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Ted Hughes Contemporary Literature in English

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1 Ted Hughes Contemporary Literature in English
Natália Pikli Department of English Studies ELTE

2 Ted Hughes (1930-1998) Edward James Hughes, Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire – Poet Laureate 1984-89

3 Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath – (1956-1963) (Birthday Letters, 1989)
Yorkshire country childhood – nature and myth, memories of war and masculinity Cambridge: literature → anthropology, archeology St. Botolph’s Review Sylvia Plath – Fulbright scholarship: marriage Poetry prizes for Hawk in the Rain, 1957 ‘a poet of the wild/animals’ Lupercal, 1960 Suicide of Plath 1963 – editor for Plath’s Ariel 1966 Wodwo, 1967 1969: suicide of Assia Wevill – dark violence of Crow 1970

4 HUGHES’s poetry: A reaction against the ‘negative sublime’, the resigned detachment and wry observations of mostly urban ‘Movement’ poets (Philip Larkin) in the 1950s – Larkin: ‘Deprivation is to me what daffoldils were to Wordsworth’ For Hughes: Nature is the main isnpiration – it is ‘amoral, has nothing to do with morality, compassion or justice’, brutish strength Al Alvarez, ed. The New Poetry, 1962, 1966 – ‘beyond the gentility principle’, beyond the idea of politeness, order, a more or less benevolent God HUGHES: brutality and fierce power of nature= humanity’s fall into scientific rationality/into an alienation from the organic world – modern man: narrowing his vision

5 BUT Image, symbol, myth and nature + violence = elemental forces, a reinvention of the essential ties between humanity and the world archaic energies of instinct and feeling are lost, need to be embraced by pre-Christian mythologies/symbols- CROW The basic OTHERness of animal life, no sentimentalizing – awe and fear in the observer poet/artist – a mediator, uniting two worlds (shaman)

6 His poetic voice and technique:
formal simplicity (first volume- trochees and spondees – Northerner/Middle English, against the grain) economy jarred rhythms repetitiousness magical incantation presenting an image and thought in a context of raw action - physical vividness of descriptions. Poems: usually tell a story or have narrative elements.

7 The Thought-Fox I imagine this midnight moment’s forest: Something else is alive Beside the clock’s loneliness And this blank page where my fingers move. Through the window I see no star: Something more near Though deeper within darkness Is entering the loneliness: Cold, delicately as the dark snow, A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf; Two eyes serve a movement, that now And again now, and now, and now Sets neat prints into the snow Between trees, and warily a lame Shadow lags by stump and in hollow Of a body that is bold to come Across clearings, an eye, A widening deepening greenness, Brilliantly, concentratedly, Coming about its own business Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox It enters the dark hole of the head. The window is starless still; the clock ticks, The page is printed.

8 ars poetica first poem in Hawk in the Rain
inside/outside, human/animal – the creative process ambiguity – ‘prints’, blank page/snow sensual experience and observation self-reflexivity imagination and reality – imaginary fox?

9 Animals – predatory instincts: Relic and Pike – Tennyson: ‘nature’s red in tooth and claw’
Relic: a jawbone found ”at the sea’s edge”= a relic – philosophy of nature: ”Nothing touches but, clutching, devours” – a ‘religion’ Pike (William Blake: The Tiger) – the perfect predator, the predatory instinct prevailing – from observation/description to personal memory to mythical depth and collective memory (”legendary depth: / It was as deep as England”) and finally - to intimate and direct contact (”That rose slowly toward me, watching.”)

10 Relic I found this jawbone at the sea's edge: There, crabs, dogfish, broken by the breakers or tossed To flap for half an hour and turn to a crust Continue the beginning. The deeps are cold: In that darkness camaraderie does not hold. Nothing touches but, clutching, devours. And the jaws, Before they are satisfied or their stretched purpose Slacken, go down jaws; go gnawn bare. Jaws Eat and are finished and the jawbone comes to the beach: This is the sea's achievement; with shells, Verterbrae, claws, carapaces, skulls. Time in the sea eats its tail, thrives, casts these Indigestibles, the spars of purposes That failed far from the surface. None grow rich In the sea. This curved jawbone did not laugh But gripped, gripped and is now a cenotaph.

11 Pike 1. description Pike, three inches long, perfect Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold. Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin. They dance on the surface among the flies. Or move, stunned by their own grandeur, Over a bed of emerald, silhouette Of submarine delicacy and horror. A hundred feet long in their world. In ponds, under the heat-struck lily pads- Gloom of their stillness: Logged on last year's black leaves, watching upwards. Or hung in an amber cavern of weeds The jaws' hooked clamp and fangs Not to be changed at this date: A life subdued to its instrument; The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals.

