Ted Hughes Britain

Ted Hughes, Britain’s Poet Laureate Essay, Research Paper

Edward James Hughes is one of the most outstanding

living British poets. In 1984 he was awarded the title of the nation’s Poet Laureate.

He came into prominence in the late fifties and early sixties, having earned a

reputation of a prolific, original and skilful poet, which he maintained to the

present day. Ted Hughes was born in 1930 in Yorkshire into a family of a carpenter.

After graduating from Grammar School he went up to Cambridge to study English,

but later changed to Archaeology and Anthropology. At Cambridge he met Sylvia

Plath, whom he married in 1956. His first collection of poems Hawk in the Rain

was published in 1957. The same year he made his first records of reading of some

Yeats?s poems and one of his own for BBC Third Programme. Shortly afterwards,

the couple went to live to America and stayed there until 1959. His next collection

of poems Lupercal (1960) was followed by two books for children Meet My Folks

(1961) and Earth Owl (1963). Selected Poems, with Thom Gunn (a poet whose work

is frequently associated with Hughes’s as marking a new turn in English verse),

was published in 1962. Then Hughes stopped writing almost completely for nearly

three years following Sylvia Plath’s death in 1963 (the couple had separated earlier),

but thereafter he published prolifically, often in collaboration with photographers

and illustrators. The volumes of poetry that succeeded Selected Poems include

Wodwo (1967), Crow (1970), Season Songs (1974), Gaudete (1977), Cave Birds (1978),

Remains of Elmet (1979) and Moortown (1979). At first the recognition came from

overseas, as his Hawk in the Rain (1957) was selected New York?s Poetry Book Society?s

Autumn Choice and later the poet was awarded Nathaniel Hawthorn?s Prize for Lupercal

(1960). Soon he became well-known and admired in Britain. On 19 December 1984

Ted Hughes became Poet Laureate, in succession to the late John Betjeman. Hughes

has written a great deal for the theatre, both for adults and for children. He

has also published many essays on his favourite poets and edited selections from

the work of Keith Douglas and Emily Dickinson (1968). Since 1965 he has been a

co-editor of the magazine Modern Poetry in Translation in London. He is still

an active critic and poet, his new poems appearing almost weekly (9:17) Judging

from reference list, Ted Hughes has received a lot of attention from scholars

and literary critics both in the USA and Britain. However, most of these works

are not available in Lithuania. Hence my overview of Hughes? criticism might not

be full enough. The few things I have learned from reading about Ted Hughes could

be outlined as follows. Some critics describe Hughes as ?a nearly demonic poet,

possessed with the life of nature?, ?a poet of violence? (4:162), his poetry being

?anti-human? in its nature (12:486). According to Pat Rogers, his verse reflect

the experience of human cruelty underlying the work of contemporary East European

poets such as Pilinszky and Popa, both admired by Hughes. Hughes? concern with

religion gave inspiration to his construction of anti-Christian myth, which was

mainly based on the famous British writer and critic Robert Ranke Graves? book

The White Goddess (1948) and partly on his own studies of anthropology (12:486).

Speaking of his early poems, the critics note that at first they were mistakenly

viewed as a development of tradition of English animalistic poetry (6:414) started

by Rudyard Kipling and D.H. Lawrence. G. Bauzyte stresses that Hughes is not purely

animalistic poet, since in his animalistic verse he seeks parallels to human life

(4:163). In I. Varnaite?s words, ?nature is anthropomorphised in his poems? (5:61).

Furthermore, G. Bauzyte observes that Hughes? poetics are reminiscent of the Parnassians

and in particular Leconte de Lisle?s animalistic poems. She points out, however,

that the latter were more concerned with colour, exotic imagery and impression,

while Hughes work is marked by deeper semantic meaning. His poetical principals

are fully displayed in the poem Thrushes – ?spontaneous, intuitive glorification

of life, akin to a bird?s song or Mozart?s music? (4:162). The four main sources

of Hughes?s inspiration mentioned are Yorkshire landscape, where he grew up as

a son of a carpenter, totemism studied by the poet at Cambridge and theories of

Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer (4:161, 6:414). The main themes, as singled

out by I. Varnaite, are: nature, the world of animals, man, the relationships

between man and nature (5:61). Hughes often defies traditional poetical cannons,

imploring stunning contrasts and surreal imagery (4:162). He was also noted for

his language and laconism of style. According to V. A. Skorodenko, Hughes uses

contrasting images, unexpected free associations and ?sometimes vulgar words?

