Ted Hughes is widely regarded as a major figure in twentieth-century poetry, but the impact of Hughes's class backg
139 26 3MB
English Pages  Year 2014
A volume of nearly three hundred selections from the late writer's extensive correspondence offers insight into his
248 14 73MB Read more
The environmental challenges facing humanity in the twenty-first century are not only acute and grave, they are also unp
575 98 953KB Read more
This Casebook adopts a critical perspective towards the aims and achievements of three leading British poets of the post
128 33 20MB Read more
"This erudite critical study...breathes new life into Plath scholarship."—Publishers Weekly, starred reviewWhe
398 88 2MB Read more
From the moment it was first published in The New Yorker, this brilliant work of literary criticism aroused great attent
333 104 2MB Read more
Ovid’s Metamorphoses is one of the cornerstones of Western culture, the principal source for all the most famous myths o
145 19 55MB Read more
Shamanism is not a religion, but a technique of achieving ecstasy through chanting, the beating of a drum and the shakin
340 27 3MB Read more
The failure of the marriage between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes has always been considered from one of two conflicting v
296 57 2MB Read more
Table of contents :
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
1 ‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
Violence: ‘A social question’
Angry young man
The great tradition
2 ‘The Laureate of Violence’: Hughes and Heaney
3 Redundant Energy: Mythical Reworkings
4 The Laureateship and the Miners’ Strike
5 Class and the Classics: Hughes and Harrison
6 Hughes and Plath: England versus America
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
Also Available from Bloomsbury: Pastoral Elegy in Contemporary British and Irish Poetry, Iain Twiddy Sylvia Plath: Poetry and Existence, David Holbrook On Modern Poetry: From Theory to Total Criticism, Robert Rowland Smith
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence Paul Bentley
Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square 1385 Broadway London New York WC1B 3DP NY 10018 UK USA www.bloomsbury.com Bloomsbury is a registered trade mark of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2014 Paperback edition ﬁrst published 2016 © Paul Bentley, 2014 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Paul Bentley has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as Author of this work. No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury Academic or the author. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: HB: 978-1-4411-8816-8 PB: 978-1-4742-7557-6 ePub: 978-1-4725-7171-7 ePDF: 978-1-4411-6807-8 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. Typeset by Fakenham Prepress Solutions, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 8NN Printed and bound in Great Britain
Contents Acknowledgementsvi List of Abbreviations vii
Introduction: Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
1 2 3 4 5 6
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’ ‘The Laureate of Violence’: Hughes and Heaney Redundant Energy: Mythical Reworkings The Laureateship and the Miners’ Strike Class and the Classics: Hughes and Harrison Hughes and Plath: England versus America
1 31 61 75 93 107 121
Afterword133 Notes135 Bibliography147 Index153
Acknowledgements Thanks to Anna Norman (it was good to win over a Plath person); and to Adrian Mills. An earlier version of some of the ideas in Chapter 4 was presented at the ‘From Cambridge to Collected’ International Ted Hughes Conference, Pembroke College Cambridge, 15–18 September 2010.
List of Abbreviations PM
Poetry in the Making
W Wodwo G
Remains of Elmet
Rain-Charm for the Duchy
SGCB Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being E Elmet WP
Difficulties of a Bridegroom
P Phèdre A Alcestis O
Collected Poems for Children
Letters of Ted Hughes
Poet and Critic: The Letters of Ted Hughes and Keith Sagar
All quotations from Ted Hughes’s poems are from the Collected Poems.
