The Ted Hughes Society Journal Volume 2, Issue 1

The Ted Hughes Society Journal
Volume 2, Issue 1
Dr. Edward Hadley | Open University
Ms. Laura Webb | University of Sheffield
Editorial Board
Prof. Terry Gifford | Bath Spa University
Ms. Yvonne Reddick | University of Warwick
Prof. Neil Roberts | University of Sheffield
Ms. Carrie Smith | Exeter University
Front cover: ‘Zwei KräherlCHE’ by Johannes Heisig (2011)
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Volume 2, Issue 1
Editorial................................................................................................................................................. 1
Edward Hadley
Just back from the Abbey, 6 December 2011................................................................................. 3
Terry Gifford
‘Life Subdued to Its Instrument’: Ted Hughes and Technology............................................... 4
Sam Solnick
Variant Editions: Cave Birds, River, Remains of Elmet, Elmet and Three Books...................17
Ann Skea
The Perils of Literary Celebrity: The Archival Stories of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
Amy Hildreth Chen............................................................................................................................20
Poetry in the Making: Fifty Years Old............................................................................................32
Mick Gowar
From Poetry to Painting....................................................................................................................42
Johannes Heisig
The Shaman, Trickster, and Scapegoat Motif in Hughes's Oresteia.......................................48
Stuart Hirschberg
Review of Daniel Xerri’s Ted Hughes’ Art of Healing.................................................................49
Terry Gifford
Note on Contributors........................................................................................................................38
Volume 2, Issue 1
Edward Hadley
Outside of the study of English Literature, Ted Hughes seems to be known for three
things: 1. His marriage to Sylvia Plath; 2. Her suicide; 3. his commemoration of their
relationship in the poems of Birthday Letters. Whilst all are undeniably true, this common
perception of Hughes conjoins him to his first wife in such a way as to sometimes obscure
the individual talents of both. Almost every news article concerning the dedication of
Hughes’s memorial at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey did not fail to neglect the three
facts above, only occasionally treading lightly on unfamiliar and certainly less controversial
Fortunately, it has been satisfying to see that away from the headlines, the
resurgence of interest in Hughes continues unabated and with variety. The recent re-issue of
two of his most critically acclaimed books, Remains of Elmet and River, is a very positive step.
The shelves of bookshops seem to give the impression that Birthday Letters or Crow are the
only volumes Hughes ever published, in much the same way news articles give the
impression that his main achievements are not necessarily his own. Though many would
almost certainly have preferred to see the original photographs accompanying these
volumes (especially in the case of Fay Godwin’s Remains of Elmet pictures), few would
begrudge the chance to see them in print once again. Indeed, the presence in this second
issue of the THS Journal of Ann Skea’s article on the variant editions of Cave Birds, River,
Remains of Elmet, Elmet and Three Books seems timely and serves to remind one of the
convoluted historiography of these books, that at once complicates and elucidates our
understanding of their significance.
The return of the Elmet and River poems also coincides with the newly revised and
re-issued edition of Terry Gifford’s Green Voices, his pioneering ecocritical work which
examines these two books in great detail. Terry has written two articles for this issue of the
THS Journal concerning different matters, but debates in the field of ecocriticism have surely
provided a vital stimulus for Sam Solnick’s fascinating article on ‘Ted Hughes and
Technology’, where he argues that ‘a purposeful intertwining of the biological and the
technological lies at the heart of Hughes’s poetics.’
Other articles may not be linked conveniently within this second issue, but they are
no less important in how they relate to Hughes studies. Here, Amy Hildreth Chen explores
the ‘the perils of literary celebrity’ in her article examining the nexus of issues raised by
biographies of Hughes, Plath and the influence of literary estates. Stuart Hirschberg
continues to develop his work in the field of Hughes and myth with his article concerning
the Shaman, Trickster, and Scapegoat motif in Hughes’s posthumously published
translation of Aeschylus's Oresteia trilogy. To what extent Hughes saw himself as a shamanic
figure features in the background of Mick Gowar’s article on Poetry in the Making, which as a
project, celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2011. Raising questions about the changing nature
of educational systems in the United Kingdom during this period, Gowar links Hughes’s
experience within this sometimes constrictive environment to key features in Hughes’s role
as a poet and educator. The recent exhibition in Berlin of paintings inspired by Hughes’s
Crow poems prompted me to ask the artist, Johannes Heisig, to write about how Hughes’s
dark sequence motivated his painting and how he created this ‘dialogue’ between these two
different mediums.
Variety such as this is certainly an antidote of sorts to the more pedestrian facts about
Hughes issued by news articles and is certainly a testament to the sheer range of ongoing
Hughes scholarship. In this way, the THS Journal can hopefully continue to augment our
knowledge about Hughes, just as the re-issue of neglected volumes restores to bookshelves
the complete and remarkable range of his writings, and the long overdue presence of his
memorial in Poets’ Corner ensures that his legacy will endure in the public consciousness.
Just back from the Abbey, 6 December 2011.
Terry Gifford
The vulture made an appearance in the Abbey just before the dedication ceremony at
which the ‘creatures of light’ were set in stone. The second reading at Evensong concluded,
‘For where the corpses are, there are the vultures also’. Of course, the vulture is also a
creature of light. The salmon in the poem ‘That Morning’, the last three lines of which ring
Ted Hughes’ name on his Honister greenslate stone, probably regard the bears as vultures,
and the bears regard the fishermen as competing vultures. But to stand ‘alive in the river of
light’ for a moment was how we all stood to remember the generous light around Ted
Hughes in the great Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.
‘May his words continue to inspire, to challenge, to encourage’, said the Dean, Dr
John Hall. Looking along the critics’ row, seated appropriately behind the poets’ row, I
thought that, inspired by the charge of the work, we hopefully both clarify and deepen its
challenges to encourage further readers and their readings. Lord Matthew Evans, former
Chairman of Faber and Faber, read a letter from Ted to Sylvia about the poetic process. Juliet
Stevenson read ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’, ‘Anniversary’ and ‘Where I sit writing my
letter’. Then a rather frail Seamus Heaney gave an address linking Hughes to Chaucer and
all the other company commemorated in this corner of the Abbey through their poetic line,
or their vision, or their national standing. Ted’s Pembroke College friend Daniel Huws
spoke unscripted of the connections and distinctions between Hughes and R. S. Thomas
before reading the latter’s poem ‘In Memory of Ted Hughes’. Finally, Heaney read ‘Some
Pike for Nicholas’, ‘For the Duration’, and ‘That Morning’. As Blake Morrison observed
afterwards, these poems enfolded all the family. In the following prayers the Dean gave
thanks for Hughes’s ‘prophetic voice’.
The Ted Hughes Society was well represented and all the gossip was good. Keith
Sagar’s book of correspondence with Hughes is due to be published next May and it will
include some unpublished Hughes material in appendices. Neil Roberts is travelling the
country promoting his book. Noel Chanan has recently introduced further showings of his
warmly playful film The Artist and the Poet. Jonathan Bate, now settled in to presiding over
all those dinners in hall as Provost of Worcester College, Oxford, has finished work on
Shakespeare’s Theatre of the World a British Museum exhibition for London’s 2012 Cultural
Olympiad, and returning to research for Ted Hughes: The Inner Life. Ted’s Aspinal Street pal,
Donald Crossley, reported snow above Mytholmroyd and teased Jonathan about walking
him off his feet in the course of a research ramble around the Calder Valley. And driving
home from the London train late at night I saw my first Somerset fox since moving here a
few weeks ago.
‘Life Subdued to Its Instrument’: Ted Hughes and Technology
Sam Solnick
Upended man into the verticalSo to comprehend balance.
Then tipped his chin
So to widen his outlook on heaven.
In this way the heap of disorder
Was altered.
It was adorned with the godlike novelty
Of man.
‘Creation; Four Ages; Flood; Lycaon1
In his version of Ovid’s creation myth Ted Hughes marks the human entry into
creation with a change in the world itself and, in a crucial departure from Ovid, matches the
evolution of the human with the birth of technology. Prometheus’ ‘novel’ creations view the
earth in a new manner: their upturned gaze orders ‘disorder’ and ‘comprehends balance’.
Also, in their capacity for ‘godlike novelty’ - the power of invention - they develop
technologies that will shape Earth in new and increasingly alarming ways as the poem
continues through the golden age to the warfare and ecological mismanagement that typify
the age of iron.
This essay argues that a purposeful intertwining of the biological and the
technological lies at the heart of Hughes’s poetics. After briefly setting Hughes’ poetry in
relation to posthumanist discourses about technology I will show how his conscious
decision to portray the dual operation of bios and techne continues to make his work
challenging and relevant. Building on “Pike’s” interrogation of predatory tools and
representational techniques I will show how Hughes draws links between evolutionary
(mis)adaptation, technological sophistication, and ecological ethics. These links are
particularly important in considering how technology mediates our relationships with
humans and other embodied beings, as demonstrated in the striking parallels between
Hughes’ depictions of mechanized slaughter on the battlefield and in the abattoir. Finally, I
will suggest that any poetic resistance to the worst excesses of modern technology is itself
necessarily technological as it includes language, that representational technology which
plays an important role in revealing our world to us. This is perhaps why, in Hughes’
clearest literary statement of his underlying ecological mythology, the world has to be saved
by giant robots.
Technological Animals
Hughes’ work is not, as Eckbert Faas argued, an instance of ‘radical primitivism’ but
rather posthumanist, in Carey Wolfe’s sense of the word, because of its consistent efforts to
Ted Hughes, "Creation; Four Ages; Flood; Lycaon", Collected Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 2003),
1 Like Lyotard’s paradoxical formulation of the postmodern, Wolfe’s posthumanism comes
both before and after humanism. Before in the sense that it
names the embodiment and embeddedness of the human being in not just its
biological but also its technological world, the prosthetic coevolution of the
human animal with the technicity of tools and external archival mechanisms (such as
language and culture).
The human, Wolfe explains, is
fundamentally a prosthetic creature that has coevolved with various forms of
technicity and materiality, forms that are radically “non-human” and yet have
nevertheless made the human what it is.
This includes ‘the most fundamental prostheticity of all: language in the broadest sense’.2
But posthumanism also comes after ‘humanism’ in the sense of humanism as a dominant
philosophical paradigm in the post-enlightenment era; a period which, not incidentally,
Hughes famously credits with constituting a grand failure of Western Civilisation.3 Hughes’
writing consistently confronts a historical moment typified by the failure of humanist
thinking, where organic life (and its future survival) is increasingly caught in a network of
technological, ecological and economic systems.
For all that Hughes can be considered a poet of the animal we cannot ignore his
conscious introduction of an abyssal rupture between humans and other animals which
figures humans’ fundamental technicity as an evolutionary break. Other animals, for
Hughes, ‘live in perpetual “Samadhi”, and have never fallen from it into ego-consciousness,
into the acculturating, detached cerebration which removes us from it’. This rupture stems
from both an embodied/physical and a technological/cultural mutation; ‘egoconsciousness’ is ‘the result of the brain-transformation – following on the last mutation of
our species 40,000 years ago’ which resulted in
free intelligence, the ability to manipulate abstract ideas & direct our behaviour
against instinct, we had lost the divine world, and internal identity with the divine
self, culture appeared[…]as a substitute for what we had lost – religion appeared as a
technology to regain it.4
The letter suggests that any rapprochement between the human and its embodied animal
being will be through some sort of recuperating ‘technology’.
In the interests of clarity I should say here that I take technicity (technical quality or
character, technicality; the extent to which a people, culture, etc., possesses technical skills or
technology) and technology in their broadest senses.5 Namely as encompassing the ever
Ekbert Faas, Ted Hughes: The Unaccomodated Universe (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1980), 1.
Cary Wolfe, What Is Posthumanism? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), xv, xxiii.
3 Ted Hughes, Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose (London: Faber and Faber, 1994), 128.
4 Hughes, “Letter to Moelwyn Merchant, 29 June 1990”, Ted Hughes and Christopher Reid, Letters of
Ted Hughes (London: Faber and Faber, 2007), 580–581. Hughes’ Emphasis.
5 technicity, n.
OED, Third edition, March 2010; online version September 2011.
<>; accessed 02 November 2011.
Also note OED Definition 4c. of “Technology”
proliferating sets of instruments, equipment and machines (tools, productive technologies)
as well as skills and disciplines (techniques) which enable organisms to enter into a
prosthetic relation with their physical and social environments.1
"Creation; Four Ages; Flood; Lycaon" tracks a simultaneous shift in biophysical form
and technological capacity which differentiates Prometheus’ up-ended humans from the rest
of the animals who
Hang their heads from horizontal backbones
And study the earth
Beneath their feet2
This is an instance of what David Wills calls dorsality ‘the name for that which, from behind,
from the back of the human, turns (it) into something technological’.3 ‘In Standing Upright’ –
the Promethean upending – ‘the simian turns anthropoid and, in so doing, immediately
turns technological […] a fundamental realignment of the human in its relation to
technology occurs with the upright stance’.4 Wills’ “dorsality” usefully describes not only
how the technological turn comes through a physical mutation (in the back) but how the
technological capacity announces itself in unpredictable ways. Standing upright allows for
different sorts of tools to be manipulated but it also widens the cortical pan, giving more
room for the brain and more capacity for (technological) invention. Technology ‘defines and
redefines the human, and does so downstream from the point at which a given technological
creation was brought into effect’; it takes the human from behind.5
Although they are not pronounced until after the idyllic Golden Age, the
technological usurpations of the organic that marks the descent of man through the poem’s
four ages are already immanent and imminent with the inception of the human. The
‘conifers’ have ‘no premonition of the axe/Hurtling towards them on its parabola’. 6 Despite
the axe not having been fashioned yet Hughes suggests that, due to the capacity for
invention, this technological re-shaping of the earth exists in potential. The humans develop
a number of technologies including domestic (shelter, fire), agricultural (ploughs,
husbandry) and martial (axes, longships) instruments and techniques. These directly shape
the material and organic world.7 These productive technologies operate alongside a
technicity of culture, represented in the poem by the development of legal, political,
religious and (im)moral discourses and practices – each a kind of prosthetic with which the
individual humans are always already intertwined.
I am aware of the objection that instigating such a radical conception of technicity
risks overextending the conception of technology to an extent that it becomes difficult to
address it critically. However, it is a necessary move because it remains faithful to Hughes’
“technological knowledge or know-how; a technological process, method, or technique. Also:
machinery, equipment, etc.”
1 Though human technicity is both mine and Hughes’ focus, tools are not a specifically human
phenomenon. Any consideration of animal tools raises a series of problematic questions about
intention and cognition. For an overview see Amanda Seed and Richard Byrne, ‘Animal Tool-Use’,
Current Biology, 20:23 (2010): P. R1032-R1039
2 Hughes, "Creation; Four Ages; Flood; Lycaon", Collected Poems, 869.
3 David Wills, Dorsality: Thinking Back Through Technology and Politics (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 2008), 3.
4 Wills, 8.
5 Wills, 7.
6 Hughes, "Creation; Four Ages; Flood; Lycaon", Collected Poems, 869.
7 As Wills points out even basic technologies have political ramifications. The erection of a house
engenders questions of boundaries, family, community and so on.
own descriptions of religion and ritual as technologies, of words as a ‘kit’ for expression and
of mythologies as ‘factories for understanding’.1 After all, mythologies are ways of
externalizing and sharing knowledge through writing and other communicative techniques.
Any appeal to a simple, non-technological, human(ity) is problematised from the outset. We
are forced to consider the aesthetic, ritual and linguistic within the technological.
Despite the shadow he casts on all discussions of contemporary technology, my
argument does not organise itself around Martin Heidegger. Heideggerean readings of
Hughes have been attempted by Leneord Scigaj and, more fully, by Craig Robinson.
However, even Robinson’s book length study admits that his argument is hampered by the
fact that there is no evidence that Hughes read Heidegger.2 Indeed, in a letter housed at
Emory he claims never to ‘have never read anything by or about Heidegger’. 3 More
importantly, for the purposes of this study, it seems questionable as to how far any critique
of Hughes can go without interrogating either animal-embodiment or evolution which,
while fundamental to Hughes’ work, remain peripheral in Heidegger’s philosophical
That being said, my argument echoes Heidegger’s notion that the key difference lies
not in the gap between the technological and non-technological, but rather between
instrumentality and other modes of revealing. Heidegger famously points out that ‘techne is
the name not only for the skills and activities of the craftsman, but also for the arts of the
mind and the fine arts. Techne belongs to bringing forth, to poeisis’.4 Poetic cognition is itself
technological; language may well be the house of Being but ‘in using language and in
building a house, we are unavoidably using technology’.5
Thinking about our prosthetic relations with technology requires thinking carefully
about embodiment. Certain technologies are freighted with symbolic meaning and complex
embodied effects. This applies, for Hughes, as much to the fishing-rod as the séance. Part of
my analysis will question the difference between these technologies and those which appear
to instrumentalise the living and therefore prioritise causal efficiency at the expense of
corporeal awareness. It is these representations of the destructive efficiency which violates
an awareness of fragile embodiment and organic finitude that Heidegger’s reflections on the
central questions of modern technology are most appropriate to a reading of Hughes, as I
demonstrate in relation to Hughes’ treatment of military and agricultural technology. These
issues of technology, representation and violence are at play on a quite fundamental level in
one of Hughes’ most famous poems, “Pike”.
Like other animals in Lupercal - the stabbing beaks of “Thrushes” or the jaws and
claws of “Relic” - the pike, ‘Killers from the egg’ serve as metonyms for the predation and
violence of the natural world, the necessity and cruelty of a world red in tooth if not claw.
But they are also symbols which organise the speaker's cognitive processes. The final stanza
brings this experience of fishing alongside a 'dream' which
‘kit of words’, in “Letter to Anne-Lorraine Bujon” 16 December 1992, Hughes and Reid, 230.
‘Factories’ in Hughes, Winter Pollen, 143.
2 ‘I know of no evidence that Ted Hughes is familiar with the writings of Martin Heidegger’ Craig
Robinson, Ted Hughes as Shepherd of Being (London: Macmillan, 1989), 3.
3 Letter to Nick Bishop, Undated, Box 55 Folder 6, Ted Hughes papers, Manuscript, Archives, and
Rare Book Library, Emory University.
4 Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, (New York: Harper and
Row, 1977), 13.
5 Wills, 63.
Darkness beneath night's darkness had freed,
That rose slowly towards me, watching.1
What dream has risen to the surface here that the speaker feels has fixed him with his gaze?
