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Torn Richness: The Poetry of Ted Hughes 5 – “October Salmon”

“He’s lying in poor water”. The first words of “October Salmon” create an immediate feeling of closeness to the salmon, simply by the familiar way they refer to him, plunging in as if we and the poet have been standing watching and thinking about him for some time. In the first two stanzas almost everything is small-scale, intimate and particular. There’s not only sympathy with the salmon, in the concern at his vulnerability and the poorness of the water, there’s a physical empathy too. If you read the poem aloud, the first stanza makes significant demands on the breath and … Continue Reading

Torn Richness: The Poetry of Ted Hughes 4 – In Season Songs, wonder and joy are part of the whole

The world of natural forces as Hughes presents it in his first two books tends to be grim and oppressive. He admires the energy and vitality that resist death but presents them in terms of violent self-assertion or stubborn endurance. There’s not much softness. He even describes a snowdrop as

Brutal as the stars of this month,
Her pale head heavy as metal.

In life, though, Hughes is described as having been easy-going, tender and affectionate. Softer tones come into his poetry in Wodwo, his third book. Much of his later work is remarkable for its magical, loving touch in evoking … Continue Reading

Torn Richness – the Poetry of Ted Hughes 3: Seeing animals as individuals

The poems of Moortown Diary are mostly rapid, improvisatory notes written down at the end of each day’s work on the small farm Hughes was running in Devon with the father of his second wife. In fact Hughes claimed to have deliberately short-circuited the shaping processes of poetry and intellect by writing his notes before going to bed, while the memories were still fresh and unsorted. This gives them great observational closeness. Even more important, though, is a change in his relation to the animals he writes about. He now has a working farmer’s personal relation to them, an awareness … Continue Reading

Torn Richness – the Poetry of Ted Hughes 2 “Crow Tyrannosaurus”: Exploiting the Gap

Hughes’s earlier books are much possessed by a vision of what he called “the war between vitality and death”. In later books the same sense appears more positively in terms of an acceptance of the interdependence of creation and destruction. His concern with these wider ideas means that the animals in his poems often become symbols, archetypes, and characters of myth. Sometimes this works marvellously. Sometimes it fails, at least for me. For me, failure happens when the symbolic meaning takes over from the reality of the individual animal and when the projection of a “vision of life” becomes blustering, … Continue Reading

Torn Richness – the Poetry of Ted Hughes 1

This is a first slightly edited extract from a talk I gave in Padiham Unitarian Chapel on the 9th June 2018 as part of a celebration of the writing of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. It focuses on “The Thought-Fox”, which you can find here.
You can link to a video of Theresa Sowerby’s talk on Sylvia Plath here and to my talk on Hughes here .


In Poetry in the Making Hughes compares his love of capturing animals as a child with the … Continue Reading

Henri Michaux, translated by Jane Draycott, Storms Under the Skin: Selected poems, 1927–1954

Subscribers to PN Review can link to the review by clicking here.