The Poetry of Ted Hughes


The Poetry of Ted Hughes – A reader’s guide to essential criticism
By Sandie Byrne
Palgrave Macmillan – £15.99

There are a number of invigorating ways in which The Poetry of Ted Hughes – A reader’s guide to essential criticism can be understood, discussed and indeed, embraced.

There’s obviously, the Early Work, where Keith Sagar classifies ”Hughes’s wildlife work as both of the real and of the unconscious: the life which has been killed off and now marauds in the underworld of the unconscious” […] where Hughes’s thrushes becomes a lesson in the vital difference between humans and animals [….].,” a place ”where humankind has the ‘doom’ of consciousness and choice, which becomes the burden of not knowing what to do, and therefore perpetually questioning, and peering into the darkness for a sign.”

For many, the above alone, could well be deemed ample literary food for thought, debate and analysis. Not to mention the Nature Poetry, where monoliths and lintels were, perhaps still are: ”menaced by demonic protean crow-shapes and God’s voice in the wind – a landscape where the poet ”wanders among ruins, cut off from consolation by catastrophe.”

But for me (and I am sure I’m not alone here), it’s the fourth chapter ‘Hughes and Plath’ which resonates the most profoundly and the most poignantly; the rivalry of which, Susan Van Dyke and Heather Clark write: ”[…] in an article published in The Guardian in March 1965, Hughes insisted that there had been no rivalry between him and Sylvia Plath, as poets or in any other way. He did, however, say that living together led to mutual influence, and writing ‘out of one brain.’ Nonetheless, Van Dyke asserts that ‘Plath’s dialogue with Hughes’s poems is always competitive and her strategy revisionary.”

Now that both poets are no longer with us, all we have to go by so far as any form of poetic rivalry is concerned, is, in all honesty, the astonishing amount of work left behind (by Hughes especially) and books such as this.

That said, when, on page 106, Gayle Wurst quotes from a letter to Anne Stevenson of November 1989 (where ”Hughes reference to having been dragged out into a bullring and pricked and goaded into vomiting up details of his life with Plath, and his preference for silence, even though it could seem to confirm every accusation and fantasy”), all and sundry are to make of it what they invariably will. An insight, which, in and of itself, does make one wonder about the degree to which time has influenced vitriol and/or perhaps benign opaqueness. Especially the sort of which continues to both exist and persist betwixt essential criticism, favouritism and analysis.

Either way, this overtly lucid and insightful book, is a more than valid contribution to the guided/introductory work(s) of the late, great, Poet Laureate.

David Marx

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