Not just the 'iron' eye of a pike but a vision of evolution itself that implicates the speaker in
its processes. The darkness beneath night's darkness is both the murky depths of the pond
and the depths of the unconscious. Hughes sees fishing as a process where he sinks himself
'up to the fontanel in evolution’s mutual predation system within which every animal cell
has been fashioned'.2
The poem positions the speaker within the system of predation; he is both the pike's
predator and a more successful evolutionary adaptation – not necessarily the same thing, as
the extinct monsters in “Relic” suggest. Though their bite is terrifying, the phrase 'The jaws'
hooked clamp' indicates that the clamp of the pikes' bite has been hooked, has been
superseded by a superior instrument. The pikes 'jaws' are 'Not to be changed at this date' the
pike is 'A life subdued to its instrument'. The pike cannot change, the evolved 'instrument' of
their body dictates their existence and even if they could evolve further they would no
longer be pike. Conversely the fisherman's tools have evolved with him, he can develop
technologies - in this case the rod - that increase his capacity for predation, he can adapt
without a biophysical change.
The pike - as symbol of evolution and predation - do more than embody the
speaker's own animal predation. The rod and hook are not the only instances of human
technology; in the second stanza Hughes introduces his implicit link between animal
predation and human technology. The pike move
Over a bed of emerald, silhouette,
Of submarine delicacy and horror
Hughes, writing in the earlier stages of the Cold War, describes his predator-fish in terms of
military technology; he updates the symbol of predation to his historical moment. The
significance of this move is only revealed later when, in a typical Hughesian movement
between individual and social scales, the poem reveals that the darkness of the pond
signifies more than the individual unconscious and the animal drives and motivations
therein; rather, this 'legendary depth' is 'as deep as England'.
The pike's killer-instinct implicitly maps onto England's own modes of survival - the
submarines it has developed to defend itself which, like the predatory drives in the
unconscious, may remain hidden for sustained time periods only to emerge with destructive
consequences. We might even read the image of two Pike, ‘One jammed past its gills down
the other's gullet’ as a vision of Mutually Assured Destruction. 3
The pike work to map aspects of animal predation onto military technology, but the
process works both ways; the adjective 'submarine' brings out the 'horror' at the pike.
Hughes' use of a technological metaphor is itself significant. Turning to one of his most
notable descriptions of his ars poetica we see him explain that there is
the thinking process by which we break into that inner life and capture answers and
evidence to support answers out of it. That process of raid, or persuasion, or ambush,
or dogged hunting, or surrender, is the kind of thinking we have to learn and if we
Hughes, "Pike", Collected Poems, 84–86.
“Letter to Gifford”, 16 January 1994,Hughes and Reid, 659.
3 Hughes, "Pike", Collected Poems, 84–86.
do not somehow learn it, then our minds lie in us like fish in the pond of a man who
cannot fish.1
In using the pike to reveal the primal animal-evolutionary drive to survive within his own
mind Hughes presents himself as a man who can fish. Fishing becomes a metaphor for the
act of writing, an attunement to both the real pike in the outer world and the pike in the
inner world which embody his understanding of himself as animal, as predatory - the
psyche's 'darkness beneath night's darkness'.
The technology that enables both catches, the rod so to speak, is of course (poetic)
language – as exemplified by that plosive /k/ in hook which precedes and supersedes the
/c/ of the pike’s ‘clamp’ in ‘The jaws hooked clamp’. By inserting ‘hooked’ between jaws
and clamp Hughes prevents the pike’s bite coming together, the suffix ‘-ed’ snagging the
muscular monosyllables. Moreover, language always may catch more than the fishermanpoet has bargained for. That military 'submarine' both captures his sense of the pike's
evolved weapons of survival and brings out the 'horror' that this predatory survival instinct
still operates in the human and the tools they develop. Language becomes the third evolved
technology that separates the speaker from the creature whose defining characteristics are
determined further back on the evolutionary timeline.
Posthumanism helps us recognize that, as with other technologies, language arises
from ‘fundamentally ahuman evolutionary processes’, in this case stemming from
third order structural couplings [engagements between systems] and recursive coontogenies [the mutual development of organisms] linked in complex forms of social
behaviour and communication among so-called higher animals, which have
themselves emerged from specific forms of embodiment and neurophysiological
To put it another way, human language - formed of symbolic units and syntax - may be
specific to our species, but our capacity for language is linked to inherent biological
capacities which may not, initially, have had a communicative function but were instead
used in ‘territory mapping, spatial navigation and foraging’.3 Technological capacity is an
evolutionary development and should not be artificially separated from a sense of the
animal body. Moreover, the way language, especially poetic language, brings forth our
world is always tied up with our embodiment – a notion at the heart of Hughes’ thinking
and the driving impetus behind the Orghast project.
The linkage of technological and evolutionary/biological in “Pike” through the
metaphor of fishing is also present in River where it takes on an important ecological aspect.
River builds on “Pike's” concern with evolutionary adaptation, and with language as that
technicity which plays a central role in describing or revealing, in bringing forth the world.
By the 1980s Hughes' increasing ecological awareness means that his mythologisation of
evolution no longer centred, as it did in the early 1960s, on the adaptive strategies of the
human, or their societies, but on the adaptation of all life at a planetary level – which is one
of the pervasive thoughts behind the Crow project. In River, fishing (with rod or words)
remains a means for humans to attune themselves to the flow of evolution and adaptation,
but the focus no longer falls on predation or capturing animals, but on foregrounding
Ted Hughes, Poetry in the Making (London: Faber, 1967), 7.
Wolfe, xxii.
3 Donna Jeanne Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 373.
Posthumans and their questions concerning technology
In his essay “Poetry and Violence” Hughes presents us with a choice between
violence and violation. Responding to the charge from W.I. Carr and others that his poetry
was ‘violent gesturing without moral commitment’, Hughes argues that it was, in fact, our
'customary social and humanitarian [or indeed humanist] values' that led to the worse sorts
of violence. That is, violence where a desensitized sensibility allows for instances of
mechanized slaughter because technological distancing has separated the human from its
corporeal being and its capacity to acknowledge pain and death. These instances of
industrialized slaughter, in both abattoir and battlefield, are called violations, as in a
violation of the sacred. Hughes goes on to suggest that, in fact, a certain kind of violence
works to counteract the violation done to our animal integrity by the false-consciousness of
humanist thought, our 'customary social and humanitarian values'.1 This is not a surprising
move in itself; any engagement with Hughes' work reveals that relations between the
human and animal, rational and irrational, ego-consciousness and embodied-desire,
structure the poetry. The essay's real interest lies in its inextricable linking of (positive or
negative) violence with technology.
This section expands the interrogation of technology from the rod, pen and predation
of “Pike” to take in agricultural practices, the discourses that surround them, and the
compelling parallels in Hughes’ work between meat eating and warfare. I will touch on the
work of the later Heidegger as well as that of Wolfe and Cora Diamond who have both
raised questions about representation and an estrangement from the flesh in relation to the
poem “Six Young Men”. For Hughes our moral awareness rests on an ability to
acknowledge the violence of corporeal reality. This acknowledgement is, to use Diamond’s
phrase, difficult.2 However, failure to do so results in that worse violence, the violation that
stems from an anaesthetized and abstracted sensibility. As should be clear from my
argument so far, technology itself cannot be seen as that which necessarily abstracts the
human from the realities of its lifeworld. There are technologies - the poem, the rod - which
help us acknowledge violence as well as repress it.
In Hughes’ work the way humans have become estranged from their own animal
finitude is one of the central questions concerning technology, or rather concerning modern
technology. A certain correlation exists here between Hughes and Heidegger's supposition
that the modern condition of anxiety stems from an inability to 'own' death and, since pain is
an intimation of death, an inability to own pain as well. 3
Rather than acknowledging the embodied finitude of animal-life, the irreducible
complexity of the living being is reduced to an object. The phenomenon of death is tucked
out of sight, or as Heidegger puts it, 'self-assertion of technological objectification is the
constant negation of death'.4 In relation to both meat-eating and war, technology's capacity
to transform living-flesh into an object is a constant concern in the poetry. This sentiment
plays out in “Crow Tyrannosaurus”. Hughes registers each animal’s engagement with those
lower in the food chain; the swift pulsates with insects, the cat’s body writhes with
‘incoming death struggles’
Hughes, Winter Pollen, 260.
Cora Diamond, “The Difficulty of reality and the Difficulty of Philosophy”, in Philosophy and Animal
Life ed. Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond, John McDowell, Ian Hacking, Carey Wolfe (New York ;
Chichester: Columbia University Press, 2008), 45.
3 For an extended discussion see Julian Young, Heidegger’s Later Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2002).
4 Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, trans Albert Hofstader, (New York: HarperCollins
Publishers, 1971), 125.
And the dog was a bulging filterbag
Of all the deaths it had gulped for the flesh and the bones
It could not digest their screeching finales.
Hughes' animals feel their victims’ creatureliness, their resistance to being forcibly
incorporated into a different part of the food chain, but things are different for the
proverbial top-carnivore. “Crow Tyrannosaurus” tracks the lack of human engagement with
either death or pain; technological abstraction supersedes (non-human) animal-immediacy.
Man, when he makes an entrance, appears as 'a walking'
Of innocentsHis brain incinerating their outcry1
The technological combines with the human who becomes an abattoir, a site of techniques
and technologies for facilitating meat-eating. The capacity for conceptual/ontological
distancing (in ‘His brain’) marks the imbrication of mind with a technology particular to the
human (incineration). Given Hughes' extended interest in the Prometheus myth soon after
the time of the Crow project, this use of fire glows with a certain light.
For Cora Diamond acknowledging shared animal embodiment is itself a challenge to
our perspective. Not least because to do so would be to open ourselves to what we do to this
living flesh: 'horror at the conceptualization of animals as putting nothing in the way of their
use as mere stuff' resides alongside ‘a comparable horror at human relentlessness and
pitilessness in the exercise of power’ towards human-animals.2 Similarly for Hughes, who in
1970 attacked what he saw as the biblically derived assumption that 'the earth is a heap of
raw materials given to man for his exclusive profit and use', the relation between
technologized meat-eating and an ethical failure towards the human are inextricably linked.3
For all who are horrified by the predation on the screen, our own internal
involvement in the killing and eating of animals can only exist as an equally
horrifying crime. And beneath it but inseparable from it, moves our extraordinary
readiness to exploit, oppress, torture and kill our own kind.4
The bombast of the second sentence masks an important issue in the first which
demands unpacking. Hughes claims that those horrified by televised predation are
horrified by their own carnivore-identity and its link to violent behavior towards other
humans. But because of the wounding nature of this admission, the essay suggests, we
repress our own capacity for violence and our own animality and instead view animalviolence with a phobic distaste and distance. Hughes, in “Thrushes” and throughout his
work, champions the importance of not turning away from the screen in horror. Rather, in a
risking of our 'customary social and humanitarian values', his thinking works toward
acknowledging the difficulty of our reality. This is the same process we saw at work in
“Pike” where human and animal technologies are compared in order to show how humans
have mechanized their defense mechanisms, the predatory drive is displaced and becomes
Hughes, "Crow Tyrannosaurus", Collected Poems, 214–215.
Cora Diamond, “Injustice and Animals”, in Slow Cures and Bad Philosophers: Essays on Wittgenstein,
Medicine and Bioethics, ed. Carl Elliott (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001) 136
3 Hughes, Winter Pollen, 129.
4 Hughes, Winter Pollen, 256.
devastatingly efficient in the poem's moment of 'submarine horror'.
There is an important question. If Hughes positions himself as able to face up to
animal violence and acknowledge its relation to certain human proclivities and behaviours
then how do we negotiate the ethical import he ascribes to violence, especially as Hughes
was certainly no vegetarian? Without the space to work through some of the contradictions
in Hughes’ thinking and practice I would suggest that what is at stake more generally here
is a sense of ethics as a radical unsettling of our familiar ways of being, a doing-violence to
'customary social and humanitarian values'. “Thrushes”, claims Hughes' essay, challenges
'values' which 'protect the familiar human condition'; a condition which, in its apartness
from its own animality, cannot give credence to a 'lucid acceptance of the true nature of the
activities by which it survives'.1
Hughes' examination of how, to a degree that we refuse to acknowledge, we are
what we eat places him in line with Wolfe’s argument that
the specific practice ‘of eating animals becomes simply one more version of the larger
symbolic structure by which “man” in the western philosophical tradition secures its
transcendence through mastery of nature, repression of the body – everything that
Derrida associates with the term “carnophallogocentricism’.2
In other words, I am suggesting that Hughes challenges the symbolic, linguistic and
technological structures that Derrida sees as separating humans from their idea of the
The attitude that recoils from animals eating animals on the screen – with a
disapproval that masks the speaker's implication in the process which among other
things constructs the unspoken abattoir between the bullock in the field and the
steak on his plate. The attitude that effectually denies its own guilt and openly
condemns what it colludes with and profits from.3
Hughes tries to speak the unspoken abattoir, the out-of-sight technologized space enclosing
'animals that have been killed by methods and in circumstances that make any predator's
kill seem by comparison merciful and blameless'.4
In the abattoir, and presumably in “Crow Tyrannosaurus'” 'abattoir of innocents',
Hughes sees 'whirling knives, zapping power saws...[lamb] electrocuted through
clamps...on the eyeballs (for better contact)’.5 These mechanistic processes portion out the
living animal into its commercially manageable and exchangeable fleshy substrates. This
animal destruction via a mechanically mediated human-desire which inscribes itself on the
body of the destroyed animal connects, like one of Deleuze and Guattari's Kafkaesque
'torture machines', to a series of institutions and practices (commercial, industrial,
agricultural, educational) outside its immediate space. In fact, one might consider what
remains unspoken in the word 'abattoir' itself. It derives from the French abattre, meaning 'to
knock down' (presumably with a sledge hammer), an indication of violence that, in English,
is lost in translation. But abattoir also carries behind it, via its relation to the older ‘abate’, a
Hughes, Winter Pollen, 261.
Wolfe, 95. Wolfe here is discussing the work of David Wood, “Comment ne pas manger –
Deconstruction and Humanism” in Animal Others: On Ethics, Ontology, and Animal Life, ed. H. Peter
Steeves (Albany: SUNY Press, 1999)
3 Hughes, Winter Pollen, 259.
4 Hughes, Winter Pollen, 256.
5 Hughes, Winter Pollen, 259.
sense of diminishing, and of being brought down in value. The animal is physically and
conceptually brought down to the level of mere object. 1
The susurrus of the concentration camp that haunts the incinerating 'abattoir of
innocents' serves as a reminder that the violation of our sense of corporeality that obscures
animal suffering flows into our capacity to harm each other – 'our extraordinary readiness to
exploit, oppress, torture and kill our own kind'. Hughes uses the next poem in the Crow
sequence, “Crow's Account of the Battle” to slide from the war of Nature to the nature of
war and in doing so develops a continuum between instances of mechanized slaughter and
advanced technology's capacity to harm.
Shooting somebody through the midrift
Was too like striking a match
Too like tearing up a bill
Blasting the whole world to bits
Was too like slamming a door
The domestic, everyday similes, with their air of childish petulance and insouciance, are
purposefully inappropriate to the horror they describe. 'Reality' is said to be 'giving its
lesson'; the discourse of war – and as corollaries we might think of the newspeak of
'collateral damage' or the Cold War 'button' – prove irreconcilable with its actual
happenings. The poem debunks those romanticised battlefield-myths where 'pocket books'
stop bullets from pursuing their course. Here they push on through ‘intestines [...] brains,
hair, teeth'. Military technology violates the human body both physically and conceptually.
Bodies are reduced, described in mechanistic terms as unfeeling tools and materials,
foregrounding the loss of perspective and the painful finitude of living flesh - blood
'Squander[s] as from a drain pipe', 'Bones were too like lath and twigs'. These serve as
pertinent reminders of Heidegger's claim that technological objectification is the constant
negation of death.
The poem's 'Reality' is a 'mishmash of scripture and physics'. It not only foregrounds
the scalar disjunctions between the qualities of the human body and modern technology but
also how the repression of the suffering body is itself interlaced with a set of discourses
inappropriate to the human. When revealing the physicality behind technical language –
'From sudden traps of calculus,/Theorems wrenched men in two' – the comic disjunction
between representation and actuality is both absurd and tragic.2 On the one hand
bespeaking a comic or cartoonish violence, on the other hand elucidating the fleshy nature
of the signified that the technical signifier denotes. Political, economic and scientific
theorems, because they cannot adequately disclose the complexity of the reality they
describe, provide all too-real, all too-human, and all too-final solutions to theoretical
problems. What we have here is what Heidegger, who also railed against the 'mechanized
food industry', laments as the modern tendency of Gestell (enframing) 'holding sway' as the
mode of world-disclosure. Gestell is the way in which the living or the 'real reveals itself as a
resource'.3 The animal becomes a head of cattle, the soldier reduced to an number on a
casualty list or a marker on a military map, 'Gestell makes violation inevitable' says Julian
Young, 'because, fundamentally it takes away the concept of violation'.4
Second edition, 1989; online version September 2011. <>;
accessed 07 November 2011.
2 Hughes, "Crow's Account of a Battle", Collected Poems, 222–223.
3 Heidegger, The Question, 23.
4 Young, 53.
The pairing of mechanized slaughter in the battlefield and abattoir is not particular
to Crow. The First World War, and to a lesser extent the Second, form a central part of
Hughes' poetic imagination, especially in the early work. In his description of the former as
'industrialized slaughter, mass production of corpses [...] the shock suffered by a species that
has thought the world quite different' we can see the sentiment that also formulates his
ecological ethics and awareness. 1 Namely the need for the human-species to come to terms
with its relation to its own technologies, discourses and practices and the tragic disjunction
between these features and an acknowledgement of the suffering, living-body. All are part
of a wider 'carnophallologocentric' repression of the body and (perceived) mastery of
Nature. But the embodied-awareness that stems from recognizing violence is not alone
enough to provide an ethical or practical corrective; there must be a paradigmatic shift in
our conceptual apparatus.
The cartoonish mode of Crow's universe, where meteorites crash, with 'extraordinary
ill-luck' on prams makes its violence seem absurd but the same question of how technology
and language obscures brute corporeal reality also operates when Hughes adopts a more
elegiac voice in “Six Young Men”.2 Through looking at the photo of men soon to die in the
trenches the speaker gains an intimation of mortality, the figures 'smile from the single
exposure and shoulder out/One's own body from its instance and heat'.