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
When Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate and friend of the Royal Family, was enshrined in Westminster Abbey on 6 December 2011, another Ted Hughes, a dark, forgotten twin, was also laid to rest. Only a Lockwood could imagine a quiet slumber for this second sleeper. Back when everyone knew that Ted Hughes’s subject was violence,1 Hughes had ‘delighted to play Heathcliff ’,2 Emily Brontë’s unregenerate outsider, that force of nature who donned the mantle of culture the better to enact his violence. The image stuck.3 Sylvia Plath’s death no doubt contributed, while the appearance of Hughes’s ‘pathologically violent’, ‘antihuman’, ‘sadistic’ Crow poems4 further confirmed this latent, but powerful, association. Shocked and uncomprehending, the reviewers of Crow were not unlike Nelly Dean, who, watching a typical Heathcliff display of savagery, felt she was not in the company of a creature of her own species. This one-time Heathcliff, the ‘vampire’ of Plath’s poem ‘Daddy’, has since become the benign ‘guardian spirit of the land and language’ referred to on the back cover of Hughes’s posthumous Collected Poems, an unobjectionable figure who, far from offering nihilistic violence, has ‘brought us closer to nature’ at a time when nature matters more than ever. We might wonder, then, what all the fuss was about. For what could there be in nature, however red in tooth and claw, to object to? No matter how brutal Hughes’s nature poems might have seemed, with their hawks tearing off heads and thrushes stabbing at worms, the idea of nature as blind mechanism had been absorbed long before. (Tennyson was wrestling with it before even The Origin of Species appeared.) Whatever it was about Hughes’s poems of the 1950s, 60s and 70s that caused the controversy, we’re unlikely to find it in nature. The Heathcliff image needs to be understood the other way round: we need to start thinking of Ted Hughes as a force of culture rather than of nature, who dons a wolf mask the better to express his violence.
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
It would take Hughes himself to point out that violence is ‘a social question’, that the term can have no meaningful application to nature (WP 251). The trouble is, there is so little of the ‘social’ in Hughes, at least on the face of it. The violence is not expressed in social terms, and so has not been generally understood in social terms. Or if history is evoked in Hughes, it is archaic history. Seamus Heaney, who proclaims Hughes our guardian spirit, once heard Norsemen, Normans and Roundheads in his consonants, ‘hacking and hedging and hammering’ and shooting bolts.5 The idea of civil war is a deep imaginative preoccupation of Hughes’s, but it is as if history is somehow subsumed into nature in his work. The prevailing assumption was always that the violence in Hughes is elemental in character, that it reflects ‘the essential and universal conditions of life’.6 In early reviews and critical articles in which the question of violence is contested, Hughes is seen as going so far with this as to reduce life to ‘meaningless chaos’: ‘all is black, all is futile, all significance gone’. The poems amount to a ‘heroic celebration of the mindless’.7 Or, especially after Crow, the universe is filled with mythical meaning. Hughes emerges in the 1970s as a poet with a full-blown mythopoeic vision, within which the violence is redeemed as the rage of the Goddess Nature, rejected by modern, materialist, secular culture. Hence Hughes’s deep mistrust of the rational intellect, which inhibits direct access to the real thing, the Lawrentian flame of natural life. Hence the direct, guttural style of the poems, the eschewing of argument or sophistry. The mythical thinking that proved so powerfully enabling to Hughes is of limited use if we are to understand how violence is a social question, however. The Hughes who emerges from critical studies in which his mythopoeia is exhaustively expounded is an impressive authority on such matters, but it might be asked how far this poet of the Gravesian White Goddess, who rejects rational thinking on her behalf, has come from the earlier poet of the essential, the universal and the mindless. Of course it can be pointed out that the ‘social’ – in the sweeping form of modern Western culture – is, through this mythical method of thinking, now implicated in a form of corrective natural violence. The extent though to which Hughes has been suspected of enjoying the violence in his poems remains a nagging problem. Hughes’s environmentalism – the practical expression of his Goddessworship – was in later life active and committed, and Hughes came to hope that the same animals that had once ruffled so many feathers might be rallied to this cause (WP 60). But in expressing this ‘hope’ Hughes himself doesn’t sound entirely convinced that these violent, grinning automatons, ‘more coiled steel than living’, can be readily conscripted under this banner.
