He returned to short lyrics from Moortown Elegies onward but some of his gift seemed to have gone - there was less emotional intensity and a over reliance on certain stylistic ticks (adjectives hyphened together and stuff). I haven't read much the later stuff, but which he now seems to be best know (Ovid and Birthday Letters): it seems from their reputation that he may have had an Indian summer as a lyricist and I really should get round to checking these out.
― frankiemachine, Saturday, 31 December 2005 19:05 (seventeen years ago) link
― Noodle Vague (noodle vague), Sunday, 1 January 2006 01:36 (seventeen years ago) link
― anthony easton (anthony), Sunday, 1 January 2006 02:40 (seventeen years ago) link
so true about birthday letters. "dogs are eating your mother". worth the price of admission, as they say.
― vahid (vahid), Monday, 2 January 2006 06:38 (seventeen years ago) link
should we add pound and (especially) basil bunting to the list?
"aspirations to being a sage" makes them sound pretentious. could we scale that statement back a bit? i do think you're on track, but i see hughes as more concerned w/ having a strong sense of oral tradition and working w/ some sort of primal ecopoetics ... i don't think he's as concerned w/ the visionary thing as blake or whitman.
― vahid (vahid), Monday, 2 January 2006 06:56 (seventeen years ago) link
― tom west (thomp), Monday, 2 January 2006 22:48 (seventeen years ago) link
Vahid I simply don't agree with your portrait of him. I think he's obsessively concerned with the "visionary thing": that might not be apparent from some of the lyrics read in isolation, but it's unmistakeable if you read Crow, Gaudete, Remains of Elmet and Cave Birds or a reasonably representative selection of his prose writing. Oral tradition? Yes, he was obsessed with folk wisdom and myth but his was a scholarly approach (he studied anthropology at Cambridge and the folk and mythic content of his poems is heavily refracted through his reading of Jung, Eliade, Graves, anthropology, comparative religion etc). Of course he was a farmer/countryman with a deep interest in the natural world as well but there is something both scholarly and second-hand about his use of myth and folktales in his longer works.
"Primal ecopoetics"? Hmm. Probably about as valid as calling Francis of Assisi the first eco warrior. There was an overlap between some of Hughes's interests and the ecology lobby but he is a very different animal. A royalist, certainly no egalitarian, and a man who regarded the sort of people who became vegetarian to reduce cruelty to animals as decadent neurotics (see the poem A Vegetarian in Wodwo).
― frankiemachine, Tuesday, 3 January 2006 11:31 (seventeen years ago) link
also that's not what i meant by "ecopoetics". i meant "a deep interest in the natural world" when i said "ecopoetics".
― vahid (vahid), Wednesday, 4 January 2006 06:14 (seventeen years ago) link
― Josh (Josh), Wednesday, 4 January 2006 06:41 (seventeen years ago) link
Pound and Hughes is an interesting comparison. It's not one I feel qualified to make: it's many years since I read either of them. I do think they have some interesting things in common. Both had exceptional gifts as writers of short lyrics but were less capable of writing anything more sustained. They both aspired to writing longer works and experimented with similar solutions to the problem, including translation and collections of more-or-less interconnected shorter poems. Both, I would argue, would have written better poetry if they had written within their limitations.
Both believed that modern civilisation had lost touch with something essential although Hughes would have emphasised the problems of excessive rationality & empiricism where Pound would have been more concerned with economics and political systems.
On the other hand I don't think of Pound as a would-be prophet/sage in the semi-mystical Blakean/Lawrentian tradition (despite his beard & Christian name). I'd have to think longer (and do some re-reading) to clarify exactly why I think this, but Pound seems to me less mystical, more interested in beauty for its own sake and more preoccupied with form and craftsmanship than Hughes. His interest in older poetic traditions tends to be more purely aesthetic: Hughes is more preoccupied with ancient wisdom and mystical insight. Of course these are differences of emphasis: Pound was interested in what older poets actually had to say, and Hughes in the aesthetic qualities of their work. But I think there are very significant differences of emphasis.
Pound obviously was a man of many theories but he was less interested than Hughes in subordinating these into a single coherent philosophy. On the other hand Pound is much more original both as a poet and thinker. (I'm bending over backwards to be kind here: you could argue that both were little more than cranks, of no interest whatsoever as thinkers, and I'd have plenty of sympathy with that. Of course poet's cranky beliefs needn't adversely affect the quality of his poetry (think of Yeats) but there are big chunks of Pound and Hughes that are pretty hard to read because they are little more than the exposition or illustration of daft theories.)
Obviously Pound was interested in formal experimentation in a way that Hughes was not - there isn't much technical innovation in Hughes. Perhaps mainly for that reason Pound seems to me a "major" poet in a way that Hughes isn't quite. On the other hand, while Pound had the more significant talent, but he also squandered it more extravagantly. I'd rather read Hughes nowadays, but then again I'd rather read Larkin than either.
― frankiemachine, Wednesday, 4 January 2006 14:57 (seventeen years ago) link
― DOnald, Wednesday, 11 January 2006 03:36 (seventeen years ago) link
He makes it sound like so much fun
― donald, Wednesday, 11 January 2006 03:48 (seventeen years ago) link
Hughes was very upfront & explicit about his Shamanic aspirations. I'm not sure I'd call him a "cynic" as the word is generally used now (poems like Lovesong notwithstanding). But his insistence on the absurdity of human beings trying to deny their bestial nature is in the tradition of Diogenes (the dog!) so I'd agree he may be a cynic in that more traditional sense
(The difference, I think, is that whereas a contemporary cynic might say "love's a sham, it's sublimated animal instinct, both parties are out for what they can get" Hughes goes on to say "but, strip ourselves of romantic illusions, look at love honestly & acknowledge its pain, selfishness, drive for dominance etc, it's still glorious". It's the insistence on the glory that prevents Hughes from being a cynic in the modern sense, in the way that, for example, Larkin sometimes is.)