What Wolfe and Diamond miss in their analysis of the poem is Hughes' subtle
engagement with the practice of meat-eating. These men are described as 'trimmed for a
Sunday jaunt'. The association of 'trimmed' with roast-dinner trimmings and the phonic
closeness of 'jaunt' to joint is more than suggestive that, as elsewhere, Hughes draws
together battlefield and abattoir. But if he knows that his “Six Young Men” are soon to die
like cattle then the simile is, of course, Wilfred Owen's, and his relationship to war is already
mediated by concepts and discourses that precede the immediacy of a visceral reaction to
death and loss. The camera's mechanical eye mediates the access to the war along with an
external archive of historical fact and poetic discourse that precedes and exceeds both the
speaker and the men's presence. Hence the 'contradictory permanent horrors' of the
photograph - that moment where the speaker acknowledges both the feeling of the men's
absent presence and their bloody passing - 'That man's not more alive whom you
confront[...]Nor prehistoric or fabulous beast more dead; no thought so vivid as their
smoking blood'.3 We see that technicity is a necessary and fundamental part of human
existence and that, instead of being rejected, any attempt to capture a primordial sense of
corporeal being must negotiate it.
In his later writing Hughes draws together the desire to present the shock of war and
the need to portray the environmental crisis in a way that similarly ruptures familiar ways
of knowing. In a 1990 letter to Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock (the candidates for the
general election) he asked the next Prime Minister to consider the environmental crisis as
they would a war, with all the concomitant deployment of resources.4 Writing to Michael
Hamburger in 1987 he claims 'Margaret [Thatcher] can't be frightened [about pollution].
She's like that general who says “We can afford 25% casualties”'.5 Hughes' disquiet at this
gap between statistical language and horrific actuality connects itself to his discussions of
the difficulty of expressing war. As he says in a 1992 Observer article in relation to a new
book of environmental photography
“Letter to Nick Gammage”, 15 March 1991, Hughes and Reid, 593.
Hughes, "In Laughter", Collected Poems, 233.
3 Hughes, "Six Young Men", Collected Poems, 45–46.
4 See Neil Astley, Dear Next Prime Minister: Open Letters to Margaret Thatcher & Neil Kinnock
(Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books, 1990).
5 “Letter to Michael Hamburger”, 12 September 1987, Hughes and Reid, 538.
His [Owen's] feeling for the totally new calamity of the trenches and his inexpressible
raging need to communicate it to what he saw as domestic England’s old fashioned
inability to imagine it, was not that far from the environmentalist's position between
the injured Earth on one hand and Government, industry and certain fixed ways of
life on the other.1
What is notable here, and his other writings about Owen, is the sense of the failure of
representational technologies.
Wolfe argues that this failure in communicating mortality (and with it morality)
occurs because there are two types of finitude,
born of the fact that our relation to flesh and blood is fatefully constituted by a
technicity with which it is prosthetically entwined, a diacritical, semiotic machine of
language in the broadest sense that exceeds any and all presence including our own. 2
This second mechanical finitude displaces our relation to embodiment as presence, touch
and fleshy finitude. “The Warm and the Cold” draws on the link between the technicity of
tools and the technicity of language by using simile to tease-out a carnophallologocentric
separation of human and non-human animals. Each animal simile emphasizes belonging but
also appropriation and domestication 'the owl in its feathers/like a doll in its lace',
'Sparrows are in the ivy clump like money in a pig'. In contrast, disquiet surrounds the
'sweating farmers', lexically separated off into a stanza of notably truncated lines, who 'Turn
in their sleep/Like Oxen on spits'.3 The description of the human via the simile of a
mechanically slaughtered and processed animal serves to emphasize the fact that
description of the other animals and their environments through simile is a peculiarly
human trait.
Language separates the human from the rest of the natural world, the raw from the
cooked, even as it attempts to render that world poetically in order to reconnect with it. And
yet revealing the animal through the language which separates us from them is a way of
addressing the complexity of the living animal, their difference from ourselves and from
each other. While Hughes, with his talk of the sacredness of animal-being, might be accused
of homogenizing all animals, his aesthetics of embodied engagement, and his dual
recognition of different types of finitude and technicity support his belief that we have to
violate our customary ways of knowing in order not to commit over-destructive violence
against the living.
Conclusion - Showing his Metal
Hughes' essay ends on a positive note, suggesting the possibility of correcting the
‘regime of our “customary social and humanitarian values”’ and rescuing ‘not only mankind
from it, but all other living creatures’.4 Of course, Hughes sees one major mode of correction
as the poetic and he has made statements about poetry being an extension of the biological,
as working as ‘the psychological component of the autoimmune system’. I am inclined to
suggest that this is one of the moments Hughes lets his metaphors run away with his
meaning. But even here the work of poetry has to be considered as technological. Art,
Ted Hughes, Observer Magazine 29 November 1992 (23-39), 39
Wolfe, 92.
3 Hughes, "The Warm and the Cold", Collected Poems, 343–344.
4 Hughes, Winter Pollen, 267
Hughes continues, works on others as a ‘medicine’. 1 Medicines are not part of the
autoimmune system; they are intentionally ingested with a curative objective in mind.
Hence they are better described as tools which allow individuals to adapt to some kind of
environmental factor that has triggered a change in internal/bodily conditions. The writing
that constitutes Hughes’ pharmacy may convey embodiment but may also, in its capacity to
supplement and supplant presence, work in the opposite direction as well – as a force for
abstraction and displacement. We cannot consider the poetry as supplying an un-mediated
connection back to the natural.
So, by way of a brief conclusion, I want to turn to two of Hughes’ children’s fables
where he makes it fairly explicit that he considers poetry as technology or, more accurately
and less succinctly, poetry as an imbrication of the human-animal with both its physical and
its linguistic-technological surroundings. Poetry is a type of technicity which, through
language, may reveal violence, corporeality, the embodied existence of ourselves and other
animals. Thus it works to restore our awareness, to correct out ‘customary’ perspectives
which have been alienated from corporeal existence by those technologies which
instrumentalise the living, turning animals into objects. Of necessity language also plays a
role in this alienation as with the face-less numbers of abattoir and battlefield.
Hughes’ iron persons are certainly icons of technology. He explained to Blake
Morrison that
In The Iron Man you have the whole mysterious world of technology, the
mechanical world, and the boy is brought into relation with it in a friendly
way […] so he feels he can control it.2
‘Control it’ indicates the dangerous alternative of it controlling him, which is what has
happened in the world of The Iron Women where the discourse of industry prevents the
corporation from seeing the harm their factory is doing. Instead they insist that 'We follow
good industrial practice. We stick to the rules'.3
The Iron Woman realizes that she cannot simply stop pollution by destroying the
factory. She knows that 'They have to be changed [...] Not just stopped', some sort of
paradigmatic shift in customary humanitarian (or humanist) values must be enacted.4 When
people touch the Iron Woman they are forced to tune into the pain of all the violated
animals. After this technologically induced violence to their perception the world discloses
itself in a different way, leaving the people 'listening and thinking', constantly attuning
themselves to their environments and the animals which populate them.5
The movement is the same throughout Hughes’ work, a right-relation to technology
is reestablished through the technological itself. 'In the end', as the Morrison interview puts
it, 'The Iron Woman is an image of the creative act […] The whole story is a myth about
writing a poem'.6
Drue Heinz, ‘The Art of Poetry: LXXI.’, Paris Review, Literature Online, 1995:
<>. Accessed 10 June
2 Blake Morrison, Too True (London: Granta Books, 1998), 159.
3 Ted Hughes, The Iron Woman (London: Faber, 1993), 44.
4 Hughes, The Iron Woman, 36.
5 Hughes, The Iron Woman, 82.
6 Morrison, 161.
Variant Editions: Cave Birds, River, Remains of Elmet, Elmet and Three Books1
Ann Skea
The trade edition of Cave Birds was published on the 2nd of September, 1978; that of
Remains of Elmet in April 1979; and of River in September 1983. In 1988 I completed my
doctoral thesis on the alchemical structure of these three sequences and some time in 1992
Christopher Reid, who was at that time Hughes’ poetry editor at Faber & Faber, read the
manuscript of my book, Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest, which was based on that analysis, and
spoke to Ted about it. On the 18th of August that year Hughes wrote to me that ‘reading
your book galvanized Christopher Reid into publishing Elmet, Cave Birds and River as a
single volume’. He also said that for this new book he had deleted some poems and revised
others2. Three Books was published in 1993.
In that same letter, Hughes went on to say that Faber would now do an expanded
edition of Remains of Elmet with more photographs and more verses ‘mainly from other
books – poems about that region, simply’. Elmet was published in 1994.
In conversation with me shortly after Elmet appeared, Hughes, in his usual generous
way, expressed concern that his alteration of the sequencing and the content of both Remains
of Elmet and River might negate some of the ways I had interpreted the sequences in my
book. He was also anxious to know what I thought of the new Elmet, which was very similar
to the sequencing and poems he had chosen for Three Books, and whether the changes
bothered me. I replied that I thought Elmet was quite different to Remains of Elmet: that he
seemed to have had a quite different purpose for it, and that in it he seemed to be laying
something to rest, completing something. I remember commenting that the final photograph
in the new book, with its large, carefully placed graveyard cross, was like a benediction:
R.I.P. Hughes’ response to this was a heart-felt sighed ‘Yes!’3.
That Hughes’ purpose and his choice of poems and sequencing changed between the
original trade editions and the later publication of Three Books and Elmet was not surprising.
Cave Birds, which step-by-step followed the stages of an alchemical process and which was
put together, as Hughes told Roberts and Gifford, ‘as deliberately as a clock’ 4, remained
unchanged in Three Books, but whilst there was an underlying, transformative, alchemical
theme in Remains of Elmet and River, the alchemy was in the poems and the photographs
themselves and in the cyclical patterns of nature. Ted still chose the first and last poems of
the new sequences with his customary care, and often, especially in River, he paired the
poems so that a ‘downbeat’ poem (to use his own terminology) was immediately followed
by an ‘upbeat poem’. The ethereal beauty of ‘Ophelia’5,for example, counters the physical
horrors described in ‘1984 On ‘The Tarka Trail’’6.
This careful concern for the balance of energies in his sequences is apparent, too, in
Ted Hughes: Collected Poems, Faber, 2003, has not been included in this discussion, because Hughes
did not choose the order of the poems for that collection and there are, in any case, some errors. ‘Two
Photographs at Top Withens’, for example, is included amongst ‘Uncollected’ poems on page 840,
although a note on page 1299 indicates that the text is from Elmet and the poem was first published in
Three Books.
2 Unpublished letter, Hughes to Ann Skea. British Library manuscript. Add 74257.
3 Skea, Diary/Notebook 1994. British Library Dep. 10515.
4 Hughes to Roberts and Gifford, 19 October 1978. Reid,C.(Ed.) Letters of Ted Hughes, Faber, 2007.
5 Hughes, Three Books, Faber, 1993. p.122.
6 Three Books. pp.118-121.
the letter Hughes wrote to Christopher Reid when he first began rearranging the poems for
Three Books. ‘Be a Dry-Fly Purist’, which beautifully conflates a particularly controlled
method of fishing with the careful process of capturing poems, was to have been followed
by ‘Stealing Trout on a May Morning’, which, Hughes wrote, describes the ‘poacher’s
approach’. So, the deliberate, socially required, learned precision, which is the theme of the
first, was to have been balance by the earthy, natural, instinctive energies of the second. ‘An
all rounder’, in fishing and poetry, Hughes commented, ‘has to be master of all the methods
that produce the goods and the thrill’1. In the end, the poem which followed ‘Be a Dry-Fly
Purist’2 in Three Books was ‘A Rival’3,which describes not a human poacher but a creature of
Nature responding to the demands of Nature – a cormorant, a raider, a programmed
‘massacre-machine’. No human poacher could match its in-born skill, and that Hughes
should have considered it ‘a rival’ also suggests much about the way he viewed his own
raids on the river of his subconscious when he was writing poems.
The River sequence in Three Books begins, in ‘Salmon Eggs’4, with a natural prelude to
to birth and renewal, rather than with the artificial human intervention in this process which
is described in ‘The Morning Before Christmas’5. The poems no longer follow the cycle of the
the year, nine poems have been dropped and thirteen added, seven of which were
previously unpublished. There is less light and magic and more darkness in the River
sequence in Three Books but still it ends with the uplifting blessing and enlightenment of
‘That Morning’6, which, as the final poem in the book would have been chosen by Hughes
with special care.
The changes between the original sequence of poems in the trade edition of Remains
of Elmet and the sequences in Three Books and Elmet are more radical. Eighteen of the
Remains of Elmet poems were dropped and the sequence was substantially re-ordered for
Three Books. This re-ordering remained largely intact for Elmet but eighteen poems (fourteen
from earlier books and four previously unpublished) were inserted, together with a number
of new photographs. Only four photographs were dropped.
The reason for these changes, and for the very different moods and purposes of
Remains of Elmet and Elmet, are apparent in letters which Ted wrote to a number of his
friends. Before beginning to work on Remains of Elmet, Hughes wrote to Fay Godwin about
the changes in the landscape of the Elmet area and of the way the ‘primaeval reality of he
region’ was ‘taking over again’ as the people of his mother’s generation and everything
about their history and their way of life died out. ‘If only some of that could be captured in
photographs’, he wrote. And he also wanted to capture something of the feeling of freedom
he had felt when hunting on the moors with his older brother, Gerald,: ‘something’, as he
said, of that ‘great feeling that you were utterly free and alone’7.
Hughes was aware, however, that his own feelings about the area were problematic.
‘I know I do have an immense amount locked up in all that’, he told Godwin. ‘At times it is
overwhelming when I try to release it’. And writing to Glyn Hughes shortly after the
publication of Remains of Elmet, he was even more blunt about these feelings, describing
Hughes to Reid, 21 June 1992. Letters, pp.612-3.
Three Books. p.123.
3 Three Books. p.124.
4 Three Books. p.105.
5 Hughes, River, Faber, 1983. p.9. This was the opening poem of the 1983 Faber edition of River. The
order of poems in the American edition published by Harper and Row, NY,1984. was different again
and I have not examined this edition.
6 Three Books. pp. 178-9.
7 Hughes to Godwin, 4 July 1976. Letters. pp. 378-380.
them as ‘not quite hatred but something pretty sour’1. Later, writing to Ben Sonnenberg, he
described how, digging down through his own ‘strata’ as he wrote the poems, he had found
‘dislike, dread, even hatred’, and so he had ‘skidded off’ and ‘borrowed’ his mother’s
feelings, which were, ‘more suitable’ for what he wanted from the book. His mother, he said,
‘had the right tribal allegiances to the Holy Ground and the magical dead’2.
Hughes was well aware, therefore, that Remains of Elmet grew mostly from ‘what my
mother felt about it [Elmet] when I was about 5’3, and he knew that he had shelved his own
mixed feelings about this place in which he had lived the early, most formative years of his
childhood. He told Glyn Hughes that he had been thinking he ought to write ‘something
supplementary’ in order to remedy this. And in his letter to Ben Sonnenberg in 1981, he said
that he would like ‘to try seriously, before time overtakes’ to deal with his own feelings
about Elmet4. Elmet, with the re-ordered poems and photographs, and with the inclusion of
many more personal poems about himself and his family, was his attempt to do this.
Yet, the process of rewriting and re-ordering the poems was not easy. In June 1985,
Ted wrote to Keith Sagar, ‘The rewriting had been head-in-sack drudgery. It is the sort of
book I should have written in my twenties, when my feelings about the place were still
innocent and unspoiled and fairly simple’5. And in a letter to Leonard Baskin on August 15th,
15th, 1984, he described rewriting Elmet as ‘a brick wall style project. The brick wall being
the door to the family tomb, I suppose.’6. ‘Everything that dies’, he went on, ‘is a goblin that
carries away pieces of your brain’. And for the artist, the only cure for this ‘lobotomy by
bereavement’ is ‘resurrection, release of the goblins, reclamation of the goblins’.
No wonder Ted’s relief when Elmet was finally published was clear in his response to
my comments on the final photograph. Yet, although he once described Elmet as his
‘definitive Calder Valley collection’7, he was not happy with it. Looking back on the rewriting shortly before he died, he told Keith Sagar: ‘Of Elmet’s three orderings [Remains of
Elmet, Three Books and Elmet]: only the first works! That was Fay’s – with maybe a nudge or
two here and there from me’. He was aware that his own aims and Fay’s style of
photographs changed between the publication of Remains of Elmet and Elmet, and ‘because of
the coming and going’ he ‘never got the text, let alone the order of it’ that he wanted. ‘I feel’,
he wrote, ‘that I let Fay down, somewhat, except for that first time round’8.
Hughes to Glyn Hughes, [November 1979]. Letters.p.430.
Hughes to Sonnenberg, 30 May 1981. Letters. pp.447-8.
3 Ibid. p. 430.
4 Letters. p. 448.
5 Unpublished letter, Hughes to Sagar. British Library Add.78757.
6 Unpublished letter. Hughes to Baskin, British Library. Add.83684.
7 Gifford: Interview with Fay Godwin, Thumbscrew, 18 Spring 2001.
8 Unpublished letter, Hughes to Sagar, British Library. Add. 78756. 14 Oct. 1998.
The Perils of Literary Celebrity: The Archival Stories of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
Amy Hildreth Chen
Anita Helle’s “Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory”
argues that the history of the archive is a story.1 The stories currently told about Ted
Hughes’s relationship to the archive are dominated by discussions of his custodianship of
the papers of his first wife, the American poet Sylvia Plath. 2 These narratives include
Hughes’s decision to destroy Plath’s final journal, the way in which her journals were
edited, and Hughes’s alteration of the original order of the Ariel poems prior to their
publication.3 While these events are significant, what has yet to be examined is how the
experiences of the Hughes and Plath biographers are also archival stories. As the biographers
recount their attempts to find material for their work, they reveal their experience of
censorship, secrecy, and hidden collaboration. These archive stories demonstrate the way in
which literary history comes to be developed and controlled. Archive stories about the
literary collections stored in academic libraries can find their predecessors in the paratexts of
these biographies. The archive story behind Hughes’s sale of his literary collection at Emory
further demonstrates the importance of considering the motivations that underlie the
production of knowledge. Without this information, scholars are unaware of how the author
they study directs their work or, just as readers, without the advantage of the biographer’s
insights, presume that the biography is an objective account of facts. 4 Archive stories
contribute to literary studies by showing how potential research is guided by permissions
Antoinette Burton describes archival stories as demonstrating ‘the limits and
possibilities of the archive as a site of knowledge production’ and considers the archive itself
‘a mechanism for shaping the narratives of history.’5 But these narratives are not just stories
about the archive; they are depictions of how knowledge is created. Biographies, taken to be
objective accounts of people’s lives written by a third party, resist such stories as they
compromise the very authority of the volume. Archival stories in biographies tend to be
Anita Helle, “Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory” Feminist Studies
31.3 (Fall 2005), p. 640.