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
As violence for Hughes is a social question and cannot be ascribed to nature, then his own ascription of it to a wounded, enraged Goddess, rooted in biology (LTH 679), will seem strained. How is the insistently mechanized violence of his most memorable animals, with their ‘trapsprung’ heads and bullet-like, automatic purpose, to be assimilated with the organic? This depends on our understanding of the categories of the ‘social’ and the ‘natural’. Marx once remarked on the tendency to think of nature and history as antithetical, ‘as though they were two separate “things” and man did not always have before him an historical nature and a natural history’.8 Hughes’s poems likewise know that nature has a history – and so has the Goddess. If myth is depoliticized speech, a conjuring trick that empties reality of history and fills it with nature, with universal truths and essences, then, as Roland Barthes points out, the slightest thing can bring the strength of the historical brutally back into view.9 When in Hughes a pond is described as ‘deep as England’, something of the brute history of this country comes into view along with the ‘malevolent, aged’ pike that live there among the ruins of a monastery. Whatever meaning the fish bring with them from the world of nature or folklore, in the poem they represent the old, violent matter of England. Hughes conjures history within nature as a disturbing presence lurking just below the surface. This is why it won’t do in Hughes’s case to complain, in a vulgar Marxist way, that he ignores the social world or contemporary history.10 Right from the outset Hughes made it clear that the business of his poetry was not to make reference to many matters, but to remain sensitive to the shadowy inner world of his imaginative gift (WP 1). While filling in references to the many contemporary social matters Hughes leaves out can be useful and illuminating, it won’t get us to the bottom of the poems. Hughes will only seem evasive, escapist even; we can’t take the measure of what everyone recognizes as the power of Hughes’s verse in this way. Rather, to discover the social meaning of violence in Hughes we must keep faith with Hughes and follow him into nature. We are dealing in Hughes’s case with a genuinely intuitive and exploratory poetry, profoundly associative in the way it proceeds. Both poetry and the unconscious work through free association, as Hughes understood it, the ‘little mechanism’ described by Freud having proved ‘the means of dismantling the old-style mystery of poetic inspiration and the poetic self ’ (DG 27). In so far as it freely associates, Hughes’s poetry inevitably comes into contact with the history buried unconsciously in ‘nature’. In effect, if not exactly in intention, what Hughes explores in nature are the literary, cultural, religious and political discourses that nature has always supported. Approached in this way, nature is
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
a social question. Only when we understand this can we begin to formulate the relevance of Hughes in terms of his social and political contexts. Far from being mindless, we might think of Hughes’s associative technique as demonically intelligent: as opening onto subliminal social and religious meanings embedded in a demonized nature. In this way the poem proves cleverer than the poet, as is sometimes said, and something the author of Poetry in the Making, which describes the poem as having a life and wisdom of its own separate from its author, would certainly allow (PM 15). What I’m proposing is a political unconscious in Hughes:11 unconscious not to the extent that Hughes remains blissfully unaware as he transports himself, shaman-like, into nature – there are times when, reflecting on his work, Hughes is acutely aware of its social dimension – but unconscious to the extent that Hughes’s meditative technique, which doesn’t work if consciously controlled or steered (LTH 706), means that he cannot afford to be overly self-conscious about it. I am not the first to attempt to follow Hughes into a historical nature, rather than a natural history. Seeing at once that Hughes’s apparent ‘exit from history’ is really a re-entry into history through ‘the hidden ideology of the natural and elemental’, Tom Paulin jumps to the conclusion that the elemental energy of the poems is really an expression of entrepreneurial energy, in keeping with the ferocious free-market ethos of the Thatcher government that appointed Hughes Laureate.12 There is no such thing as society. For Paulin, Thatcher’s notorious remark clinches it. Hughes’s primitivism and Thatcher’s free-market philosophy turn out to be ideologically identical. It is a neat and seductive conclusion for the Marxist critic, one that seems