Hughes, Ted (Vol. 14)
Hughes, Ted 1930–
Hughes is an English poet, playwright, editor, and author of books for children. He is a nature poet in the sense that his poems express, in their descriptions of wildlife and landscape, the brutal savagery of nature. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 4, 9, Children's Literature Review, Vol. 3, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
A. E. Dyson
[The Hawk In The Rain] is, to my mind, the most distinguished volume of verse by a poet of Mr. Hughes's generation to have appeared, and it notably escapes the various poetic labels that the last ten years have thrown up….
The major theme in the poems is power; and power thought of not morally, or in time, but absolutely—in a present which is often violent and self-destructive, but isolated from motive or consequence, and so unmodified by the irony which time confers. For Ted Hughes power and violence go together: his own dark gods are makers of the tiger, not the lamb. He is fascinated by violence of all kinds, in love and in hatred, in the jungle and the arena, in battle, murder and sudden death. Violence, for him, is the occasion not for reflection, but for being; it is a guarantee of energy, of life, and most so, paradoxically, when it knows itself in moments of captivity, pain or death. (p. 220)
[In] Ted Hughes's poems, there is a constant striving towards moments of significance; moments of greatness which will last, as symbols if not as facts; ideal events more enduring than their agents, whose death, indeed, is their own occasion to be. Love, like death is valued for its power of providing such moments. First, there is the violence of encounter, restless, compulsive, pitiless
There is no better way to know us
Than as two...
(The entire section is 1037 words.)
[When The Hawk in the Rain was published] it was evident that there was a gifted new poet on the scene who was prepared to make strong, confident assertions about the importance of strong—even confused or blind—feeling. And not only assertions; for the poems were often simply like assaults, designed to provoke the reader into vigorous—and in this poet's view, it seemed, perfectly healthy—responses of scarcely rational dismay or anger. Lupercal was the title of Hughes's second book, but what it suggests about the character of that volume could equally well be applied to The Hawk in the Rain: Lupercalia was a Roman festival at which the priests struck women to make them fertile. (p. 134)
Many of the assaults and arguments in The Hawk in the Rain are marked by [an] aggressive exaggeration that it is difficult after the first impact to take seriously, though one respects often in the same poems the justice—as it were, the sound theatrical imagination—with which the effects are managed: the impression the book made on its first appearance is wholly understandable. (p. 136)
Some poems in The Hawk in the Rain engage … specifically in assertion and argument concerning the desirability of a certain kind of emotional and moral life. Two that seem to be presented as a pair, one following the other, are 'Egg-Head' and 'The Man Seeking Experience Enquires His Way of a Drop of...
(The entire section is 1835 words.)
No patently sexual or scatological motifs are present in Ted Hughes's book, Moon-Whales, but the poems here suffer … from trying to be cutely hard-headed…. Hughes is often trying to write metrical, rhymed verse. The eeriness of the poems is that they are not even decent doggerel…. The scheme is sometimes to translate earthly lessons to another sphere and thereby make them more interesting and palatable as lessons. In Moon-Freaks, we find that when moon-people want to read, they look into a friend's face, "And thereupon / Each holds the other open and reads on." Moony-Art succinctly advises, "If you can't draw perfect / Better not draw. What you draw you get." But by and large Hughes is content to indulge in fantasy without much thought for the point of the analogy. The dracula vine is a moon-pet that transforms trash into fruit:
So this is a useful pet
And loyal if well-treat.
But if you treat it badly
It will wander off sadly
Till somebody with more garbage than you
Gives its flowers something to do.
One would prefer the more innocent, mild, and accomplished poetry of Milne, the marvelous ghostliness of Lear, and certainly the ballad wit of a Plomer or a Betjeman to the...
(The entire section is 239 words.)
Moon-Bells and Other Poems [published in the United States as Moon-Whales and Other Poems] is, in a very real sense, a young person's guide to Ted Hughes. It does not aspire to the density and subtle orchestration of his recent Season Songs, but neither is it … a parcel of left-overs. At the festive level, closest to the nursery, there are several examples of Hughes's verbal juggling and wizardry of scansion … and the comic-strip invention, which is there as an element in much of his most complex work, has a field-day in some of the moon-fantasies which give the book its title and are deployed at intervals throughout it, providing a delightfully airy and bizarre linkage between the more substantial pieces….
Only Ted Hughes could have given us that Beano WHOP placed just there, or the delightful/groan-making rhyme of electronic and chronic. It is a productive complicity between the poet and his young readers. They meet on a common ground, at odds with all the grammars, and set out from there together. With Hughes's fantasies there is a sense of shared, illicit invention….