2 The concept of an “archive story” emerged from post-colonial studies in order to record the way in
which research sites control the type of scholarship produced from their holdings. See Antoinette
Burton’s Archive Stories: Fact, Fiction and the Writing of History (2005) and Thomas Richards’s The
Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire (1996).
3 As Sylvia Plath died prior to a legal separation from Ted Hughes, Hughes retained rights to her
work, referred to hereafter as the “Plath estate.” Ted Hughes appointed his sister, Olwyn Hughes, the
literary executor of the Plath estate in 1965. She remained in this role until the early 1990s.
4 For simplicity, I define the “author” as both the proper name connected to the literature as well as
the original owner of the documents included in a literary collection although the meaning of
authorship differs according to the context. For example, Ted Hughes is the “author” of both Birthday
Letters (1998) and his letters, but published and unpublished writings have different implications.
Michel Foucault’s “What is an Author” (1969) examines how authorship is not synonymous to a
particular individual but implies legal responsibility for published work. Additionally, unlike the Ted
Hughes who wrote private letters, the Ted Hughes of Birthday Letters is a public persona. For more
information on literary celebrities, consult Loren Glass’s Authors Inc.: Literary Celebrity in the Modern
United States 1880-1980 (2004), Jonathan Goldman’s Modernism is the Literature of Celebrity (2011), and
Faye Hammill’s Women, Celebrity, and Literary Culture Between the Wars (2007).
5 Antoinette Burton, Archival Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History (Durham, NC: Duke
University Press, 2005), p. 2.
recorded in paratexts: the introductions, author’s notes, and prefaces which identify the
biographer’s project and depict its development. In the biographies of Plath and Hughes,
these paratexts must justify how the biographer has decided to negotiate familial influences.
Those who work independently are excluded from rights to archival material and frequently
fail to provide the insights that warrant a biography in the first place. Biographers who
decide that their projects require the material protected by permissions are castigated for
their biases in reviews. For this reason, examining the archive stories of biographers
provides a necessary context for the narratives that critics and biographers now need to tell
about literary collections.
Paratexts in the First Generation of Hughes and Plath biographies
The first generation of Hughes and Plath biographies occurred in the period between
1976, when the first biography was published, and 1998, when Ted Hughes died. These
biographies were written following the release of Ariel (1965) and amidst the publication of
Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963 (1975), the Collected Poems (1981), and The Journals of
Sylvia Plath (1982). While Hughes produced the majority of his corpus during this period,
including ten volumes of poetry as well as a number of translations, children’s books, plays,
anthologies, and limited editions, the biographies of this era do not consider Hughes’s later
work. Instead, reflecting their primary interest in Plath, they restrict themselves to Hughes’s
early volumes – primarily The Hawk in the Rain (1957) and, occasionally, Lupercal (1960).
Other than Hughes’s death, this period is defined by Olwyn Hughes’s executorship to the
Plath estate from 1965 through the early 1990s. Her position allowed her to oversee
submitted manuscripts requiring permissions. Biographical paratexts from this era record
Olwyn Hughes’s interventions, demonstrating her range of influence on the creation of
The first two biographies completed on Sylvia Plath were Edward Butscher’s Sylvia
Plath: Method and Madness (1976) and Linda Wagner-Martin’s Sylvia Plath: A Biography
(1987).1 These treatments are less known because Anne Stevenson’s Bitter Fame (1989), the
third biography released on Plath, became infamous. Bitter Fame was critiqued for its harsh
portrait of Plath, its inclusion of appendixes from hostile sources and its reliance on the
perspective of Olwyn Hughes, Ted Hughes’s sister. The problems related to Bitter Fame
made it the most important predecessor to future studies of Plath and Hughes, but both
Butscher and Wagner-Martin’s studies foreshadow the problems that would befall
Stevenson. Cheryl Walker’s review of Butscher’s biography recounted that his book ‘is more
controversial than biographies used to be’ and that he took the liberty of ‘paus[ing] in the
narrative to tell us about the difficulties he had gathering this or that piece of data’ which
had the effect of making the reviewer believe that his account was not trustworthy.2 This is
Judith Kroll’s Chapters in a Mythology: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath (1976) was the first full-length critical
study of Sylvia Plath’s writing. Re-released in 2007, the new preface recounts how Kroll avoided the
Hughes family (xvi), but unknowingly put herself in contact with Olwyn when she wrote to the
editor of Rainbow Press, which she did not realize was a Hughes project (xx). When Ted Hughes read
Kroll’s manuscript, he asked for selections to be cut, especially a reading of “Medusa” that revealed,
‘the medusa jellyfish had a subgenus called Aurelia’ (xxx). Many reviewers thought Hughes
approved of Chapters in a Mythology, when in fact Hughes wanted it heavily revised to protect Aurelia
Plath (xxxiv). Kroll notes that Aurelia Plath later told her the Medusa jellyfish was a private joke
between mother and daughter, revealing that the Hughes’s suggested revisions were not, in fact,
protective. This narrative demonstrates that the Hughes family also oversaw early literary analysis,
with similar effect to those that worked on strictly biography.
2 Cheryl Walker, “Review: Sylvia Plath,” Rev. of Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness Contemporary
Literature 18, no. 4 (Autumn 1977), p. 538.
largely because Butscher ‘never clarifies his relationship to the Hughes family,’ which leads
the reader to imagine that ‘if this biography has been “officially” sanctioned, one must read
it in a slightly different light than if it has not.’1 Walker concludes by imagining that
Butscher’s biography will be only the first in a series of treatments of the lives of Sylvia Plath
and Ted Hughes. Walker’s prediction of the future of Hughes and Plath studies was correct,
as well was her awareness of the issues at stake. Sylvia Plath: A Method and Madness is
notable because the difficulties Hughes and Plath biographers face were present from the
very first study on the subject.
Unlike Butscher, Wagner-Martin chose to describe in her preface the circumstances
of her research rather than alluding to it throughout her work. In this paratext, she notes
that as she progressed through her manuscript, Olwyn Hughes became less cooperative
with the project. She recounts that Olwyn Hughes gave suggestions for the project ‘at great
length’ while Ted Hughes, who refused to be interviewed, gave suggestions for changes
‘that filled fifteen pages and would have meant the deletion of more than 15,000 words.’2
Wagner-Martin realized following these interventions that her attempt to gain permission
for her monograph would be at the expense of ‘reflect[ing] the Hughes’s point of view.’ Her
preface concludes:
I had to end my attempt to gain permission to quote at length if I was ever to publish
this book. As a result of this circumstance, I have had to limit quotations. […] the
alternative would have been to agree to suggestions that would have changed the
point of view of this book appreciably.
Wagner-Martin conceded that her study has suffered from the inability to quote at length
from Plath’s writings, but finds the advantage of remaining neutral outweighed the sacrifice.
Relying on short quotations and summaries allowed Wagner-Martin to make the same
general point without requiring permission. What she does not say is exactly how Olywn
Hughes’s suggestions would have changed the book. Stevenson, who allowed Olwyn
Hughes to guide her composition, is the best candidate for considering the extent to which
Olwyn Hughes would have altered Wagner-Martin’s perspective.
Anne Stevenson highlighted Olwyn Hughes’s role in the composition of Bitter Fame
with a brief Author’s Note.
In writing this biography, I have received a great deal of help from Olwyn Hughes,
literary agent to the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Ms. Hughes’s contributions to the text
have made it almost a work of dual authorship. I am particularly grateful for the
work she did on the last four chapters and on the Ariel poems of the autumn of 1962.3
By suggesting the places where Olwyn contributed the most material, Stevenson directs her
readers’ attention to where her voice is not necessarily her own. The final four chapters of
the volume concentrate on the last two years of Plath’s life, the period in which she wrote
Ariel and her marriage disintegrated. While this was the time that made Plath’s reputation
and legacy, it was also her most vulnerable stage. While Plath’s sister-in-law had insight into
the dynamics of her brother’s early married life, her interest in depicting Plath’s final two
years allowed Olwyn Hughes to describe Plath in her weakest moments. Olwyn Hughes’s
influence is magnified consequentially by her choice to focus on this period.
In the preface to the 1998 Mariner edition, which accompanies the original 1989
Walker, “Review,” p. 539-40.
Linda Wagner-Martin, Sylvia Plath: A Biography (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1987), p. 14.
3 Anne Stevenson, Bitter Fame (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998), n.p.
preface, Stevenson does not defend her decision to accept Olwyn Hughes’s guidance
outright. Without mentioning the controversies that befell her biography, Stevenson merely
states it was ‘not possible to base a biography wholly on the written evidence of its subject.’
Instead, the book needed the ‘testimony of her contemporaries,’ even though, she explains,
‘every scrap of Plath’s accessible writing had been made available to me’ and ‘[I] had been
granted permission to quote as much as I wished.’1 Stevenson tacitly defends her decision to
accept the impressions of those who lived in proximity to Plath by articulating that the
biography needed to be based on impressions of the living person rather than the literary
corpus. In doing so, she undermines the power of literary criticism, deemed insufficient to
help her negotiate the different representations of Plath seen in the journals, letters, and
poetry. While this might have resulted in a biography that simply depicted Plath’s personal
relationships rather than the development of her literary talent, Stevenson also chose
perspectives skewed in Ted Hughes’s favor. She explains that this choice was a result of the
Plath family’s own reluctance to participate and her respect for their privacy. Paul
Alexander, another biographer, would later demonstrate how this reluctance could have
been overcome.
The paratexts to Bitter Fame, including the original Author’s Note, preface, and 1998
preface, depict Stevenson’s decision to work within the means provided to her. Without
synthesizing the complexity of Plath from her own writing or providing the perspective of
either Ted Hughes or Plath’s family, Stevenson transcribed the voices who were willing to
speak and wished to be heard. These voices, notably, came from Hughes’s own family and
contacts. Stevenson’s decision to concentrate on how Plath was perceived speaks more to
her own interests and her attempt to separate her biography from predecessors than to the
power of Olwyn Hughes. Presumably, it would not have been necessary to include the
Author’s Note admitting Olwyn Hughes’s influence. Stevenson could have discreetly noted
her help within the acknowledgements section or in the preface rather than flagging the
entire volume as a work of collaboration. The lack of precedent for this statement
demonstrates the degree to which the constraints under which researchers work is not
considered important information, even when it illuminates both the resulting work and the
subject of the study. Stevenson’s honest admission, rather than opening a debate on how
scholars should recognize sources’ ability to influence research, led to her being personally
criticized as a biographer. The controversy that resulted from Stevenson’s archival story
indicates how some literary scholars wish to avoid the complexities of locating and tracing
the relationships that undergird the writing of literary history. Future Hughes and Plath
biographers within the first generation then faced a dilemma: they could either disclose their
sources and face criticism for their bias, or they could hide their relationships and endure
suspicions of their agenda.
Bitter Fame’s extensive negative reviews helped it to sustain its place in the canon of
Hughes and Plath studies. Al Alvarez wrote the first and most prominent review published
in The New York Review of Books on 28 September 1989. Alvarez, who wrote his own account
of Plath in a chapter in The Savage God (1971), stated, ‘Olwyn Hughes […] seems to have
been unwilling to cooperate with any biographer who did not share her point of view. The
experience of Linda Wagner-Martin seems to have been typical.’2 He continues, ‘Ms.
Stevenson and Ms. Hughes are unwavering in their singlemindedness’ to make Plath into a
monster.3 The effect of Alvarez’s review was immediate. In The Women’s Review of Books,
Doris L. Eder concentrated on how Stevenson provided an illuminating, but incomplete
Stevenson, Bitter Fame, p. ix.
Al Alvarez, “A Poet and Her Myths,” The New York Review of Books 28 Sep. 1989, Web, 27 Apr. 2011,
<>, p. 1.
3 Alvarez, “A Poet,” p. 2.
account of Plath largely because she failed to imagine Hughes’s role in Plath’s life. Eder’s
oversight is due to the fact that ‘Hughes himself contributed virtually nothing to Stevenson’s
life of Plath beyond the checking of facts’ whereas Olwyn Hughes ‘contributed so liberally
to the text that this is in effect a work of joint authorship.’1 Eder withholds her deeper
critique for Plath herself: for her failure to move beyond a few themes in her poetry, for her
egotism in her art and life, as well as her inability to become an independent adult. Eder’s
critique of Stevenson, while simultaneously upholding the perspective espoused in Bitter
Fame, demonstrates the efficacy of Olwyn Hughes’s intervention.
Bitter Fame’s reviews illustrate not only the depth of interest the Plath biography
provoked, but also the degree to which biography is taken to be a genre based on objectivity.
Stevenson’s disclosure of her relationship with Olwyn Hughes transgressed the biographer’s
normative position as judge of a subject’s life. While Linda Wagner-Martin also grappled
with the Hughes family, her decision to remove the long quotations that would require their
permission indicates her willingness to sacrifice content for the greater goal of objectivity.
According to Janet Malcolm, the author of The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
(1995), the failure of Bitter Fame was that Stevenson failed to differentiate herself from
Olwyn Hughes.
The scandal over Stevenson’s biography reached Olwyn, but she did not interpret
the controversy as a commentary on her transgression of professional boundaries. Instead,
Olwyn continued to feel that Ted Hughes’s reputation required her intervention. She
suggests this view in a letter she wrote to Ted Hughes on 2 October 1990:
Clearly just now, after the BITTER FAME rumpus and weary to death of all the
feminist nastiness, its tempting just to walk away from it and trust to fate. But really
why should one be pushed into possibly untenable positions because of all that
rubbish? I do wish you’d […] let me know what you think.2
Here Olwyn Hughes responds to Bitter Fame’s reviews by presuming that the feminist
arguments against Ted Hughes are inflected by vindictiveness. As Olwyn Hughes sees the
outcry presented in Plath’s name as minor rather than substantive, she imagines that the
controversy will lessen eventually. Olwyn Hughes also believes that any engagement with
the ‘feminist’ public will rebound and further implicate Hughes in ‘untenable positions.’
What is unstated in this letter but indicated in the book itself is that Bitter Fame was Olwyn
Hughes’s personal project, not her brother’s. Olwyn Hughes’s use of the generic ‘one’ rather
than a personal pronoun highlights her need to diminish her role. After all, according to this
letter, Ted Hughes does not need to write on his own behalf because it appears as though he
is already a partner in the action. He is solicited to provide empathy for a fellow sufferer.
Olwyn Hughes’s desire to ‘walk away from it,’ implies that she also believed she coauthored Bitter Fame, while the idea that she would need to trust fate suggests that this was
not her policy so far.
Olwyn Hughes’s insight that the 1990s would continue to trumpet Plath as a feminist
martyr was correct. Paul Alexander’s Rough Magic (1991) and Jacqueline Rose’s The Haunting
of Sylvia Plath (1992) would shortly follow Bitter Fame. Rough Magic is perceived as a
workaday biography without a convincing interpretation of the literature. For this reason,
Alexander’s volume has had little impact on either Plath or Hughes studies in comparison to
Stevenson’s biography. Reviews of Alexander’s biography overlook the significance of the
Doris L. Eder, “Review: A Divided Self,” Rev. of Bitter Fame. The Women’s Review of Books 7, no. 1
(Oct. 1989), p. 11.
2 Ted Hughes, “Letter from Olwyn Hughes to Ted Hughes,” 2 Oct. 1990, MSS 980, Manuscript,
Archives, and Rare Book Lib., Woodruff Lib., Atlanta, GA.
identity of Alexander’s sources. Alexander is connected to the Plath family, rather than to
the Hugheses. In his introduction to the 1999 edition, Alexander discusses his relationship to
Aurelia Plath. He describes how he interviewed Aurelia over twenty-five times in five years
and it was “not unusual for these episodes to end with Mrs. Plath in tears.”1 As a result of
his relationship to Aurelia, Alexander notes that his biography has been considered
“decidedly sympathetic” to Sylvia.
Alexander also notes in his 1999 edition that the original 1991 version kept his
primary source secret, as Aurelia asked him not to disclose her contribution until her death.2
Alexander pauses on this agreement only briefly, portraying his choice to protect his sources
as a decision made out of respect for Aurelia ’s suffering and his need for access to her
narrative. While he recognizes that this has made his biography “pro-Plath,” he reiterates
how this is a positive outcome and that his orientation toward Plath’s family does not
indicate a critique of the Hugheses. In order to prove his impartiality, he describes Olwyn’s
consistent respect for Plath’s artistic achievements. By doing so, Alexander does not prove
his objectivity, nor does he hope to do so. Instead, he creates a counterweight to Bitter Fame
that defends Stevenson’s own methodology. Alexander imagines that it was his interest in
Sylvia Plath’s work rather than her life that prompted Aurelia Plath to consent to meet him.
The difference between Olwyn Hughes and Aurelia Plath is that Aurelia’s reluctance to
initiate a discussion surrounding Plath (or, rather, to receive credit for her perspective)
differs from Olwyn’s advocacy on her brother’s behalf.
The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (1991) took a new angle on Plath by concentrating on
literary criticism rather than biography, thereby avoiding the Stevenson dilemma altogether.
Rose wrote from her assumption that Plath had become a cultural icon as well as a literary
celebrity, calling her the ‘Marilyn Monroe of the literati.’3 Rose states in her introduction that
the volume is ‘not a biography,’ but rather an investigation into the cultural reasons for
Plath’s fame. The volume is predicated on the fact that by the 1990s Plath had already
generated enough critical and popular interest that she did not require another biography.
Rose suggested that Anglo-American culture used Plath to trace how definitions of
femininity, violence, and art shifted in the postwar period. Rose in effect provided a
biography of the author known as Sylvia Plath, rather than Plath herself.
Although Rose’s readings were largely theoretical, she also felt Olwyn Hughes’s
attempts to intervene in the composition of her text. Olwyn Hughes’s pressure was felt to
such an extent that Rose frames her volume in the preface and first chapter as a contested
account. She describes how she was subjected to many comments, letters of overt
condemnation and even a threatened lawsuit. For this reason, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath
takes as its topic ‘writing – its own process, the way it has been edited, presented and read’
and insists that is ‘not a biography’ because ‘factual, lived existence is often an arbitration
between “competing and often incompatible versions of what took place.”’4 Rose argues in
her third chapter, “The Archive,” that Ted Hughes twists facts and hides them under his
own pretensions to knowing the truth. For example, Rose notes that Ted Hughes also
‘advised Stevenson and her informants “to stick to observed fact.”’ Observed facts would
reframe Plath by the experiences of those near her – namely, the Hughes family friends
whom Stevenson consulted. Rose suggests instead that the larger issue is how much Ted
Hughes owns Plath’s narrative as the literary executor of her estate.5 She returns to this
theme at the end of the chapter, concluding, ‘the problem is the way that [his] reading
Paul Alexander, Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath (New York: De Capo Press, 1991), p. xiii.