(6:416). I. Varnaite describes Crow and it sequels as ?repetitive, sometimes too

naturalistic and even vulgar? (5:62). Like Hughes?s animals, man is also cruel

and predatory already in his early poetry (5:62). As I. Varnaite put it, to Hughes,

?the most admirable beings are the most ferocious and violent ones.? Similarly,

the critic Edwin Muir points out the ferociousness of Hughes? imagery by calling

it ?admirable violence? (9:9).This might be an argument in favour of those, who

see some fascist tendencies in Hughes?s verse (4:63, 5:62). G. Bauzyte observes

that in his negativism, Hughes is close to the American poet Emily Dickinson.

In his Manichaean vision of the world darkness often prevails over light, cold

over warmth, hatred over love (4:163). Speaking of predecessors, Hughes is said

to be kindred to Dylan Thomas in the way that they both celebrate the natural

and their images are taken from the nature (6:414). Hawk in the Rain, for instance,

has the feel of D. Thomas?s and M. Hopkins poetry, where the man becomes the joining

link between the earth and the ?fulcrum of violence?, the hawk figuring in the

poem, thus responding to the Thomas poetical credo ?the man is my metaphor? (4:163).

The critics also note differences between the two poets. By contrast with Thomas,

Hughes?s world is indifferent to suffering and pain it is filled with (6:415)

and, while Thomas is purely anthropomorphistic, in Hughes?s work, the human being

is viewed as a part of animalistic world. For Hughes, there is no great difference

between a man and a beast, inasmuch as stoicism and rational will are the only

qualities distinguishing people from animals and enabling them to resist the universal

chaos. In the opinion of A. Skorodenko, Hughes?s concept of the world fully unfolds

in his books published in the seventies Crow, Cave Birds and Gaudete!, where he

collaborated with the American sculptor Leonard Baskin, who drew the pictures,

which inspired the poems. Hughes? vision of the world in those cycles approach

the quality of a myth. Blood there figures as the ultimate metaphor and goes through

all stages of life – from the archetypal pulsation in primal unity to its complete

opposite, Littleblood. The principal idea in the latter books is that blood rules

the world, the governing motif for all actions being sexual drive to ensure the

output of offspring. Along other new tendencies, V. A. Skorodenko also observes

a shift in the poets outlook reflected in the poems written in the eighties, where

the man is no longer metaphysically solitary as in the earlier books, but ?becomes

a part of nature and through it of the whole of Universe? (6:417). I. Varnaite

points out the influence of Arthur Schopenhauer?s philosophy on Hughes?s verse.

According to her, ?many poems translate a number of Schopenhauer?s theses into

the language of modernistic poetry? (4:61). Robert Stuart interprets Hughes? works

in the light of Nitzscheanism, while other critics find some of Hughes? poems

being under Heidegger?s influence (ibid.). I. Varnaite also notes that the poet?s

worldoutlook is a complex one and cannot be one-sidedly simplified to one philosophical

school. Among possible influences she mentions folklore, myths and religions other

than Christianity. However, drawing parallels between Hughes?s work and Schopenhauers?s

philosophy, she writes that, to both of them, ?animate and inanimate nature have

the same essence and contain the element of the Will of the Universe?. I.Varnaite

concludes with the statement that ?Hughes is a nihilist? speaking of ?inner emptiness,

the dead universe, bleakness, the nothing, nothingness, brutal will…? and his

vision of future seems to be no more optimistic than the present and past (4:67).

1. Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes Selected Poems. London: Farber and Farber

Ltd., 1962. 2. Ted Hughes. Lupercal. London: Faber and Faber, 1985. 3. Ted Hughes.

The Hawk in The Rain. London: Farber and Farber, 1986. 4. XXa. Vakar? Europos

Literat?ra. II dalis (1945-1985). Vilnius: Vilniaus Universiteto leidykla, 1995.

5. Literat?ra Nr 36 (3). Vilnius: ISSN 0202-3296, 1994. 6. Anglijskaya Literatura

1945-1980 (ed. by Saruchanyan, A. P.). Moscow: Nauka, 1987. 7. Anglijskaya Poeziya

v Russkich Perevodach. XX Vek. Moscow: Raduga, 1984. – 848 p. 8. Ivasheva, Valentina

Vasiljevna. Literatura Velikobritaniji XX Veka. Moscow: Visshaya Shkola, 1984.

9. Walder, Dennis. Ted Hughes. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1987. 10.

Walder, Dennis. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Great Britain: The Open University

Press, 1976. 11. Stuart, Robert. English Poetry 1960-1970. England: Cambridge

University Press, 1985. 12. The Oxford Illustrated History of English Literature

(ed. by Rogers, Pat). New York: University Press, 1990. – p. 486-489. 13. The

Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (ed. by Ousby, Ian). USA: Cambridge University

Press, 1991. – p. 484-485. 14. Hopkins, John. Guide to literary Theory and Criticism.

Baltimore: University Press, 1994. -775 p. 15. Lotman, Jurij Michailovich. Struktura

Chudozhestvennogo Teksta. Moscow: Isskustvo, 1970.


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