted Hughes wants to make a habit of selecting his poems. His first such selection, simply and appropriately called Selected Poetry, appeared as long ago as 1968 and gathered up poems from the first decade or so of his individually published volumes. The second, New Selected Poems claimed merely to move the process up by a few years to 1981 but proleptically contained several poems from River, a volume which did not appear until 1983. Now his third and latest selection reprints just about all the poems contained in the first two collections as well as continuing to add poems from subsequent individual volumes. Here for the first time, however. Hughes also includes poems which have either not been published before or have not been garnered as yet into individual volumes. For both of these groups he establishes a new, decade-by-decade category labeled "Uncollected"; and, possibly in order to mitigate the habituality of his by now habitual act of selection, he also once in a while changes the order in which previously chosen poems formerly appeared, or even assigns some to the "Uncollected" realm despite their prior appearance...
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SOURCE: "Transforming Ourselves into Beasts," in Spectator, Vol. 278, No. 8806, May 10, 1997, pp. 37-8.
[In the following review, Levi lauds Hughes's translations of Ovid's poetry.]
It must be 100 years since Maurice Baring remembered in print how an Eton master, enquiring what class he was waiting for, commented 'Oh, that hog Ovid!' But Ovid, as the young Baring remarked later, is not a hog. All the same, it has taken a century or more to make him one of the most appetising to us of all Roman writers. How has the trick been achieved, if not by following him backwards from his influence on Shakespeare and on his translations from Marlowe onwards? Yet his poetry, modestly sharpened in sex and violence, admittedly, by the Poet Laureate, reads like something from the folklore movement, that might have been admired by Yeats and William Morris. Indeed, it seems a pity that these selections have missed their ideal illustrations which might have been by Arthur Rackham. I have always liked the Metamorphoses, and these translations are perfect for the 1990s.
You cannot have everything, of course. References to the Caesars and to amber created for Roman women inject a note of bathos, and the whole idea of a continuous history of transformations down to the apotheosis of Aeneas, and the catastasis of Julius Caesar as a comet, has to be swept under the carpet. I was personally grieved by the...
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SOURCE: A review of By Heart: 101 Poems to Remember, in Observer, September 28, 1997, p. 17.
[In the following review, McGough complains that Hughes's By Heart lacks a contemporary feel.]
The only poetry that mattered to me when I was at school was the stuff that we recited in class, and if heroism and self-sacrifice were involved then so much the better. I charged with the Light Brigade and helped bury Sir John Moore at Corunna: our voices were the thumping hooves, the doleful beat of the drum.
My interest in poetry stemmed not from the English Literature department but from Elocution and Drama. There seemed to me to be two kinds of poetry—the poetry of Shush and the poetry of Share. The first was reverential and lived in libraries where a diet of dust and silence ensured long, somnambulant lives. Teachers of English Literature were at ease with annotated poems about which much had been written. The poems raised questions, and woe betide you if you didn't provide the right answers. It was poetry of the intellect, and what we learnt by heart was not the verse, but key critical phrases. Having to read a passage aloud in class was like walking across a minefield. 'What does the poet mean by that?' 'Who was Lycidas?' 'Spell onomatopoeia.'
And then, once a week, poetry let its hair down. As there was no Channel 4 in those days and therefore no jobs to be...
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Bayley, John. "The Stabbing Beak." Times Literary Supplement, No. 4753 (6 May 1994): 5-6.
Points out the humor in Hughes's essay collection, Winter Pollen, and asserts that the essays on Romantic poetry are most notable.
Bedient, Calvin. "Ted Hughes's Fearful Greening." Parnassus 14, No. 2 (1987): 150-63.
Discusses Hughes's attempts at reconciliation with nature in Moortown and River.
Bradshaw, Graham. "Hughes and Shakespeare: Visions of the Goddess." The Achievement of Ted Hughes, edited by Keith Sagar, pp. 52-69. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983.
Relates Hughes's ideas about Shakespeare to those of F. R. Leavis.
Cox, Brian. "Shakespeare's Myth." Hudson Review XLVI, No. 2 (Summer 1993): 390-94.
Asserts that Hughes's Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being reveals more about Hughes than it does about Shakespeare.
Cushman, Keith. "Hughes' Poetry for Children." The Achievement of Ted Hughes, edited by Keith Sagar, pp. 239-56. Athens: University of Georgia, 1983.
Discusses Hughes's children's poetry and its relationship to...
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