Alexander, Rough Magic, p. xiii.
3 Jacqueline Rose, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 26.
4 Rose, The Haunting, p. 19.
5 Rose, The Haunting, p. 67.
naturalizes itself into the process of editing, where it appears as a transcendent aesthetic
judgment.’1 Through this emphasis, Hughes-as-editor, rather than Hughes-as-author,
became of dominant concern.
The archival story of The Haunting of Sylvia Plath is of a scholar struggling to write,
similar to the narratives seen in the paratexts of the biographies written by Edward
Butscher, Linda Wagner-Martin, Anne Stevenson, and Paul Alexander. While the first
generation of Hughes and Plath biographies alternatively resist, comply, and debate the role
of Olwyn Hughes as the executor of the Plath estate, the second generation negotiates
Olwyn Hughes’s successor, Carol Hughes.
Writing the Archive during the Second Generation of Hughes and Plath scholarship
Between the late 1990s and the early 2000s, Plath and Hughes studies underwent a
switch in perspective strong enough that any criticism after the 1990s constitutes a second
movement. In this second generation, scholars began to attempt to find a ‘middle ground’: a
move to represent the productivity of the marriage rather than either figure specifically.
Pamela R. Matthews describes this development as ‘Sylvia Plath Hughes,’ seeing it as a ‘rush
toward the center’ that corrects ‘the polarizing effects of feminist analysis and discourse.’2
Matthews dates the generational switch to between 1998 when Birthday Letters was
published and 2000 when The Unabridged Journals were released. She does not note that
Hughes sold his archive to Emory University in 1997 and died on 28 October 1998. Hughes’s
passing is critical because it marked the conclusion of hopes that he would reveal additional
details about his marriage to Plath. For scholars, Birthday Letters and the archive became
consolation prizes. Matthews also overlooks another significant event in 1998: the
publication of Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever. While Hughes’s death, the release of his first
work to discuss Sylvia Plath publically, and the printing of the Unabridged Journals are no
doubt the primary factors for the shift from first to second generation criticism, it is
Derrida’s Archive Fever that suggests the second wave’s direction of scholarship. The second
generation of Hughes and Plath scholars is more sensitive to the role the archive plays in
their research, which causes them to frequently reflect on the nature of the archive itself.
The New York Times Book Review blurb published on the cover of Elaine Feinstein’s
Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (2001) states that The Life of a Poet is ‘the measured, gentle
biography that needed to be written, an attempt to set the record straight.’ Although Bitter
Fame was written about Plath, Stevenson’s work meant that an attempt to write a biography
of Hughes instead of Plath had to contend with the earlier, presumably less ‘gentle’
depiction of his perspective. For this reason, Feinstein reiterates defensively that the volume
is the ‘first biography of Ted Hughes,’ commissioned following Hughes’s death and after his
publication of Birthday Letters. As Birthday Letters was the first time Hughes publically
discussed his marriage to Plath and his verse directly responds to Plath’s writing, Birthday
Letters altered the landscape of Hughes-Plath studies. Feinstein also dealt for the first time
with the presence of the Hughes archive at Emory.
Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, a Marriage (2003) by Diane Middlebrook, the next
biography, best represents the hallmarks of the second generation of Hughes and Plath
studies. Its subject is Ted Hughes, but it concentrates on the marriage that Middlebrook
describes as a ‘literary atelier.’3 Her Husband pays vigilant attention to Hughes’s work and
stages of artistic development, yet concludes by subtly giving Plath a greater standing. It
Rose, The Haunting, p. 103.
Pamela R. Matthews, “Sylvia Plath Hughes: The Middle Ground in the New Millennium,” South
Central Review 23, no. 3 (2006), p. 90.
3 Diane Middlebrook, Her Husband (New York: Viking, 2003), p. xvi.
also takes a positive perspective on the marriage by demonstrating how Hughes and Plath
were advocates and aids for each other’s writing. But in order to portray the Hughes and
Plath as a creative team, Middlebrook uses a more conscious archival perspective than seen
in any previous biography, which can be seen in her decision to conclude her study of
Hughes with a straightforward archive story: a description of how Hughes came to sell his
literary collection to Emory. In her narrative, the archive becomes more than a theoretical
site or a research location as it is additionally revealed to be the place in which Hughes
exerts control over the researchers who will use his literary collection to write his legacy.
Her Husband describes that Hughes first decided to sell his papers in the mid-1990s.1
Middlebrook recounts that he asked Ann Skea, an Australian Hughes scholar, to move to
Devon to help sort out and take an inventory of his work. Hughes rescinded his offer shortly
thereafter once he recognized the sensitive nature of much of the material. Working
independently in order to preserve his privacy meant taking several years to complete the
project. When Hughes finished the inventory, he contacted Emory, which had begun
acquiring Hughes manuscripts in 1985 and continued to invest in the author through the late
1980s. Stephen Enniss flew to England to see the collection in person. Enniss and Hughes
negotiated a successful sale and in March 1997, ‘the archive of Ted Hughes left Court Green
for permanent residence in America – 108,000 items in eighty-six boxes weighing 2 1/2 tons,
plus materials sealed in a trunk that is not to be opened until the year 2023.’ Middlebrook
uses the size of the archive to demonstrate how committed Hughes was to his privacy.
Organizing his archive himself was a way to ensure ‘only he would ever know what had
been excluded from the record he was arranging for posterity.’2 Notably, Middlebrook’s
final description of Ted Hughes is her analysis of a photograph of Hughes checking over his
papers at home prior to the Emory sale.
The future of Ted Hughes scholarship builds from an archive that was
predetermined to show him from the light in which he wished to be seen. Hughes scholars
have yet to consider how his archival audit influences the production of their literary
scholarship. Sylvia Plath studies, which has outpaced Ted Hughes studies both in its earlier
production of biographies and lengthier list of publications, already has a book considering
the construction, use and legacy of Plath’s archive: Anita Helle’s The Unravelling Archive:
Essays on Sylvia Plath (2007).3 The Unravelling Archive illustrates the importance of Plath’s
manuscripts at the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington and her collection at the
Mortimer Rare Book Room of Smith College. Helle suggests that these collections, and the
essays they produced, mark a ‘second stage of debate around Plath’s canonicity,’ a de facto
second generation of Plath scholarship. In Helle’s introduction, titled “Archival Matters,”
she imagines how these collections have the potential to recalibrate Plath scholarship by
providing the ‘informing matrix’ which can unravel the ‘tangled connections backward to
the middle decades of the twentieth century and forward to issues raised by contemporary
literary and cultural criticism’ and mark the
discursive transactions surrounding [the author], the particularities in the material of
which they are composed, the dispersal of materials across different sites, and the
modes of retrieval by which these objects and texts become individually and
collectively available in display or publication.4
Stephen Enniss wrote his account of how Emory came to acquire the Ted Hughes literary collection
in “Ted Hughes, archives and alligators” for The Independent on April 27, 2011.
2 Middlebrook, Her Husband, p. 269-70.
3 Susan Van Dyne’s Revising Life: Sylvia Plath’s Ariel Poems (1994) and Tracy Brain’s The Other Sylvia
Plath (2001) are predecessors to Helle’s volume, but they do not reflect on how scholars use archives.
4 Anita Helle, The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of
Without noting specifically how the archive itself becomes a location for the expression and
implementation of power, Helle suggests that the circumstances upon which the archive
comes into being direct its use. While it is important for Ted Hughes scholars to consider
how their cousins in Sylvia Plath studies have responded to how the archive has shaped
their research, which are, after all, often the same archives they mine for material, it is also
critical that contemporary Ted Hughes scholarship begin to utilize the rich theoretical
tradition of archival studies. Doing so, however, will require imagining ‘the role of the
Imagining the role of the researcher within the archive is similar to imagining the
role of the biographer in regard to the genre of biography. In both cases, the work of either
the researcher or biographer reflects their sources. The controversy surrounding Anne
Stevenson’s Bitter Fame focused on her inability to restrain Olwyn Hughes. In the archive,
the terms under which that archive becomes available to researchers is as revealing. While
Hughes did not hide the reason for the sale of Plath’s papers, his motives for selling his own
literary collection have remained unknown, although the documents pertaining to his sale
have not been kept secret in the years since his collection was opened at Emory. 2
Ted Hughes’s connection to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia was negligible.
Hughes lived in the United States from 1957 until 1959 during the early years of his
marriage to Sylvia Plath, but resided mostly in Massachusetts. The American South entered
neither his experience nor his imagination. In fact, Elaine Feinstein remarked that Atlanta
‘could hardly be less like the feral landscape of Hughes’s poetry.’3 Notably, it did not enter
Sylvia Plath’s imagination either: her work does not register the burgeoning civil rights
movement that occurred during her lifetime in the South.4 Furthermore, Hughes never felt
comfortable in the United States. Following Sylvia Plath’s suicide, Hughes wrote to W.S.
Merwin in 1988 that he felt he ‘had a sort of double existence – one as typecast in the Plath
drama, one trying to ghost along somewhere close to the life I might have had.’ In the
United States he complained, ‘dogs in the street seem to have more ideas about me than I
have. It’s served one purpose – made my literary life, especially the U.S. territories, enemy
country.’5 Plath’s popularity in American college and high school classrooms and her appeal
as a feminist icon in the 1970s and 1980s made it difficult for Hughes to separate his identity
from her posthumous reputation.
Hughes’s decision to place his papers at Emory was not made on the basis of either
his or Plath’s personal experiences. Emory captured Hughes’s attention for another reason:
it had a strong interest in his manuscripts and demonstrated a commitment to collecting
contemporary writing. Neither of these reasons are present in the only note in the archive by
Hughes on his decision. Ted Hughes wrote to Olwyn Hughes on 6 March 1997: ‘Here’s
something for the bills. Sold the archive – to Emory. – successfully I think. […] Anyway, I’m
off to Ireland for 2 or 3 weeks.’ The burden of the archive on Hughes can be seen through
Michigan Press, 2007), p. 1, 3-4.
1 Helle, The Unraveling Archive, p. 7.
2 Hughes’s letter to Lucas Meyers, dated December 28, 1981, describes the decision to sell the
collection due to the unexpectedly large tax bill resulting from the commercial success of The Bell Jar
in the United States. It can also be seen in the Collected Letters edited by Christopher Reid.
3 Elaine Feinstein, Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), p. 11.
4 In a fall 1957 issue of The Sophian, the Smith college student newspaper, an article about
desegregation is printed on the same page as an article regarding Plath’s return to Smith College as a
teacher. Karen Kukil exhibited this page as part of a 2002 exhibition for Jill Ker Conway’s talk on
Woolf, Plath, and Steinem at Smith.
5 Ted Hughes, Letters of Ted Hughes, Ed. Christopher Reid (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
2007), p. 545.
Hughes’s desire to go to Ireland, which served as a place of respite for him throughout his
life to escape some ‘bills.’ It is easy to misread Hughes’s tone and imagine that the bills are
his general costs of living or additional taxes like those that required him to sell Plath’s
Hughes is exceptional among late twentieth-century poets because he did not have a
salaried position after his late twenties. Frieda Hughes reminds readers of her father’s
poverty in her introduction to Ariel: The Restored Edition. She recalls that when her mother
died, her grandfather William Hughes had to pay for the funeral because her father did not
have the income to cover the ceremony.1 Although Hughes ran a farm with Carol Hughes,
the lack of a salary meant that his money had to come from commissions, royalties, or the
selling of his assets. For this reason, the Plath estate often served as a source of financial
security to the Hughes family, as Hughes supported his children with the royalties and
copyrights generated by Sylvia Plath’s writing.
Despite his interest in placing his papers at Emory University, Ted Hughes
understandably felt uncomfortable with the way in which his archive would be used to
facilitate literary criticism in the future due to the personal antagonism and the
undervaluation of his literary work he suffered throughout his life. Therefore, Hughes acted
protectively in the creation of his archive. The visible satisfaction he derived from
controlling the content of his archive is consistent with his behavior as an author historically
wary of biographers and critics.
In a 1971 letter to Al Alvarez regarding The Savage God, Hughes explored his
discomfort toward literary criticism in more detail:
It is humiliating to me, & to her mother & brother, to have her last days exhumed in
this way […] for classroom discussion. […] The mechanical so-called objectivity of
higher Lit. Cric. is unscrupulous enough in the cynically low opinion it has of the
real power of words & in the way it cannot be bothered to distinguish between
remarks made on paper and their consequences in real life -- and most of that one
can’t do anything about, it is all part of the brutalized righteousness of journalism,
but your view is wider and I’m expecting you to be open to some appeal.2
Here, Hughes collapses the distinction between literary criticism and journalism by alleging
that both ignore the human consequences of their words and that literary criticism, like
journalism, suffers from a ‘righteousness’ that accords itself the justification to make
evaluations of both author and text. Notably, Hughes does not particularize. He neither
mentions a specific scholar or journalist who has hurt him, nor does he suggest what type of
‘remarks made on paper’ he feels have been mistaken. The phrase leaves open the possibility
that these remarks could be anything from transcribed interviews, to letters, poetry, or other
creative or personal writings. The source of his anger is the ‘mechanical so-called objectivity’
of literary critics and the language criticism is couched in.3
An example of this type of language can be seen in the pamphlet of an exhibition of
Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes papers held in 2005 at The Grolier Club in New York titled
“Fixed Stars Govern a Life; Transforming Poetics and Memory with Emory’s Ted Hughes
Archive.” In the introduction to the exhibit pamphlet, Ronald Schuchard argued:
[W]e have finally reached the necessary distance from their legendary personal lives
Frieda Hughes, Ariel: The Restored Edition: A Facsimile of Plath’s Manuscript, Reinstating Her Original
Selection and Arrangement (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004), p. xiv.
2 Hughes, Letters of Ted Hughes, p. 321-2.
3 Hughes, Letters of Ted Hughes, p. 322.
to return to their rich creative lives with the disinterested objectivity of scholarship.
With the full accessibility of both their archives at Emory and Smith, the critical void
will begin to fill and the legend will be rewritten.1
Schuchard claims that Hughes and Plath’s autobiography has prevented critical evaluations
of their work. With the passing of time, and the death of both authors, ‘the necessary
distance’ has been achieved so that ‘disinterested objectivity’ can return to the foreground of
scholarship. Schuchard sees the turn from autobiographically influenced criticism to
objective scholarship as pivoting on the new material provided by the literary collections
housed at Emory and Smith. The irony of these two statements placed side by side is that
Hughes sees the criticism that has already been written about him prior to 1971 as
subjectively influenced although objectively stated. Granted, Hughes’s letter was written
before the latter half of his career could occur, but Hughes implies that literary criticism can
never be objective. He believes that literary criticism merely distances itself from the
repercussions of its analysis by arguing away the true influence it has over its subjects by
claiming objectivity, an apt recognition in light of his sister’s interventions on his own
behalf. Schuchard, by admitting previous criticism was unduly influenced, nevertheless
reinstates the ideal of objective scholarship by summoning the power of the archive to
reinforce appropriate critical boundaries. While both Schuchard and Hughes endorse the
ideal of objectivity and desire scholars to stick to the text at hand, rather than stray into
biography, Schuchard imagines that this task is possible, whereas Hughes recognizes from
his experience that it is not.
Hughes did not live long enough to enjoy the financial rewards of the Emory sale,
but placing his papers at the university nevertheless benefitted him. Prior to the opening of
Hughes’s literary collection, insight into his life and work was available only in his
literature, few published public statements, the decisions he made regarding the Plath
estate, and the Plath archive at Smith. This resulted in Hughes’s identity being constrained
to his role of Plath’s husband, either through comparisons of their work, his executorship of
her estate, or through biographical evaluations of his role in Plath’s suicide. By establishing
his own literary collection, Hughes not only created an additional necessary site for scholars
to visit, but also allowed researchers to see Ted Hughes for himself in his letters, drafts, and
memorabilia. As Hughes believed that literary criticism is subjective by nature, his archive
puts this perspective into practice. By withholding material he did not want in the archive,
Hughes attempted to restrict the scholarship that he did not wish to occur. The critical
renaissance that is currently occurring in Hughes studies is a result of the power of the
literary collection to generate scholarship, yet this scholarship has not begun to
systematically address Hughes’s role in creating his own literary collection at Emory.
Hughes’s decision to oversee the creation of his archive was predicated on his belief
that objective scholarship is not possible. Placing his literary collection at Emory allowed
Hughes to have the inevitable subjectivity of literary criticism work on his behalf. In the
intimate space of the archive, users come to know a Hughes whose papers often counter his
image. The fact that this perspective is not unmediated needs to be present in contemporary
accounts of Hughes’s life and career. Diane Middlebrook’s choice to end her biography of
Hughes on a description of a photograph of archival surveillance represents her position as
a critic whose composition is dependent on access to her subject. Middlebrook allows her
readers to recognize the inevitable limitations of her biography in a way that echoes the first
generation of Hughes and Plath scholars, but moves her archival story from the paratext to
the primary text. Future scholars must consider how Hughes’s oversight may have
Ronald Schuchard, ed., “Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Transforming Poetics and Memory with Emory’s
Ted Hughes Archive,” Emory Across Academe 6 (2006), p. 7.
influenced their conclusions, how Olwyn Hughes’s intervention shaped the first generation
of scholarship, and how Carol Hughes’s will dictate the second.
Poetry In The Making: Fifty Years Old
Mick Gowar
If one dates Hughes’s Poetry In The Making from the original broadcasts rather than
the publication of the talks in book form, then the Poetry In The Making ‘project’, if one might
call it that, is 50 years old this year. But over that period, the education system of the UK has
been transformed from one where ‘teachers decided both the content of the school
curriculum and how it would be taught,’ to the present system in which, ‘a host of external
influences dictates the nature of the educational experience….So that those claiming to
reform education now focus on measurable outcomes and the answerability of schools to
parental and government pressure.’ 1 Or, as Roy Lowe has asserted in the subtitle to the
book from which those two short quotations were taken: ‘teachers lost control of the
Beginning in the mid-1960s, British politicians, educational administrators,
employers and parents’ organizations have made repeated attempts to make the educational
system more ‘accountable’ – ie. more responsive to their particular interests. Politicians and
employers especially have increasingly demanded an education system capable of both
responding to and facilitating the transformation of a declining industrial mixed economy
outside the European Common Market (as it was in the early 1960s) into what has been
described as a ’post-industrial’2 services-based ‘knowledge’ economy, within the European
Union but competing in a system of globalized ‘free’ trade. Schools, even primary schools,
have been expected to play a major role in training the highly skilled workforce we are told
that the ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘creative industries’ of the future will require.