to be waiting for us when we come to the question of Hughes’s Laureateship. (Paulin is not the only politically minded critic for whom Hughes is the Laureate of the Thatcher government.13) The reason Paulin’s conclusion is fundamentally wrong is not to do with the dates, which might seem out of kilter, for it is not implausible that the poems of the 1950s, 60s and 70s he refers to might express in inchoate form the simmering social or ideological tensions that will be made to boil over in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher is in power. My own argument will be along similar lines. It is wrong because it fails to take into proper account the key ideological association latent in Hughes’s pre-Laureate nature poems – namely: class. For a moment, Paulin thinks he hears ‘cries from the dawn of the English working class’ in the poems – ‘perhaps this leashed-in energy and frustration expresses the struggle within England between north and south?’ – but these cries in the end amount to nothing as Hughes ‘tries to escape into a dreamtime before history’.14
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
When not obscured by the problematic and distorting issue of the Laureateship, the cries from the dawn of the English working class Paulin thought he heard in Hughes are more audible. Seamus Heaney, a poet who understands Hughes well, and who would follow Hughes in his own dealings with a more overtly and unavoidably politicized Goddess in Ireland, heard at once the social meaning of Hughes’s sense of violent enmity: Hughes’s voice, I think, is in rebellion against a certain kind of demeaned, mannerly voice. It’s a voice that has no truck with irony because his dialect is not like that… I mean, the voice of a generation – the Larkin voice, the Movement voice, even the Eliot voice, the Auden voice – the manners of that speech, the original voices behind that poetic voice, are those of literate English middleclass culture, and I think Hughes’s great cry and call and bawl is that English language and English poetry is longer and deeper and rougher than that. That’s of a piece with his interest in Middle English, the dialect, his insisting upon foxes and bulls and violence. It’s a form of calling out for more, that life is more. And of course he gets back from that middle-class school the enmity he implicitly offers.15
Hughes figures here as a guardian spirit of a certain England, and a certain English language, a version of Englishness certainly not compatible with the idea of the Tory Laureate. Hughes himself described his dialect – the verbal marker of his class – as ‘a separate little self ’, a ‘real self ’ rooted in childhood, without which he wouldn’t have written verse, he supposes. ‘Whatever other speech you grow into, presumably your dialect stays alive in a sort of inner freedom’, Hughes remarked, though ‘It makes some things more difficult…’16 Hughes trails off, not saying what those things are, though one senses something of the ‘social rancour’ Hughes experienced at Cambridge in the background here (LTH 423). This is the pre-Laureate Hughes, speaking in 1971 about his most controversial book, Crow, in which Hughes takes his blunt Yorkshire speech to a new ‘super-simple’ and ‘super-ugly’ level.17 Compare that with the Poet Laureate, confessing in 1995 that he felt the freedom of his writing had been compromised by the public persona he had grown into, and wondering if it wouldn’t have been a good idea to write under a few pseudonyms, or ‘keep several quite different lines of writing going. It’s certainly limiting to confine your writing to one public persona, because the moment you publish your own name you lose freedom.’18 Two years earlier Hughes had written to Thom Gunn after he had recommended Gunn for the Queen’s Medal for Poetry, conceding that he understood Gunn’s reasons for declining it: ‘Takes a bit of freedom
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
away maybe. Inner wild anonymity. A domesticating touch’ (LTH 654). The danger of using pseudonyms on the other hand is that they may undermine ‘that desirable process – the unification of the personality’.19 As Laureate, Hughes extended his preoccupation with the problem of unity to the nation, which needs the crown to keep it ‘whole’, as the prefatory lines of Rain-Charm for the Duchy, Hughes’s Laureate collection, have it. Unification or freedom, public and inner selves – Hughes is clearly at cross-purposes – but this internal tension is not simply a result of the public role of the Laureateship. It is there from the start in Hughes, structuring the early poem ‘The Hawk in the Rain’, for example, in which the speaker, floundering in the wild conditions, sees in the hawk an embodiment of desirable, if illusory, mastery. Much depends on how this tension or dialectic