12 Pike 2. childhood memory/home
Three we kept behind glass, Jungled in weed: three inches, four, And four and a half: red fry to them- Suddenly there were two. Finally one With a sag belly and the grin it was born with. And indeed they spare nobody. Two, six pounds each, over two feet long High and dry and dead in the willow-herb- One jammed past its gills down the other's gullet: The outside eye stared: as a vice locks- The same iron in this eye Though its film shrank in death.

13 Pike 3. childhood memory/nature/cultural memory/
A pond I fished, fifty yards across, Whose lilies and muscular tench Had outlasted every visible stone Of the monastery that planted them- Stilled legendary depth: It was as deep as England. It held Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old That past nightfall I dared not cast But silently cast and fished With the hair frozen on my head For what might move, for what eye might move. The still splashes on the dark pond, Owls hushing the floating woods Frail on my ear against the dream Darkness beneath night's darkness had freed, That rose slowly toward me, watching.

14 Wodwo What am I? Nosing here, turning leaves over
Following a faint stain on the air to the river's edge I enter water. Who am I to split The glassy grain of water looking upward I see the bed Of the river above me upside down very clear What am I doing here in mid-air? Why do I find this frog so interesting as I inspect its most secret interior and make it my own? Do these weeds know me and name me to each other have they seen me before do I fit in their world? I seem separate from the ground and not rooted but dropped out of nothing casually I've no threads fastening me to anything I can go anywhere I seem to have been given the freedom of this place what am I then? And picking bits of bark off this rotten stump gives me no pleasure and it's no use so why do I do it me and doing that have coincided very queerly

15 Wodwo But what shall I be called am I the first have I an owner what shape am I what shape am I am I huge if I go to the end on this way past these trees and past these trees till I get tired that's touching one wall of me for the moment if I sit still how everything stops to watch me I suppose I am the exact centre but there's all this what is it roots roots roots roots and here's the water again very queer but I'll go on looking

16 Wodwo - wild man between human and animal
Middle English wudewose (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) – on the threshold of nature and human ”What am I?” repeated, a resounding question Human intellect and consciousness – a burden or a blessing? ”What am I doing here in mid-air?” ”I seem to have been given the freedom / of this place what am I then?” Strange world, unknown, frightening - ”I’ll go on looking.” free-flowing verse with repetitions – uncertainty (Wodwo, 1967)

17 Crow, 1970 – Leonard Baskin VOICE
a sequence of loosely related short poems, addressing ultimate religious questions a narrative: God vs Crow, games an antagonist Bible, a myth that parallels and denies the biblical answers – survival and egoism a creation myth, or rather a creation-and-destruction myth, influenced by oral poetry, mystic incantations and spells, closely drawing on the trickster myths of North America’s native inhabitants The trickster myth has a hero who is always wandering, always hungry, who is not guided by socially accepted conceptions of good and evil – his only will is for survival (Examination at the Womb-Door – Buddhism) primerlike vocabulary, simple syntax (unsubordinated sentences), impersonal point of view Admiration of brutish strength, of unyielding energy and survival Crow ‘swallowing up’ everything – words, meaningful philosophies

18 Examination at the Womb-door Who owns those scrawny little feet. Death
Examination at the Womb-door Who owns those scrawny little feet? Death. Who owns this bristly scorched-looking face? Death. Who owns these still-working lungs? Death. Who owns this utility coat of muscles? Death. Who owns these unspeakable guts? Death. Who owns these questionable brains? Death. All this messy blood? Death. These minimum-efficiency eyes? Death. This wicked little tongue? Death. This occasional wakefulness? Death. Given, stolen, or held pending trial? Held. Who owns the whole rainy, stony earth? Death. Who owns all of space? Death. Who is stronger than hope? Death. Who is stronger than the will? Death. Stronger than love? Death. Stronger than life? Death. But who is stronger than Death? Me, evidently. Pass, Crow.

19 A Childish Prank Man's and woman's bodies lay without souls,
Dully gaping, foolishly staring, inert On the flowers of Eden. God pondered. The problem was so great, it dragged him asleep. Crow laughed. He bit the Worm, God's only son, Into two writhing halves. He stuffed into man the tail half With the wounded end hanging out. He stuffed the head half headfirst into woman And it crept in deeper and up To peer out through her eyes Calling it's tail-half to join up quickly, quickly Because O it was painful. Man awoke being dragged across the grass. Woman awoke to see him coming. Neither knew what had happened. God went on sleeping. Crow went on laughing.

20 February 17th (1974) negative sacrifice – birth and death
Moortown Diary (1979) diary entry (1970, Hughes settled in Devon, farm) first person singular agent of the poem gives an account of an ill-delivering a lamb which had to be killed (head hacked off) in order to save its mother – death in birth unemotional, dryly detailed naturalistic description, no self-explanatory insertions Structure: lamb - born – head - body (key words) Lamb of God=Jesus Christ (John the Baptist, Mass) Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us! Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, grant us peace!