― frankiemachine, Wednesday, 11 January 2006 12:59 (seventeen years ago) link
― Donald, Wednesday, 11 January 2006 18:47 (seventeen years ago) link
― Josh (Josh), Wednesday, 11 January 2006 21:50 (seventeen years ago) link
― frankiemachine, Thursday, 12 January 2006 18:31 (seventeen years ago) link
― Donald, Friday, 13 January 2006 05:17 (seventeen years ago) link
― frankiemachine, Friday, 13 January 2006 10:47 (seventeen years ago) link
― Donald, Friday, 13 January 2006 17:30 (seventeen years ago) link
Furthermore reading and understanding W is a cumulative thing: once you're familiar with his work a piece like I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud is much more than the anthology-of-light-verse piece you may think it is.
The most powerful sections of "The Prelude" are often called the "spots of time" passages. These, The Intimations of Mortality Ode, and Tintern Abbey are good places to start.
Here is one of my favourite "spots of time" passages: it may give you an idea whether it's the kind of thing that you'd be interested in exploring further.
I remember well('Tis of an early season that I speak,The twilight of rememberable life),While I was yet an urchin, one who scarceCould hold a bridle, with ambitious hopesI mounted, and we rode towards the hills.We were a pair of horsemen: honest JamesWas with me, my encourager and guide.We had not travelled long ere some mischanceDisjoined me from my comrade, and, through fearDismounting, down the rough and stony moorI led my horse, and stumbling on, at lengthCame to a bottom where in former timesA man, the murderer of his wife, was hungIn irons. Mouldered was the gibbet-mast;The bones were gone, the iron and the wood;Only a long green ridge of turf remainedWhose shape was like a grave. I left the spot,And reascending the bare slope I sawA naked pool that lay beneath the hills,The beacon on the summit, and more nearA girl who bore a pitcher on her headAnd seemed with difficult steps to force her wayAgainst the blowing wind. It was in truthAn ordinary sight, but I should needColours and words that are unknown to manTo paint the visionary drearinessWhich, while I looked all round for my lost guide,Did at that time invest the naked pool,The beacon on the lonely eminence,The woman and her garments vexed and tossedBy the strong wind.
― frankiemachine, Friday, 13 January 2006 18:10 (seventeen years ago) link
Does Eliot count as an English poet? (Surely, if Yeats does!)
― Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Friday, 13 January 2006 18:12 (seventeen years ago) link
― frankiemachine, Friday, 13 January 2006 18:53 (seventeen years ago) link
― Donald, Saturday, 14 January 2006 00:03 (seventeen years ago) link
Best CD of Hughes' poems/writing?
― djh, Saturday, 31 March 2012 18:29 (eleven years ago) link
Great review of the Hughes bio by Janet Malcolm.
― xyzzzz__, Thursday, 21 January 2016 16:15 (seven years ago) link
Thank you, devoured that like a bowl of custard-covered Christmas cake.
Malcolm's book on Plath/Hughes is electrifying.
― Chicamaw (Ward Fowler), Thursday, 21 January 2016 16:57 (seven years ago) link
I haven't read that book - I'll need to.
Proper lit journalist busting some balls.
― xyzzzz__, Thursday, 21 January 2016 19:54 (seven years ago) link
In my literary youth I listened to a recording of Hughes reading his poems, including this one:
What will you make of half a manHalf a faceA ripped edgeHis one-eyed wakingIs the shorn sleep of aftermathHis vigourThe bone-deformity of consequencesHis talentsThe deprivations of escapeHow will you correctThe veteran of negativesAnd the survivor of cease?
His one-eyed wakingIs the shorn sleep of aftermath
His vigourThe bone-deformity of consequences
His talentsThe deprivations of escape
How will you correctThe veteran of negativesAnd the survivor of cease?
Back in my teens I would go along with anything, but even so that one didn't work for me. (Better than this though.) Also, "shorn sleep" was so close to "shorn sheep" that it ruined the effect, and I was sure that's where Hughes got it.
Sean O'Brien wrote an essay about Hughes going off the rails for a while with respect to diction. I've read Orghast at Persepolis which was about some pretty strange stuff.
― alimosina, Thursday, 21 January 2016 20:18 (seven years ago) link
― alimosina, Friday, 22 January 2016 20:22 (seven years ago) link
The Iron Man is described as being taller than a house, his head is as large as a bedroom and his feet are as large as a bed. So when he falls down the cliff and smashes into pieces on the beach, how come a seagull can pick up one of his eyes and a hand?
― the man with the chili in his eyes (ledge), Friday, 26 August 2022 13:13 (nine months ago) link
Because the first set of impossibilities you cited implies room for further impossibilities?
― more difficult than I look (Aimless), Friday, 26 August 2022 18:11 (nine months ago) link
A deeply unsatisfying answer for many reasons.Anyway despite that minor editorial inconsistency I'm glad that this book is as unique and captivating as I remembered. and that our 6 year old seems quite taken with it too.
― the man with the chili in his eyes (ledge), Friday, 26 August 2022 18:47 (nine months ago) link