Unfortunately, the result of all the debates, focus groups, green and white papers, edicts and
Acts of Parliament is the present stifling regime of testing and inspection, reports and league
tables, naming and shaming. And despite the stated aims of reforms such as the
introduction of a National Curriculum (‘the first major educational reform in Britain that
had not been created by the education professionals’3) and national SATs testing to raise and
maintain standards, many parents - desperate to assure their children’s futures in what they
perceive to be an increasingly competitive job market with ever decreasing opportunities are now paying not only for their children to be educated in independent secondary schools,
but also paying for them to be exhaustively coached for the 11-plus entrance exams for
which a state primary education does not adequately prepare them.
"It is absolutely manic," says one London mother, whose daughter hopes to go to an
independent school. "Entry is so oversubscribed that children are being tutored for
three years before the 11-plus. I know girls who are having three sessions a week at
£50 a time. The after-school maths club is practically compulsory. Some of the
children are really suffering under the pressure. It all seems so unfair."4
When the radio talks which eventually formed the basis of Ted Hughes’s Poetry In The
Making were first broadcast in the early 1960s, the UK had a secondary education system
Roy Lowe The Death of Progressive Education: how teachers lost control of the classroom, Routledge, 2007.
See Daniel Bell The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, Harper Collophon, 1974.
3 The Death of Progressive Education.
4 Daily Telegraph, January 8, 2005.
which is now looked back on by many in the present government as a golden age of high
standards and high quality education. In reality it was an age of lead. Despite being barely
twenty years old, by the early 1960s the British secondary education system had already
fallen into disrepair and disrepute. Under the 1944 Education Act, secondary education for
all children in the UK had at last been guaranteed. A tripartite system of grammar,
secondary technical and secondary modern schools had been proposed, with pupils selected
for the most appropriate school according to their abilities and aptitudes as measured by a
series of IQ tests at the end of primary schools: the original 11-plus examination.
In practice a three-school system did exist, but it wasn’t the one that had been
visualized by the 1944 Act. The fee-paying public (ie private) schools had survived the
period of post-war austerity and now educated the most affluent 5% of the UK’s children.
Many of them would go on to either Oxford or Cambridge and from there into a well-paid
career in one of the highly paid professions such as medicine, the law or banking - or to less
well-paid but nonetheless prestigious post in the church, academia or the Civil Service. The
remaining 95% competed through the 11-plus exam for a limited number of places at the
academically-oriented grammar schools, of which around 180 were the elite direct grant
schools (virtually independent, but playing their part in the state system by creaming off the
highest scoring pupils at 11-plus) and around 1500 more humble ‘County’ grammar schools
which were fully maintained and controlled by the local authorities. Together, these
grammar schools provided places for only around 25% of pupils. In the 1944 Act, Secondary
Technical Schools had been proposed to teach high level practical skills, similar to the
German Realschule, but these never came into being. The remaining 75% of British children
were dumped – there really is no other word for it – into the secondary modern schools
which were:
frankly second-rate and often in buildings which reflected their lower status….
Some of these schools were truly dreadful, sparsely staffed, crowded into
ancient and unsuitable buildings and sitting almost no pupils for outside
exams before most were released to start work at fifteen. At ‘A’ level in 1964,
the secondary moderns with around 72 per cent of Britain’s children had 318
candidates. The public schools, with 5 per cent had 9,838. 1
Tales of the enormous pressure put on children to pass the 11-plus are many:
My parents were frightfully middle-class so it would have been a disaster not
to pass the eleven-plus. I was terrified of failing. 2
For years it had been impressed upon us at school how important the whole
thing was. I felt that if I didn’t get through this exam and do well, then I would
never do anything with my life.3
Apart from the almost intolerable pressures put on so many children in their final year of
Primary school, there were other reasons why the selective system based on the 11-plus
exam attracted such widespread opprobrium. For one thing a child’s likelihood of passing
the eleven plus and gaining a place depended to a great extent on where in the country they
Andrew Marr A History of Modern Britain, Macmillan, 2007, p247.
Akhtar and Humphries The Fifties and Sixties quoted by Dominic Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good: A
History of Britain from Suez to The Beatles, Abacus, 2006 p 421.
3 Landau (ed) Growing up in the sixties quoted by Dominic Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good: A History
of Britain from Suez to The Beatles, Abacus, 2006 p 421.
lived: it was what would now be called a ‘post code lottery’. In the under-populated South
West of England, for example, 35% of all children ‘won’ a grammar school place; in the City
of Nottingham, where there were far more children and far fewer grammar school places,
only 10% of children passed their eleven plus.
For another, there was an in-built bias in favour of boys. Thanks to the continuation
of single sex secondary education, and the fact that there were fewer girls’ grammar schools
than boys’, most girls had to score considerably higher marks than their brothers to gain a
place at grammar school.
However even these modest reforms were too radical for some. T. S. Eliot, for
example, strenuously objected to the 1944 Act as an egalitarian abandonment of ‘standards’,
even though it placed a traditional grammar school education at both the heart and apex of
the system:
... whether education can foster and improve culture or not, it can surely
adulterate and degrade it. For there is no doubt that in our headlong rush to
educate everybody, we are lowering our standards, and more and more
abandoning the study of those subjects by which the essentials of our culture—
of that part of it which is transmissible by education—are transmitted;
destroying our ancient edifices to make ready the ground upon which the
barbarian nomads of the future will encamp in their mechanized caravans.1
But such views were largely ignored – certainly by the majority of teachers, who were
conscientiously struggling to give the best possible education to the greatest number of
Ted Hughes was just a year or so too old to have been personally affected by the 1944
Education Act as a pupil – although he did, as he recounts briefly in Poetry in The Making,
teach in a secondary modern school in Cambridge2. Nevertheless, as a boy from a workingclass background in rural Yorkshire3, he did benefit from the wider access to a grammar
school education, through a system of local authority funded scholarships, which had
preceded the Act. Two English teachers in particular, Pauline Mayne and John Fisher,
encouraged his creative writing, and fittingly Hughes dedicated Poetry In The Making to
them. They also encouraged his reading of modern poetry and his interest in the occult and
ancient mysteries: Mayne introduced him to Hopkins and Eliot; Fisher gave him a copy of
Robert Graves’s The White Goddess. Hughes had started writing humorous poetry to amuse
his classmates at the age of 114 but by the time he left school, he was utterly convinced that
he would be a poet.
From Mexborough Grammar School, Hughes won an Open Exhibition 5 to Pembroke
College, Cambridge to study English Literature, which he took up in 1951, having
T S Eliot Notes Towards A Definition of Culture, 1948.
In 1956-7 Hughes taught English and Drama at Coleridge Secondary Modern School, Cambridge,
before departing for the USA with Sylvia Plath.
3 Hughes was born in the village of Mytholmroyd in the Calder Valley of West Yorkshire. When he
was 8, the family moved to the town of Mexborough in South Yorkshire when his father, who had
been a carpenter, bought a tobacconist and newsagent’s shop. Hughes comments on this move in
Poetry In The Making ‘Our cat went upstairs and moped for a week, it hated the place so much, and
my brother for the same reason left home and became a gamekeeper. In an interview for the BBC,
Hughes commented on his life in Mytholmroyd: ‘My first seven years seems almost half my life. I’ve
remembered almost everything, because it was sealed off in that particular way and became a sort of
brain– another subsidiary brain’ (Close Up; ‘Ted Hughes; force of nature’, May 16. 2009.
4 See Paris Review, No. 134, 1995.
5 A form of scholarship.
completed two years’ National Service in the RAF, which he spent, as he told his friend
Keith Sagar, reading and re-reading the complete works of Shakespeare until he knew many
of the plays by heart and ‘watching the grass grow’.1
English must have seemed the obvious choice for Hughes to study. However the
drudgery of producing a weekly essay for his tutors about writers for whom he often felt no
enthusiasm not only reduced to almost nothing his enthusiasm for studying English, it also
stifled his creativity to the point where he had ceased to write any poems at all by his second
year. One night he had been struggling once again with his weekly essay, and had fallen
into bed, frustrated and exhausted, sometime between 1.00 and 2.00am, with his essay still
unfinished on a table within sight of his bed. He dreamt that a fox entered his room – a fox
walking on its hind-legs, as tall as a small man but definitely a fox – and it was burned as
though it had been in a furnace: its skin was blackened, scabbed and cracked and blood
oozed from its many wounds. The fox placed its paw on the essay and when it lifted it a
blood-stained print was left behind. It stared across the room at Hughes, and then said:
‘Stop this. You are destroying us.” Then it walked from the room. Hughes woke almost
immediately and hurried to his desk, expecting to see a blood-print on his papers, but there
was none. Nevertheless, the following day he went to his Director of Studies and changed
his course from English to Archaeology and Anthropology, and within days had begun
writing poetry again. A week or so later, Hughes dreamt that the fox returned, but this time
his skin was healed and his red fur glowed with health. He stooped over Hughes’s table,
where some drafts of poems lay, looked up and smiled, then left the bedroom without
another word.2
This experience was literally life-changing for Hughes. Firstly, the resulting change
of university course allowed him to devote much of his time to the study of the magical
beliefs and rituals which would be highly influential in the development of his personal
belief system. Secondly, the dream of the fox not only suggested a shamanic aspect to his
poetic vocation, but also indicated the duties, responsibilities and risks sucha vocation
might involve3- to restore the balance between the spirit world and the human world and, in
assuming some of the traditional shamanistic functions of ‘medicine man’, to bring healing
to the tribe in the form of songs or poems containing wisdom from the spirit world. The
shaman also customarily receives the gift of shape-shifting into the form of an animal for his
dream journeys into the world of spirits, and is able to speak the languages of animals.
The central figure in the transforming drama of Hughes’s ‘shamanic’ summoning
dream was the animal that had already become his personal totem: the fox. Hughes had
experienced a number of strange encounters with foxes while still a boy in Mexborough.
One morning, walking beside the River Don on his way to school, as he clambered up one
side of a hollow in the river bank:
quite unknown to him a fox was climbing the other. They arrived at the ridge
simultaneously, and looked into each other‘s eyes from a distance of a few
inches. For a split second, which seemed timeless, Hughes felt that the fox had
leapt into his head, supplanting his own provisional human nature with its
Keith Sagar, The Laughter of Foxes
This story, of the ‘Burnt Fox’ or ‘Scorched Fox’ has been retold in slightly different versions by
Hughes and others, including an account by Hughes himself of the first part of the story in Winter
Pollen, and a similar version in a BBC broadcast in the Close Up series entitled ‘Ted Hughes: Force of
Nature’ (May 16, 2009).
3 As Hughes himself noted, in a review of Mircea Elaide’s book on shamanism (reprinted in Winter
Pollen)’ ‘you’ve been chosen by the spirits, and dreamed the dreams, there is no other life for you, you
must shamanise or die.’
own definitive foxhood. This was the kind of experience he most wanted from
the natural world, encounters with another, deeper reality, with something so
totally other as to be sacred, yet also able to speak as nothing else could to his
own depths, depths beyond all conditioning and education.1
So it is hardly surprising that the poem which became his ‘opus one’ – the poem which first
indicated the full power of his true poetic voice and the profundity of his gift, and the first
poem in both his Selected Poems and Collected Poems – should be about a spirit creature which
is part fox and part the living force of the words by which the creature is captured: The
Thought Fox.
It is also the first poem by Hughes in Poetry In The Making, and was singled out for
particular comment by the producer, Moira Doolan, in her sleeve notes for the 1971 BBC LP
record of two broadcasts from the Listening and Writing series: ‘Capturing Animals’ and
‘Learning To Think’.
‘Capturing Animals’ is about a fox that is both a fox and a spirit. Then she
quotes Hughes: Every time I read the poem the fox comes up again out of the
darkness and steps into my head. And I suppose that long after I am gone, as
long as a copy of the poem exists, every time anyone reads it the fox will get
up somewhere in the darkness and coming walking towards them.2
The Thought Fox indicates clearly both the nature of Hughes’s poetic mission and the
methods by which he sought to fulfil it: how through the engagement of the imagination at
the deepest levels of experience, the dreadful ruptures between modern humans and the
natural world, and between modern humans and their own inner life, might be repaired. In
Poetry In The Making he describes this as a desperate and urgent struggle for each
truly to possess his own experience, in other words to regain his genuine self,
has been man’s principal occupation….Men have invented religion to do this
for others, but to do it for themselves they have invented art – music, painting,
dancing, sculpture, and the activity that includes all these, poetry. 3
At the time of the first Listening and Writing broadcast, Hughes was 30 years old and had
published two prize-winning collections of poetry, The Hawk In The Rain and Lupercal, and
was about to publish a volume of rather contrived comic verse for children, Meet My Folks.
Since 1956 he had broadcast a number of readings of his own and others poet’s poetry and
revealed his exceptional talents as a reader and presenter of poetry. He had also written a
number of radio plays for the BBC including The Storm4 and The House of Aries and several
plays for children. As Elaine Feinstein observed in her biography of Hughes: ‘Ted spent
most of 1960 writing plays for the BBC, which were among his most important radio work.’ 5
So it was perhaps unsurprising that, despite his very limited experience of working with
children, Hughes was commissioned to write the scripts for a themed group of programmes
on writing poetry and prose for the BBC Schools’ series Listening and Writing.
Keith Sagar The Laughter of Foxes, Liverpool University Press, 2000. p42. See also the short story
‘The Deadfall’, in Difficulties of a Bridegroom’, Faber, 1995 for another story about a fox which the
British poet, Simon Armitage, is convinced is based on something that actually happened to Hughes.
2 See also Ted Hughes Poetry In The Making, Faber, 1978 p20.
3 Poetry In The Making, p124.
4 An excerpt from The Odyssey, November 10 1960
5 Elaine Feinstein Ted Hughes, The Life of A Poet, Widenfeld and Nicholson, 2001, p 103.
In the early 1960s, BBC Schools’ Radio programmes were an injection of highminded and high quality content into the rather dull and formal curricula of both Primary
and Secondary schools, and were much anticipated by children and teachers alike. These
broadcasts included prorgammes such as Music and Movement, a series of creative
drama/dance exercises inspired by the Kodaly Method and the Kindermusik programme of
Carl Orff; drama series in foreign languages featuring native speakers; weekly religious
services for primary and secondary schools; extracts from orchestral concerts; and of course
programmes of readings of verse and prose, including Listening and Writing.
Following the success of Hughes’s broadcasts, a book was commissioned by Faber
and somewhat misleadingly titled Poetry In The Making. It also includes two chapters on
writing prose, Writing Novels: beginning and Writing novels: carrying on. In addition, there is a
key chapter Learning to think which, although the examples provided to illustrate Hughes’s
main points are poems, addresses the importance of close observation and developing ‘an
inner life…the world of memory, emotion, intelligence and natural common sense’ which
extends far beyond the narrow considerations of composing poems. Added to the scripts
were a number of poems which had not been part of the original broadcasts, teachers’ notes
and rather sketchy writing exercises. The final chapter of the book, Words and Experience,
was taken from a talk in the series Religion In Its Contemporary Context, a series broadcast on
the BBC Home Service (and continued later on Radio 4) for an adult audience. It is surely
significant that the BBC should consider Ted Hughes’s observations on turning personal
experience into poetry to be equally appropriate to a religious broadcast for adults as for
schools broadcasts for children and their teachers.
In its combination of personal anthology and literary autobiography, Poetry In The
Making is Hughes’s most unguardedly confessional and revealing prose work - a personal
view of the vocation of the poet, distinguished by Hughes’s openness about his own
shortcomings and occasional failures. It is also unique among the books being considered in
this chapter for its being addressed directly to children. And it speaks to them in a tone of
respectful seriousness: there is no forced joviality; no false intimacy; no falsifying of how
demanding it can, and should be, to write to the very limits of one’s ability. But Hughes
expects nothing less from his young readers. Hughes’s implicit assumption is that his young
readers are as potentially talented as he was, but also need help to achieve their potential the advice of an experienced writer to guide, encourage and reassure them. Hughes does
this through sharing his own experience of reading, writing, but above all thinking, in the
unmistakable tone of one writer addressing fellow writers. This was typical of Hughes’s
attitude towards children. As Sandy Brownjohn, recalling a visit by Hughes to the Primary
school poetry group she led, observed:
He treated them as equals - he did not talk down to them or modify his
presentation, or so it seemed to me. I had seen him read to adult groups, but
can honestly say I had never seen him appear so relaxed. [He] knew they [the
children] were approaching him as fellow practitioners who wanted to learn
from him. He spoke quietly in that alluring and compelling voice, and they
listened, drawn in by the power of his use of language and his honesty. The
atmosphere was charged and the hour went by like some magical moment. He
read mostly from his current poems - they later appeared in his volume
Moortown in 1979. The children asked questions which showed how engrossed
they were and he answered them straight and fully - no holding back, no
patronising, talking to them as one writer to another. 1
Sandy Brownjohn To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme?: Teaching Children to Write Poetry, Hodder, 1994.
Hughes famously begins Poetry In The Making with personal recollections of his own early
struggles – not to write poetry, but to capture animals: ‘There are all sorts of ways of
capturing animals and birds and fish. I spent most of my time, up to the age of fifteen or so,
trying out many of these ways, and when my enthusiasm began to wane, as it did gradually,
I started to write poems.’1
It’s a startling opening, referring to stalking, trapping, fishing – images which recur
throughout the book. And he goes on to explain the connection that hunting and fishing
and writing have for him.
You might not think these two interests, capturing animals and writing poems
have much in common. But the more I think about it the more sure I am that
with me the two interests have been one interest….I think of poems as a sort of
animal. They have their own life, like animals, by which I mean that they seem
quite separate from any person, even from their author, and nothing can be
added to them or taken away without maiming and perhaps even killing them.
And they have a certain wisdom. They know something special…something
perhaps which we are curious to learn. Maybe my concern has been to capture
not animals particularly, and not poems, but simply things which has a vivid
life of their own, outside mine.2
It sounds rather like the whimsical explanations that fiction writers too often give in press
interviews: ‘my characters took over’, or ‘the book wrote itself’. However, two pages
further on Hughes attempts to clarify the claim, and in particular makes it clear that his
assertion of the poem as a living organism with an independent life of its own is not offered
as a metaphor but is, for him, the literal true:
How can a poem, for instance, about a walk in the rain, be like an animal?... It
is better to call it an assembly of living parts moved by a single spirit. The
living parts are the words, the images, the rhythms. The spirit is the life which
inhabits them when they all work together. It’s impossible to say which comes
first, parts or spirit. But if any of the parts are dead[...]if any of the words, or
images or rhythms do not jump to life as you read them...then the creature is
going to be maimed and the spirit sickly. So, as a poet, you have to make sure
that all these parts over which you have control, the words and images and
rhythms are alive.3
The method he suggests to young readers is a fascinating mixture of meditation and magic:
imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it. Do not think it up
laboriously, as if you were working out mental arithmetic. Just look at it, touch
it, smell it, listen to it, turn yourself into it. When you do this the words look
after themselves, like magic. If you do this you do not have to bother commas
or full stops or that sort of thing. You do not look at the word either. You keep
your eyes, your nose, your taste, your touch, your whole being on the thing
that you are turning into words. 4
Poetry In The Making, p 15.