between freedom and unification, private and public, wildness and mastery, is read in Hughes. It is enough to note for now that within this dialectic, class (as dialect) is associated with wildness, freedom with the ‘inner self ’. It is interesting that Hughes had apparently been thinking of reviving his most controversial persona, Crow, the year before he was appointed Poet Laureate. Confiding in the artist Leonard Baskin, whose drawings of crows had provided the original inspiration for Crow, Hughes remarks: ‘& so it is as if I hadn’t breathed it aloud (which would certainly be instant strike & close-down of the entire productive industrial complex)’ (LTH 472). Crow as industrial production might give us pause. Hughes refers here to the old 1970s caricature of the militant shop-steward, ever-ready to call the men out in response to a slight imposition by their capitalist oppressor. Of course Hughes is making light here. Nevertheless, the reference points again to the underlying identification on Hughes’s part of the secretive, ‘inner’ aspect of his work with his class. It is with the productive industrial complex of this other Ted Hughes – the Hughes who conceived of nature in terms of industrial production, and who remained reluctant to abandon his militant Crow persona, a persona many felt Hughes had gone too far with – that this book is concerned. Paradoxically, it is because Hughes searches beyond his immediate social and political world for his meaning, turning instead to what is written – by way of ideology, religion – in the book of nature, that his is in the end a more profoundly political project than that of the more socially engaged Angry Young Men of the 1950s, for example. Hughes lamented he was never included with the Angries, having to his mind ‘better barbarian credentials’ than any of them except Alan Sillitoe (LTH 521). The Angry Young Men, considered in Chapter 1, are one counterpoint for Hughes’s journey into the political unconscious of nature. Seamus
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
Heaney (Chapter 2) is another, whose more obviously political North poems of 1975, which take their bearings from Hughes’s delvings into nature and myth, saw Heaney dubbed ‘the Laureate of violence’. In Chapter 3, I reconsider the idea of Hughes’s flight from history into myth in the major mythical works of the 1970s, Crow, Gaudete and Cave Birds. Rather than emptying the world of history and filling it with nature, I show how in Crow and Gaudete in particular history returns within a ramshackle mythical frame. In Chapter 5, I propose a link with Tony Harrison, a poet not usually associated with Hughes. Harrison is a kind of inverted version of Hughes: working-class, from West Yorkshire, republican to Hughes’s determined royalist, a political poet to Hughes’s mythologizer. Harrison’s work achieved a certain notoriety in the 1980s after his poem V. shocked viewers with its obscene language when it was televised on Channel 4. Like ‘Ted’ Hughes, Harrison rejected the formal, respectable version of his first name, making a point of doing so in his poem ‘Them & [uz]’, where he laments that his first mention in The Times ‘automatically made Tony Anthony!’20 (Perhaps Paul Muldoon was remembering Harrison’s resistance to ‘Them’ over the matter of his first name when he mocked the new Poet Laureate ‘Ted’ Hughes: ‘Who does he think he is? Calling himself “Ted” as if he went round in a cloth cap’.21) Hughes must have looked on with some interest at this interloper, a poet from his own neck of the woods turning out versions of the classics in a Northern dialect for Northern actors, an exercise Hughes himself would go on to repeat, without acknowledging Harrison’s example, when his own Laureate-period poetry had reached something of an impasse of ideological contradictions. It is in the 1980s, when Hughes becomes Poet Laureate, that a political schism is forced open in his work. Far from confirming Hughes as the poet of the free market, the appointment would cause inner tensions that would prove irresolvable (Chapter 4). Finally, of course, there is Sylvia Plath. Chapter 6 considers Hughes’s final reckoning of their relationship in Birthday Letters. Plath is a poet for whom the personal is insistently political, whose confessional approach to these matters stands in opposition to Hughes’s early poetic impersonality. In Birthday Letters, Hughes agrees to meet Plath on her terms, as his adoption of her confessional form suggests. Demythologized, Plathian in their sense of the inexorable force of personal history, these poems represent both an apotheosis and a release. Hughes returns to Plath so that she might escort him out of an underworld he had been in for too long. But before we can follow his descent down there, we need first to bring Hughes home.