21 Agnus Dei Victoria and Albert Museum, London Stained glass panel, unknown artist, c. 1850

22 Birthday Letters Ted Hughes, 1998 (Forward Prize for Poetry)
”My book Birthday Letters is a gathering of the occasions on which I tried to open a direct, private, inner contact with my first wife – not thinking to make it a poem, thinking mainly to evoke her presence to myself, and to feel her there listening. Except for a handful, I never thought of publishing these pieces until last year – when quite suddenly I realized I had to publish them, no matter what the consequences.”

23 Birthday Letters, 1989 Sylvia, 2003 (Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig)
The feminist myth of Hughes ‘killing’ Sylvia and Wevill – silence of Hughes till 1989 (Love Song, 1970: ”In their dreams they held each other hostage” ”in the morning they wore each other’s face”)

24 Lovesong (1970, Crow!) He loved her and she loved him. His kisses sucked out her whole past and future or tried to He had no other appetite She bit him she gnawed him she sucked She wanted him complete inside her Safe and sure forever and ever Their little cries fluttered into the curtains Her eyes wanted nothing to get away Her looks nailed down his hands his wrists his elbows He gripped her hard so that life Should not drag her from that moment He wanted all future to cease He wanted to topple with his arms round her Off that moment's brink and into nothing Or everlasting or whatever there was

25 Her embrace was an immense press To print him into her bones His smiles were the garrets of a fairy palace Where the real world would never come Her smiles were spider bites So he would lie still till she felt hungry His words were occupying armies Her laughs were an assassin's attempts His looks were bullets daggers of revenge His glances were ghosts in the corner with horrible secrets His whispers were whips and jackboots Her kisses were lawyers steadily writing His caresses were the last hooks of a castaway Her love-tricks were the grinding of locks And their deep cries crawled over the floors Like an animal dragging a great trap His promises were the surgeon's gag Her promises took the top off his skull She would get a brooch made of it His vows pulled out all her sinews He showed her how to make a love-knot Her vows put his eyes in formalin At the back of her secret drawer Their screams stuck in the wall

26 Their heads fell apart into sleep like the two halves Of a lopped melon, but love is hard to stop In their entwined sleep they exchanged arms and legs In their dreams their brains took each other hostage In the morning they wore each other's face

27 Confessional poetry/memory/evocation
an ardently anti-confessional poet vs literary tradition of confessions (Augustine, Rousseau, Wordsworth, Byron, Hardy, etc.) and media-ruled postmodern hunger for ‘confession’ (TV shows) publishing them before his death – ‘ a sensation of inner liberation’ the compelling force of poetry: Hughes, ‘Perhaps it’s the need to keep it hidden that makes it poetic – makes it poetry. The writer daren’t actually put it into words, so it leaks out obliquely, smuggled through analogies. We think we’re writing something to amuse, but we’re actaully saying something we desperately need to share.”

28 BIRTHDAY – death/birth-rebirth
Memory – past and present fused – trying to recreate the original experience as if in the present/consciusness of the past fatalism (peach, Spain, Emily Bronte, bat-bite) evocation: we see Sylvia Plath ‘vibrant with life and radiating death’ basic opposition (American, urban, alpha student vs Northerner, son of a joiner) and ‘writing out of one brain’

29 Fulbright Scholars dying Hughes – recalling his first glimpse at Sylvia uncertainty of memory: ”Were you among them?” – ”I remember that thought. Not / Your face.” The future hidden in the past, which is presented as recreated present: ”Noted your long hair, loose waves - / Your Veronica Lake bang. Not what it híd.” – ”Your exaggarated American / Grin for the cameras, the judes, the strangers, the frighteners.” Eating fresh peach for the first time (cf. Prufrock ‘dare I eat a peach?’) – ”At twenty-five I was dumbfounded afresh By my ignorance of the simplest things”

30 narrative/’Greek tragedy’/dialogue
Otto Plath, the dead father – Hughes the husband – ‘ghosts’/Sylvia’s drama Your Paris – You Hated Spain – basic differences of vision, conscious vs unconscious (”Spain frightemed you. Spain / Where I felt at home.” ”Spain was the land of your dreams: the dust-red cadaver/ You dared not wake with”) Wuthering Heights – places/writers/fates haunting – still ”your huge / Mortgage of hope” 9 Willow Street: memory attached to places – ordinary events → premonition: bat-bite/sacrifice and danger: ”This was the bat-light we were living in: death” Reflecting on himself/their relationship/Sylvia’s poems

31 Ted Hughes: poet, writer, playwright
National Theatre, Peter Brook – Orghast – a play in an invented language, myth of Prometheus books for children (Iron Man, Moon-Whales) Ted Hughes Award – funded by Carol Ann Duffy, the present Poet Laureate

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