Poetry In The Making, p 15
3 Poetry In The Making, p 18.
4 Poetry In The Making, p 18.
This short passage shows once again in Hughes’s early writing his passionate commitment
to, and desire to share his insights into shamanism and other magical and occult beliefs in
which he was becoming expert – what is being recommended to the young writer in this
short passage is nothing less than shape-shifting. It also reveals, in its dismissive reference
to mental arithmetic, Hughes’s antipathy to analytical, rational, scientific thought, which he
summarized in a letter to the educationalist, philosopher and poet Nicholas Haggar:
Physics, modern philosophy, even dear old Lit Crit with its contortions, have
always appeared to me as the synthetically constituted poisonous water supply
that the whole Public is compelled to purchase (for real cash) and drink in one
form or another, while the simple, pure sources of real water, in the wells, have
been sealed. 1
It also expresses the necessarily headlong, heedless, instinctive grasping of ideas which if
not immediately captured, trapped, ambushed, vanish leaving only a tantalizing shadow or
a feint echo behind. It’s a type of writing and thinking which Hughes is willing to concede
to his young readers that he himself found extremely challenging – especially within a
school setting.
At school I was plagued by the idea that I really had much better thoughts than
I could ever get into words. It was not that I could not find the words, or that
the thoughts were too deep or too complicated for words. It was simply that
when I tried to speak or write down the thoughts, those thoughts had
vanished. All I had was a numb blank feeling, just as if someone had asked me
the name of Julius Caesar’s eldest son, or said “7,283 times 6,956 – quick.
Think, think, think.”2
This is an experience that surely everyone shares, the frustration of words deserting when
they are most urgently needed - especially when under pressure from a teacher. However, at
the present time, when we are constantly being reminded of the importance of ‘Bigging
yourself up’ ‘selling yourself’ in both work and personal life, it seems even more
extraordinary to read a poet of Hughes’s verbal power and eminence confessing to
inarticulacy, and the inability to hold onto a fleeting thought. But he is completely frank
with his young readers about his problems as a young writer – problems which they will
certainly have experienced themselves:’ I was thinking alright, and even having thoughts
that were interesting to me, but I could not keep hold of the thoughts, or fish them up when
I wanted them.’3
Hughes offers his young readers a technique to help train the conscious mind to
concentrate and to visualise – in effect, to practice a form of meditation (in the teachers’
notes he attempts to disarm any teachers’ objections to this by asserting that it should be
possible to follow the methods suggested in the chapter ‘without turning English lessons
into Yoga sessions.4’). He demonstrates this way of seeing and imagining by using his own
poem, View of a Pig, as an example - but interestingly, he refers throughout to ‘the poet’, and
never identifies himself as the writer. Hughes describes how the poet ‘stares at something
which is quite still, and collects the thoughts that concern it. He does it quite rapidly, and
Letter to Nicholas Haggar, March 19, 1994, Letters of Ted Hughes (ed. Christopher Reid) Faber, 2007, p
2 Poetry In The Making p57
3 Poetry In The Making, p57.
4 Poetry In The Making, p63.
briefly, never taking his eyes from the pig….he chooses the thoughts that fit together best to
make the poem.’ 1
But this is not the sort of skill that is taught in school, as Hughes makes abundantly
clear by repeating the point twice: ‘It is a valuable thing to be able to do – but something you
are never taught at school, and not many people do it naturally. I am not very good at it, but
I did acquire some skill in it. Not in school, but while I was fishing.’ 2 He goes on to describe
how an angler staring at his float is in a state of complete concentration, so that he is not
only extraordinarily sensitive to the slightest movement of the minute tip of the float, but is
all the time imagining the weed beneath the water’s surface, the fish stirring in the bottom of
the stream or pond, rising from the bottom and approaching the bait.
In the teachers’ note to the first chapter of the book Capturing Animals Hughes had
already outlined his preferred method for composition, which would have been as radical
then as it is now in that it was the thinking which should be allowed the most time, with the
writing being a brief but intensely pleasurable release of tension:
I have always thought that it would be productive to give out at the beginning
of term some of the subjects that are going to be written about during the next
The pupils would then watch the intervening lessons more
purposefully, and we cannot prevent ourselves from preparing for a demand
that we know is going to be made. Then when the time comes to write, it
should be regarded as a hundred-yards dash.3
One can imagine the questions that would spring to the mind of any present day English or
Literacy teacher reading that passage: what about considering the audience – isn’t that one
of the most important things to think about before starting a piece of writing? When do the
children get the opportunity to re-draft their writing? Shouldn’t the children be given be a
list of adjectives, adverbs and connectives first to ensure that the writing can be scored at the
highest possible level?
But unlike the current requirements for children’s writing, Hughes is not trying to
encourage formulaic writing to persuade or convince an entirely imaginary reader, nor
writing whose main purpose is to demonstrate a grade or level to a teacher or examiner.
Hughes’s aim is help his young readers create a poem or story that is a genuine expression
of each child’s inner life which, as Hughes asserts, ‘is the world of final reality, the world of
memory, emotion, imagination, intelligence, and natural common sense, and which goes on
all the time, consciously or unconsciously, like the heart beat.’4 And to help them to
discover the means to explore their personal interior world through ‘the thinking process by
which we break into that inner life and capture answers and evidence to support the
answers out of it. That process of raid, or persuasion, or ambush, or dogged hunting, or
surrender.’5 For if we don’t learn this, Hughes warns, ‘then our minds lie in us like the fish
in the pond of a man who cannot fish.’6
In Hughes’s opinion most adults were beyond saving, but he passionately believed
that ‘every new child is a chance to correct culture’s error’7. Unlike their parents, Hughes
argues, children
‘Learning to think’ Poetry In The Making p59
‘Learning to think’ Poetry In The Making p60
3 Poetry In The Making, p 23.
4 Poetry In The Making, p57.
5 Poetry In The Making, p57-58.
6 Poetry In The Making, p58.
7 Winter Pollen, p149.
want to escape the ugliness of the despiritualized world in which they see their
parents imprisoned. And they are aware that this inner world we have rejected
is not merely an inferno of depraved impulses and crazy explosions of
embittered energy. Our real selves lie down there. Down there, mixed up
among all the madness, is everything that once made life worth living. All the
lost awareness and powers and allegiances of our biological and spiritual
Despite the rigor of the recommended exercises, and the intellectual demands which many
of the poems would seem to make of younger readers, Poetry In The Making has never been
out of print since it was first published in 1967. It might be assumed that this was due to
Hughes’s subsequent eminence, however this has not prevented others of his books for
young readers going out of print.2 The reason for its longevity is simply that the book has
succeeded in enthusing many pupils, and many teachers too, and inspired them to write in
ways that they have found profoundly satisfying, both professionally and personally. The
children’s author and former Children’s Laureate, Michael Morpurgo, in a valedictory piece
published shortly after Hughes’s death, recalled how, as a primary school teacher he
discovered Poetry In The Making and used it to encourage his pupils to write.
I doubt if there has ever been written a more lucid, more enabling invitation to
write. I was enthralled. So was my class. ‘You see,’ I told them, ‘you can do it
too. I can do it too. He says so, he’s shown us how.
I did it right. I didn’t sit them down and just get them writing. We
went to our local nature reserve. No clipboards, just eyes and ears and our
own thoughts. I gave them time. They wrote, and I wrote with them….The
children…wrote the most keenly observed work they had ever done. What
Ted Hughes had done for us, for all of us, was to enable us to believe we could
do it, that we were not dolts, we were writers, all of us.3
But the final word must go to Hughes himself, who provided the best summary of Poetry In
The Making in a letter to the Canadian academic Lissa Paul:
my basic notion, the root of the roots, in Poetry In The Making, was – that – poetry is
simply the name we give to a certain kind of writing. The closer that kind of writing
gets to a total (instantaneous) release – something that satisfies & rejoices & appeases
the whole organism – the more intense, as poetry, it seems to be. Verbal competence
has to be taken for granted, I suppose, but my aim was to direct readers (listeners)
towards certain faculties – inner concentration, inner listening and dependence on
the spontaneous mind rather than on the calculating and remembering mind etc. A
deliberate sort of self-exposure to an event – an inner event, where the part normally
active (our manipulation of the world) becomes passive, and the part normally
passive (whatever it is that registers the consequences of our manipulations – or
failures of manipulation) becomes active, i.e. speaks, & renders the account.4
Winter Pollen, p.149.
For example: The Mermaid’s Purse; The Cat and The Cuckoo; Moon-Bells and other poems.
3 Nick Gammage (ed) The Epic Poise, Faber, 1999 p. 225-226.
4 Letters of Ted Hughes, p.483.
From Poetry to Painting
Johannes Heisig
Artist Johannes Heisig reflects on his relationship with the Crow poems and how they came to inspire
his work based on this sequence
Ted Hughes is still to be discovered in German-speaking countries, where only
acknowledged experts are familiar with this eminent poet. I first got to know his cycle of
poems, Crow, in 1998. I heard a reading in German translation by the producer/performer
Wolfgang Krause Zwieback. The subject struck me and has fascinated me ever since. From
that moment on, I circled around Crow, approaching the poems in graphic attempts before
distancing myself from it because occasions, partners and ideas for some form of
presentation were missing.
All factors necessary to start work came together in 2009. In an unusual building, the
Sports and Leisure Centre in Berlin-Friedrichshain (SEZ), I found the ideal space for what by
now has become 17 large black-and-white works (ca. 200x150 cm) that are somewhere in
between drawing and painting. To these, 10 lithographs were added and all were displayed
to the public in the SEZ in September/October 2011, attracting a great deal of attention.
My fascination with and the reason to work on Crow arose from Hughes’s sometimes
brutally direct, dark and disillusioned diction. By using an abysmal black humour, thus
avoiding any moralizing, Hughes drew up a breathtaking psychogram of modern existence.
Already in 1970, we find here a sketch of the soul’s condition as we know it nowadays. The
difficulty in maintaining relationships and the avoidance of taking up responsibilities are the
inner results of the externally so successful individuation in the contemporary world. While
permanently and in a pragmatic manner looking for optimization, modern humans have lost
every belief in a higher being that justifies their existence.
With Crow, Hughes invents an archetype, a being that eludes an exact determination
as a figure, and oscillates between animal, human, devilish and godly aspects. In this way,
Hughes succeeds in undermining every hint of order or hierarchy. The only conclusion of
human existence is: solitude.
In this way the text echoes that high peak of thought that is Blaise Pascal’s ‘Pensées’,
which undertakes a last splendid attempt of an apology for Christianity in the 17th century,
while already having to accept its failure: we all are in a merciless cosmos. In 2008 I
illustrated ‘Pensées’ for a Leipzig publishing house.
As any great achievement in art (Beckett should be mentioned as well as Proust,
Kafka etc.) Crow presents the individual as being thrown into existence, thus illustrating the
chaotic phenomenon of a dying civilization. In an interview, Hughes illustrated these
connections in a very simple manner: ‘Each society dreams its dream, and when you see
what happens in television, this eternal torturing and executions... for the masses, who night
after night, in complete indifference […] lie in front of a TV set in which their dreams are
being unwinded, if this is the dream of our civilization, then we didn’t create civilization but
Elmar Schenkel writes, in an insightful afterword to his German translation:
It may remain an open question to what extent the Crow cycle, with all its
destructive power, was also intended to have a therapeutical effect, how far it could
give hints for rescuing Reason from itself, in the sense of a dialectic of enlightenment.
Surely these poems – Hughes talks also of ‘tattered, dirty, undated letters from
faraway battles and weddings.’ These fables, visionary anecdotes, parodies and
parables are spaces of fantastic explosions in which neurotic energies unfold, not
only the author’s, but of a whole culture. However, one must come to terms with the
blackness, the dark suns that are here set on fire, possibly by understanding them as
a transition, as the black zenith of all creativity, which without this negation would
lose its dynamics and therewith its existence. Is there healing power? In the sense of
the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Bardo Thodol, there is indeed. A guide through the
land of dying, where the task of the priest consists in interpreting the tremendous
images of inner and outer destruction that break in upon the dead in the realm
between death and rebirth, offers support and orientation on a perilous journey – a
journey that probably a whole civilization will have to undertake in an era of
transition, in which the archives of the world unwind their images and memories,
and electronic media suck up people increasingly into their visual streams.
The formal transposition to my world of images takes the following starting point: I
wanted to eliminate as far as I could all the elegance and opulence of my trade. That was an
enormous challenge, because I had to find a roughness of formulation which stood totally in
opposition to all that which I had tried to attain in 35 years of working professionally. That
is how I came to the decision of using the simplest of materials: paper, charcoal (partly even
grilling charcoal), black and white paint, a razor blade. There is still too much “brillance” to
the pictures in my eyes, too much ‘skill’. Neverttheless, in the context of my work they
appear to me as a new chord, that, I hope, will provide a new response to the poems.
In parallel and in reference to my work, Wolfgang Krause Zwieback and composer
and video artist Henning Lohner created a scenical reading of the poems that have
broadened the project in an interdisciplinary way.
The Shaman, Trickster, and Scapegoat Motif in Hughes's Oresteia
Stuart Hirschberg
Ted Hughes's posthumously published translation of Aeschylus's Oresteia trilogy in
1999 continues his lifelong interest in the use of shaman, trickster, and scapegoat themes that
I discussed in my book, Myth in the Poetry of Ted Hughes (1981). What particularly interests
me is the way the three plays in the trilogy incorporate successively, shamanic elements in
the Agamemnon, trickster elements in the Choephori (or Libation Bearers), and scapegoat
themes and images in the Eumenides. In reality, there is considerable overlap between these
three motifs or archetypes. But, we can clearly define important turning points when one
motif shifts into another.1
Hughes's translation renders the rhetorical shifts of countervailing scenes, emotional
moods, and concerns in forceful ways that emphasize (in what might be called typical
‘trickster’ fashion) the mutually undercutting and continuous tension in Aeschylus that
other translators such as Lattimore have glossed over. Hughes's translation exposes the
discordances, limits, boundaries and oppositions that are a source of Aeschylus's
unmistakable energy - - that are the hallmarks of his unique, always dramatic, presentation,
as in the following speeches by the Chorus and then, Clytemnestra. For example, ‘The
warlords cried out,/ Incredulous./But [my italics] Agamemnon . . .’ (p.14); ‘But [my italics]
if I deny the goddess, then what happens?' (p.50); ‘I saw nothing else - - I could not watch
it./ But [my italics} I shall see/ The words of the prophet fulfilled’ (p.17); ‘They close their
eyes and relax./ But [my italics] now let them take care/ To respect the gods of that city.’
(p.22). Hughes's translation is filled with sharply startling contrasts and reveals his keen
dramatic awareness that Aeschylus was writing a trilogy about limits, boundaries,
seemingly irreconcilable warring viewpoints (How can Orestes be both guilty - - according
to the Furies, and innocent - - according to Apollo?). These boundaries have become locked
and impassable and requires a Hermes inspired and guided hero to navigate the limbo
region much as Hughes had described it I his 1962 radio play ‘The Wound’ through his main
character Ripley.2
In fact, the beginning tone of the Agamemnon, post-Trojan War, especially in the
Herald's speech (p.31-32) is infused with the same sense of post wartime England that
Hughes experienced as a teenager. And, this is true even when Hughes seems to view the
action of the play through the chorus, in the Agamemnon - - as onlookers to a great tragedy
who are horrified and mystified in much the same way as Hughes presents himself in
All references are to Ted Hughes's translation, The Oresteia (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1999). This
version was staged by the Royal National Theatre in the Fall of 1999. Also, see Stuart Hirschberg,
Myth in the Poetry of Ted Hughes (Wolfhound Press, 1981) and the indispensable study by Lewis Hyde,
Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998).
2 Compare Richard Lattimore and David Grene's translation, Aeschylus I: Oresteia: Agamemnon, The
Libation bearers, The Eumenides (University of Chicago Press, 1953). Also, see the elegant rendering by
Gilbert Murray, translator, The Complete Plays of Aeschylus (London, George Allen & Unwin Ltd.,
1952). Also, see his commentary is Aeschylus: The Creator of Tragedy (Oxford U.P., 1940). Aside from
Hughes, my personal preference is the translation by Christopher Collard, Aeschylus: Oresteia (Oxford
U.P., 2002). For Agamemnon, I also like Howard Rubenstein's translation, Agamemnon: A Play by
Aeschylus (Granite Hills Press, El Cajon, California, 1965). A useful literary commentary on the trilogy
is by D. J. Conacher, Aeschylus' Oresteia (University of Toronto Press, 1987). Ted Hughes, ‘The
Wound’ in Ted Hughes, Wodwo (Harper & Row, 1967), pp.108-150. It was first broadcast as a radio
play by the BBC, 1962.
Birthday Letters.1
In the Agamemnon the impetus for the action in this play, and indeed, of the whole
trilogy is the display of ungoverned appetites. We learn of a terrible feast of butchered
children vividly described by Cassandra. We also hear of Paris's ungoverned lust and his
consequent abduction of Helen and Agamemnon's lust for power, and his callous sacrifice of
his daughter, Iphigenia. This is the matrix in which Calchas, the prophet of the Army,
interprets the omen seen by all, of two eagles (that Hughes renders as ‘he black bird and the
white bird’) seizing on a pregnant hare and tearing its unborn young from its womb. This
moment of shamanistic divination is fraught with ambiguity even while it produces awe
and terror in those who hear it. The two predatory birds are Agamemnon and his brother
Menelaus. The pregnant hare is Troy and the unborn young are the soon to be destroyed
children of Troy. Yet, Calchas is the Army's prophet and his judgement that the anger of the
goddess Artemis as Hughes says ‘the goddess,/The mother of the hares’ must be assuaged
by an offer to appease her curse of foul winds that prevent the Army's sailing. Calchas,
however, may be playing trickster in providing a scenario that fulfils his commitment to the
Army and to its successful expedition.