However, the real strength of this collection lies in the handful of poems which arise from direct, natural observation. Their force gathers, detail by detail, with a kind of note-taking intensity. Like the Roe Deer, in the poem of that title, things (for Hughes) appear to have "happened into my dimension /...
(The entire section is 266 words.)
After [his] youthful, somewhat amateur-carpenter exercises in stanza-form, [Hughes] has abandoned this in his later work for a narrative mode that is largely his own invention—characterised by a disdain for rhyme, lines of ad hoc length, a jerky movement from incident to incident, etc.
At times Hughes seems to be going for a primeval effect, as though his verses were really translations of fragments lucky to survive from some remote and rather butch culture. So, in Cave Birds, his latest sequence, we get:
Big terror descends.
A drumming glare, a flickering face of flames
Something separates into a signal,
Plaintive, a filament of incandescence,
As it were a hair …
This is more mannered than anything we find in Crow. I once attended a reading of Hughes's where he gave us a number of songs from that work and accompanied each with a narrative preamble—the story that lay behind the poems in their published form—so inventive and so strong that one wanted it to continue long after the verse had taken over. I do not believe that Cave Birds hides any equivalent story, and the absence of even such a dubious hero as Crow is significant. The Cave Birds themselves are … a...
(The entire section is 536 words.)
Ted Hughes is the least academic of poets, totally unfazed by the unpoetical nature of the age. In Gaudete, whatever its structural obscurities, his confident, unselfconscious talent simply assimilated awkward items like the W. I. and Jaguar cars—rather as if Hughes was some X-ray visionary who could see the myth throbbing under the bonnet. The common criticism of Hughes is that he is a kind of linguistic Quilp, forcing huge beakers of boiling language down the throats of his readers and wolfing down words with their shells on….
Occasionally in Cave Birds the rhetoric seems excessive but it is nevertheless a very successful book…. Much simpler than Gaudete, it is an 'alchemical drama' devoted to the single subject of death: death as an irrelevance that suddenly and sickeningly becomes relevant; death as something to be dreaded in a variety of ways; death as cosmic salvation.
As a subject, it is equal to Ted Hughes's strenuous verbal gifts. One could spend a good deal of time simply quoting: 'Mountains lazed in their smoky camp'; 'Calves' heads all dew-bristled with blood on counters'; 'a seed in its armour'. The achievement, though, isn't in the fine touches; it is in the way Hughes has taken something impossibly abstract (as death and dying must be) and made it convincingly concrete: 'And you flare, fluttering, black-out like a firework.'… Cave Birds has faults, idiosyncratic...
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The importance and validity of place to the English poet has long been of prime importance….
For Ted Hughes, not surprisingly, it is the West Riding of Yorkshire, more especially the area around the Calder valley at Hebden Bridge, and to the north of it. In Celtic times, this area was the domain of Elmet, the last of the native tribal lands to fall to the Angles. It subsequently became uninhabited moors and was, 200 years ago, invaded again, this time by industrial progress….
Ted Hughes was born and raised in the area and it has been a binding source for all of his poetic talent and power. The violence in his work, so harsh yet so acceptable and understood, stems from his landscape—whether he be writing the Crow poems, Gaudete, or verse directly related to the moorland parishes. The harshness of his work is abundant in the physical aspect of Elmet as it is now.
Remains of Elmet is about the place but that is only the surface matter. The poems reach far below that to produce a book of stunning value, an intensely private yet paradoxically public statement of a man for his roots, not merely historical and romantically, poetically imagined, but real….
The poems are of a power and strength that even Hughes has not yet really reached in his career until now. They seek to delve and explore in a way he has not attempted with such love and knowledge before: they...
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All Ted Hughes's books since 'Lupercal' in 1960 have been mixtures of poems and some other element—drawings, photographs, prose, dramatic exchanges, folklore….
It is important to stress that [in Remains of Elmet] the pictures came first and that Hughes wrote the poems to them, since the connection of verse and scene is by no means close in many cases….
Hughes's poems are annotations of the scene and, though they have some sense of the deep past, with references to the Brontës and the mills of the Industrial Revolution, they do not attempt to refashion the reality of distant Elmet through a modern sensibility….
In general the poems suffer from two faults—a muscle-bound galvanism expressing itself in packed and tensile phrases listed down the page, often with no verb at all, and an excessive use of the pathetic fallacy, which goes beyond observing what men have made of Elmet, and turns the land into a malicious godhead. Very little is allowed to stand in its own right: it must brood, symbolise and portend….
The reader is so consistently battered by language that he has to turn to the heavily inert photographs to look for some clue to Hughes's intentions. It seems to me that Hughes takes the land by the scruff and shakes it—he wants it to be more significant, more death-dazzled than it is. In the process, the real pain of the industrialised centuries and the true...
(The entire section is 406 words.)