Cassandra's entrance dramatizes in an even more acute way the shifting boundaries
between shamanic prophecy and the ambiguous no man’s land that tricksters inhabit.2
Hughes vividly renders in visceral images (‘dog-headed, man-eating sea-monster, Shark
ripping from beneath’) Cassandra's macabre visions of Clytemnestra's savage murder of her
husband. 3 The trickster features that Cassandra displays include her reneging on her
promise to give herself to Apollo.4
The trickster motif also enters this first play in a subordinate role through the actions
of Clytemnestra. She literally traps Agamemnon by manipulating his appetite for displaying
his strength in victory. The visible emblem of the trap is the crimson dyed tapestry
Clytemnestra (playing on her knowledge of his instincts) persuades him to trample as he
makes a grand entrance. Once he is defenceless, he in ensnared by a net-like fabric and
butchered by Clytemnestra.
Its function is highlighted by Orestes in the second play when he displays this netlike fabric to the Chorus after he has killed Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. Its
multifarious shifting role as Hughes says is ‘a snare for a dangerous animal,’ or a device
bandits might use to ‘drop over travellers/And make it easy’ to kill them.5
Michael Silk's brilliant exegeses in ‘Ted Hughes: Allusion and Poetic Language’ in Ted Hughes and
the Classics, edited by Roger Rees, Oxford U.P., 2009, incorporates allusions to poems in Birthday
Letters (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998) and the associated sequences Howls and Whispers, 1998 (based
on the conference held at Edinburgh, 2005), as does his ‘Hughes, Plath, Aeschylus: Allusion and
Poetic Language’ in Arion, 14.3 Winter, 2007, pp.1-33.
2 Oresteia, pp.59-60. She sees in one sweeping instantaneous revelation the horrific feast that acts as a
primal curse on Atreus's family, the soon to be accomplished slaughter of Agamemnon and lastly, her
own fated murder.
3 Oresteia, p.60. Yet, her overlap with timeless trickster characteristics can be observed in the way her
visions transgress hidden proscribed boundaries that speak the unspeakable and erase the boundaries
that would be too terrible to breach. But, like any shamanic prophet, her divination both reveals and
4 Oresteia, p.59. This leads him to curse her with a prophetic gift which no one would believe (as
clearly shown by the disbelief of the Chorus to what she says despite their sympathy for her) and her
casting off all the garments and signs of her identity as Apollo's priestess as she prepares to die. In
short, she is displayed as not Apollo's priestess whose symbolic act of divestment outs her into the
realm of the vanquished - - who remains unnamed in the remaining two plays of the trilogy.
5 Oresteia, p.140. Thus, the trickster's emblem, the fishnet trap symbolizes the network of
circumstances and known characteristics of Agamemnon and permit Clytemnestra to literally ensnare
Her ruse is entirely trickster-like, pragmatic, and is meant to serve the moment. The
Choephori (usually translated as the Libation Bearers) begins with Orestes's invocation
‘Hermes, you who guide the soul/After death into the underworld.’ These words,
addressed to Hermes, the only god capable of travelling to the realm of Hades, alert us to
look to Hermes, the preeminent trickster-god rather than his more socially-acceptable
brother, Apollo, with whom Orestes is explicitly aligned, to provide the keys to understand
this second play.1
Orestes enters the trilogy in the second play (the Libation Bearers) as a transformative
agent reworking the fixed retributive scheme of Dike (of blood crime for blood), injury
begetting vengeance, in a closed cycle of cause and effect. We understand Hughes's
rendering of the penalties decreed by Apollo if Orestes were to ‘fail . . . flinch/ Or dodge off
sideways from this task’ (p.106). The imagery emphasizes fixity (‘your face fixed like
bronze’) and a ‘leprous’ like disease - - both afflictions symbolize the punishment for failure
to make flexible and responsive a scheme of crime and punishment that has become ossified
and begun to decay - - a fate awaiting Orestes, a symbol of what he must fix in society.
Hughes, throughout his poetry and children's stories, has this element of fixity in poems
such as ‘The Contender’ (Crow, p. 30) and the Iron Man.2
It is fascinating to compare Orestes's pre-game strategy to what actually happens. He
gains confidence through a shaman-like identification with the murderous snake that had
terrified Clytemnestra in her dream and optimistically plans to shame Aegisthus into
coming out publically meets his doom. Of course, what is missing from his plan is
Clytemnestra. But accidents happen to tricksters around doorways and it is precisely
Clytemnestra who exhibits convincing signs of grief when she hears the story of Orestes's
supposed death from the lips of a merchant traveler (his disguise). A case of trickster meets
When Cilissa (Orestes's old nurse) enters, not only does her grief and tenderness
distance Clytemnestra from the audience as Orestes's mother, and thereby lessen the blame
that he might incur (from the audience's point of view), but Cilissa's care-taking role
anticipates the defense of the secular state, epitomized by the newly valid trust in the
marriage bond between Zeus and Hera that Clytemnestra has violated.4
him and repeatedly insert a bronze blade in the net's openings just as she had probed Agamemnon's
nature and found his point of vulnerability. The symbolism of taking Agamemnon apart despite his
seemingly solid and daunting appearance is also seen in her further mutilation of his body (which we
learn of in the second play) by hacking off his limbs and folding them crosswise under him. Her
ability to find the weak point and slip the blade in is presaged by her duplicitous greetings and
welcoming speech which first takes in the Herald (to the growing Alarm of the Chorus) and then
1 Oresteia, p.122-123. He enters as a traveller from a state of exile with a need to avoid detection, blend
in with his environment, find allies, discover without being discovered. In short, he enters the play as
the archetypal outsider who may tell the truth or lie, but above all must be alert to ways of using
unexpected events to his advantage.
2 ‘The Contender’ in Ted Hughes's Crow (Harper and Row, 1971), pp.30-31; see also Ted Hughes, The
Iron Man: A Children's Story in Five Nights (Faber and Faber, 1968). Also called The Iron Giant when
published in North America in order to avoid confusion with Marvels' comics' character, Iron Man.
3 Oresteia, pp.125, 127. As an aside, we might note that Hermes was the god of the market place and of
wanderers and travellers. Also, as we might expect, Orestes in true trickster fashion has disguised
himself both by wearing true trickster clothes and by speaking with an accent from Phocis, a region in
which Orestes has supposedly met his death. Trickery enters a new dimension when Orestes's old
nurse, Cilissa, looks behind Clytemnestra's mask of grief and testifies to her secret joy at the removal
of this threat. Cilissa also serves another very important psychological function at this point by
presenting herself as the true nurturing mother (although not biologically) to the infant Orestes.
4 Oresteia, p.134. Even Clytemnestra's last minute display of motherliness merely postpones the
Yet, Cilissa herself is drawn into this world of deception and trickery when she is
asked to unquestioningly tell Aegisthus to come alone (‘Tell him these men are timid
merchants/Who will be too easily overawed’). After she leaves, the Chorus of Electra's
foreign serving women, who are captive slaves brought from Troy, explicitly pray ‘Hermes,
son of Maia,/. . .Let the breath of your cunning/Prompt the tongue of Orestes’ (p.130)
Orestes's balancing act, of following the adurations of Apollo and the exhortations of Electra
and her Chorus, leave him at the tipping point of trickster and scapegoat.
Clytemnestra recognizes that their treachery has rebounded (‘By cunning we killed - now cunning will kill us’) p.134. The decision is tipped by the sole spoken words of
Orestes's companion, Pylades (‘Remember the words of Apollo’) p. 135. But, by this point,
Orestes has convinced himself that he is revenging Agamemnon more for Clytemnestra's
unfaithfulness to him than for the murder. His state of denial is suggested by the lines ‘Me
murder you?/Mother you have already murdered yourself.’1
Hughes had been drawn to the liminal border-crossing figure in poems like ‘An
Otter’ in describing a creature that is ‘neither fish nor beast.’2 The ‘Wodwo’ whose tentative
existence places it outside as an inquiring traveller seeking the meaning of its own identity
also suggests that Orestes's journey represents a transition from ‘trickster’ to
‘scapegoat/saviour.’3 We can observe the same tipping point in the Crow cycle in poems that
begin with ‘Crow's Fall’. 4
Previously, in Gaudete, Hughes had been drawn to the hidden-from-view combat of
the embattled Reverend Lumb as he descends into an abyss that is both personal and
collective (in Jungian terms). This descent and re-emergence is alluded to but must have
sounded a powerful emotional cord to which Hughes responded.
In ‘Lupercalia,’ Hughes had projected a ritual of renewal, beset by the energies of the
White Goddess that in the Oresteia are shown as the Furies or the Eumenides.5 At the
moment when Orestes disregards Clytemnestra's warning (‘Oh, my son, remember the curse
of a parent’) p. 135 and drives her inside the palace where he kills her and subsequently
displays her and Aegithus's corpses, he changes the significance of his role from trickster
(who customarily remains outside and unaffected by events) to that of the
scapegoat/saviour. All of his wit and cunning will be to no avail against the pursuing,
avenging Furies that the murder of his mother had unleashed.
The furies (Or Erinyes) for all their bloodthirsty ways reveal considerable dialectical
skill in disputing claims by Apollo and Orestes. This, coupled with their willingness to grant
concessions to Athena, signals their new standing when previously they embodied
ungoverned powers akin to what both Robert Graves in The White Goddess6 and Hughes
identified as the fundamental renewing power of the universe.
The contrast between the imagery with which the trilogy begins and ends makes this
new reapportionment of powers visible and meaningful for the audience. The Agamemnon
began with a blazing linked chain of watchfires (ordered by Clytemnestra) leaping from
1 Oresteia, p.136. This less than one-hundred percent commitment and residual ambivalence will
literally come back to haunt him in his new role as scapegoat. See Oresteia, p. 143.
2 ‘An Otter’ in Ted Hughes's Lupercal (Faber and Faber, 1960) p.46-47.
3 ‘Wodwo’ in Ted Hughes's Wodwo (Harper and Row, 1967), p.184.
4 ‘Crow's Fall’ in Ted Hughes's Crow (Harper and Row, 1971), p.25.
5 Oresteia, p.171; In the Eumenides, Orestes tells how he has travelled in many lands and over water,
and has not harmed those with whom he has stayed. He has been purified by instruction from a wise
teacher and through ritual sacrifices (‘I do not crouch here/Polluted with a crime’). This purifying
shower of ritual sacrifices has purged him and redeemed his humanity. Ted Hughes's Gaudete
(Harper & Row, 1977).
6 Robert Graves, The White Goddess (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966).
Troy all the way across in nine mountain top locations (rendered magnificently by Hughes
on pp. 19-20) to the roof of the palace in Argos. At the end, the blazing flames have become a
procession of torches used to lead the Eumenides to their new place into the caverns under
Athena's temple (Parthenon) on the Acropolis (as Hughes tells us ‘Terribly kindly ones/
Come to your rest/In the flame of torches’).1
Orestes plays an absolutely indispensable transformational role both as an individual
coming to terms with a tremendous guilt which we observed he was not fully prepared to
accept, and as a catalyst ushering in a newly-established form of society in which the Furies
are appeased by Apollo and Athena and take their place as objects of worship deep in caves
below Athena'a temple in the Parthenon. In their new role, the Furies, now called the Kindly
Ones or Eumenides, bring the blessings of plentitude to agricultural crops and to a
prospering citizenry. It is this key feature of Orestes as trickster/ scapegoat as he is drawn
from the periphery into the center that redraws the boundaries of social and spiritual life.
Thus, through his suffering, he is cast into the same role as Prometheus, about whom both
Aeschylus and Hughes wrote plays (Prometheus Bound, 480-410 B.C.? And Prometheus on his
Crag, 1973).2
After Orestes's trial has allowed a fundamental restructuring of civic, religious and
social life, he recedes as a meaningful strategic presence. And, the audience is mostly aware
of the gods with their elemental and supernatural powers. Zeus is invoked and Hughes
underscores this final sense of closure and achieved justice in ‘So God and Fate, in a divine
marriage,/Are made one in the flesh/Of all our people - - /And the voice of their shout is
single and holy.’3
Oresteia, p.197. Through his action a hitherto sectioned off primal bloodthirsty element represented
by the Furies has been evoked and now must be confronted and ultimately appeased and
incorporated into the evolving structure of society toward which the play ultimately leads.
2 Although the authorship of Prometheus Bound is disputed, it is usually attributed to Aeschylus, and
thought to have been produced sometime between 480 and 410 B.C.; See also Ted Hughes's
Prometheus on His Crag (London, Rainbow Press, 1973).
3 Oresteia, p.198. All these results are only reached by resolving seemingly unsolvable issues since the
preeminent guiding principle in an age where blood feuds and the fixed law known as Dike (that the
doer must suffer) are brutally exemplified in both the first and second plays. The inexorable scheme
of action and inaction would not seem to admit of a third possibility of reconciliation. But, this is
exactly what Aeschylus does in this third play. The Furies become amenable to persuasion and the
blind law is able to admit unique and extenuating circumstances.
Terry Gifford
Daniel Xerri. Ted Hughes’ Art of Healing. Palo Alto: Academica Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1933146-78-2. 265pp. $79.95
Perhaps the most useful part of this book is its introductory chapter, ‘Ritualising in
Words’, in which the case is made for the book’s title through a range of references which
constitutes an all-too-brief summary of Hughes’s profound understanding of the mysterious
function of art. Essays by Hughes on Baskin and Lorca are quoted prior to an interesting
observation on the etymology of ‘healing’ from ‘hale’ and ‘whole’: ‘Our association of “heal”
with “holy” is prompted by the fact that both to some degree denote wholeness, whose
restoration Hughes recognises as the ultimate aim of poetry’ (6). Of course, this begs
questions of how that wholeness might be imaged and by which routes it might be achieved,
on which it has to be said that this book delivers few new insights. The shamanic journey
and its Jungian explanation then lead into a discussion of ‘Myth and Education’ which is
unfortunately referenced only into its Winter Pollen version. This misses an opportunity to
understand Hughes’s awareness of the dangers of the negative myths of Christian
repression and conquest of forces perceived as ‘evil’ and the role of Hughes’s writing for
children in pursuing an agenda to counter such myths as that of George and the Dragon.
This remains an under-researched agenda that might reveal much more if taken as a whole,
despite the pioneering work of Lisa Paul and Claas Kazzer. Philip Pullman’s current
obsession with Blake, and especially The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, might provide some
parallels and clues to Hughes’s agenda for children.
Xerri does, at this point in his opening chapter, make an interesting comparison with
Doris Lessing’s novel The Memoirs of a Survivor ‘in which is exhibited a fear of the possibility
of a colossal communication breakdown in a society made up of many insular subcultures
that do not share an adequate mythical language’ (15). It is the process of the revision of the
metaphors of science, from the webs of early ecology to chaos and string theory, that offers
an example of the scientific search for ‘an adequate mythical language’ informing the reader
of a scientifically aware poet and storyteller. Xerri’s references to the (now rather dated)
writings of Fritjof Capra and David Bohm might have provided a possible framework for a
bold reading of Hughes’s poetic work. But what follows the strong opening of this study is
largely derivative of previous studies and smacks very much of an American-style survey
PhD. What is clear from this study is the fact that ecocritical concepts such as ‘ecocentricity’,
‘environmental justice’ and ‘post-humanism’ (the latter two are not used, but are implicit
here) are now essential for Hughes studies as critics such as Xerri attempt to articulate the
advanced vision of Hughes: ‘Humanity finds its reflection in nature and the state of health
of either one is a sure indicator of that of the other; indeed once the fragmented mode of
thinking is invalidated the actuality of the universe’s cohesiveness becomes irrefragable ...’
(258). Of course, this is easier for the critic to say than for the poet to confront the next goblin
that pops up at the end of the current ritual. Instability and suffering are the poetic routes to
any provisional glimpses of cohesiveness, as Xerri demonstrates in this book that he
Note on Contributors
Terry Gifford is a Visiting Researcher at the Centre for Writing and Environment at Bath
Spa University, as well as Profesor Honorifico at the Universidad de Alicante, Spain, where
he co-supervises PhD students in ecocriticism. Terry has authored seven collections of
poetry, several books of ecocriticism, a collection of climbing journalism and edited the
complete works of John Muir in two volumes. He as also written or edited three books on
Ted Hughes.
Mick Gowar is an academic and children’s author. Since 1980, he has written or edited more
than 120 books for children and young people, including five collections of poetry, novels,
short stories and educational books, many of them for educational series such as OUP's
'Treetops', and Franklin Watts's "Leapfrogs" and "Tadpoles". He has visited schools,
libraries, colleges and festivals throughout the UK and abroad to give readings,
performances and lead workshops. He has also undertaken educational projects for, among
others, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Sinfonia 21, and the
Fitzwilliam Museum and Kettles Yard Gallery in Cambridge. He has taught courses in
creative writing and children's literature at the Arvon Foundation, Anglia Ruskin University
and the universities of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Northumbria. He is at present lecturer in
Contextual Studies at the Cambridge School of Art and a teaching fellow at Anglia Ruskin
University in Cambridge, where he is director of the newly-founded European Storytelling
Archive. He was a judge of the W H Smith Young Writers’ Competition under the
chairmanship of Ted Hughes.
Johannes Heisig is a German painter and graphic artist. His work combines the tradition of
German socialist realism with a subjective expressionism. He portrayed several famous
German politicians such as Willy Brandt, Johannes Rau and former Finance Minister Peer
Steinbrück. The artist is represented by galerie son, Berlin. From 2010 to 2011 Heisig created
his work series 'CROW' referring to the same-titled poems by Ted Hughes.
Amy Hildreth Chen is currently a doctoral candidate at Emory University. Chen's interests
include twentieth century poetry and archival theory. Her dissertation, "Archival Bodies:
British, Irish, and American Literary Collections," argues that the history of a literary
collection's acquisition shapes later research outcomes.
Stuart Hirschberg, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of English at Rutgers, New Jersey, is the
author of books on W.B. Yeats and Ted Hughes and is the editor of Reflections on
Language (OUP). With Terry Hirschberg, he has written and co-edited 28 books on rhetoric,
language, and literature, the latest of which is One World, Many Cultures, 8th edition (2011).
Ann Skea is a leading scholar in the field of Ted Hughes studies and the author of Ted
Hughes: The Poetic Quest.
Sam Solnick teaches at Queen Mary, University of London where he is completing a PhD
on the relationship between science, ecology and contemporary poetry – particularly in the
work of Ted Hughes, JH Prynne and Derek Mahon. His current research focuses on the
ethical and aesthetic challenges posed by developments in our understanding of climate
change and genetics. He is also interested in biosemiotics, poetry and embodiment,
posthumanism, ecological ethics and other issues related to literature and the environment
and ecocriticism. He writes regularly for the Times Literary Supplement.