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
Mytholmroyd We think of Hughes as a child against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Moors, an elevated, elemental landscape a little further south than Haworth, but to all intents and purposes Brontë country for this budding Heathcliff. Just as thinking of the author of Wuthering Heights wandering over the open moor befits the popular notion of that novel as a story of elemental passion, so the image of Hughes as a boy following his older brother Gerald over the same moorland landscape, acting as his retriever as he shoots the local wildlife, is necessary to the prevailing image of Hughes as the poet of wind, hawks, nature. For a young boy, these shooting expeditions with a brother he worshipped must indeed have been ‘paradise’.22 But as Hughes’s Blake23 well knows, innocence is a construct of experience. When Hughes looks back on the time when he lived in his brother’s ‘dream’ – ‘he mythologized his hunting world as North American Indian–paleolithic’24 – it is with the sense that this mythologized world had a very definite social horizon. ‘If any word could be found engraved around my skull, just above the ears and eyebrows, it would probably be the word “horizon”’, Hughes says in the early autobiographical piece ‘The Rock’, thus alerting us to the inevitably Urizenic perspective he brings to bear on his first childhood home. Scout Rock, a gloomy cliff above the Pennine village of Mytholmroyd, is the key marker on this mental horizon: ‘all that I imagined happening elsewhere, out in the world, the rock sealed me from, since in England the world seems to lie to the south.’25 Within the mental divisions of this psycho-geography, the Rock marks a north-south divide, while running straight through the middle of Hughes’s home town is a main road, converting it into ‘a mere corridor’ between Halifax, Bradford and Leeds to the east, and Rochdale, Manchester and Liverpool to the west. ‘Trapped’, Hughes escaped northwards onto the moor, which went up higher than Scout Rock – or else if he had to turn back, he was ‘reserving’ the moors, ‘as you do reserve the really superior pleasures’. This, Hughes reflects, was where ‘the division of body and soul began’. For all the superior pleasures of the moors, it is Scout Rock, ‘reared’ right over Hughes’s first childhood home and ‘riding directly overhead’, that provides the Wordsworthian formative experience of the piece – an experience made analogous to the boat-stealing episode in The Prelude, where the ‘rocky steep’, ‘The bound of the horizon’, had ‘Upreared its head’ as the young Wordsworth stole out onto the lake, leaving him ‘with grave / And serious thoughts’. But the differences here are more telling than the obvious similarities. In Wordsworth,
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
the child’s lofty communings with nature fashion the poet’s sensibility. In Hughes, nature is held in ‘reserve’, while the Rock’s overshadowing of his home evokes the overshadowings of history – the sense of a North-South social divide, of the Industrial Revolution, of the First World War: ‘There was no easy way to escape it. I lived under it as under the presence of a war, or an occupying army’. A father traumatized by Gallipoli – a carpenter by trade, he was one of only seventeen survivors from his regiment – comes to be associated in Hughes’s mind with another kind of war. Elsewhere Hughes writes of the First World War that ‘The enemy was not German’, but comprised rather of the class of generals, politicians, brass-hats and war-profiteers against which the ranks never rebelled. France, as Hughes sees it, was ‘England’s dream world’, in which our own ‘social oppressions and corruptions slipped into nightmare gear’ (WP 70). Through his father this becomes Hughes’s dream world also – a dream world that is very different from the imputed dreamtime before history we’re told Hughes escapes into. The idea of the industrial North suppressed by an occupying army is one that will surface again in Hughes, during his Laureate period. In a long and highly significant note to his collection of Laureate poems, published in 1992, Hughes again makes this association between the devastating effect of the First World War on the ‘tribal lands of the north’, and the feeling among ‘the industrial hordes’ of ‘paralysing defeat’ and ‘occupation by the enemy’ (RCD 58–9). Two wars merge here – one that happened abroad, and was officially won, and one that had happened at home, and was a defeat. In a letter to an old Cambridge friend, Hughes would apply the idea of an occupying army to the miners on their ‘reservations’ after the failed miners’ strike of 1984–5, ‘in a land occupied by “the enemy”’ (LTH 566). The inverted commas around ‘the enemy’ in the letter about the defeated miners are dropped in a letter Hughes wrote to his brother in Australia, which describes the Lords and Tory politicians Hughes finds himself invited to go salmon fishing with as ‘the whole army of occupation – invisible, pretty well, to the common Englander, except as Park walls and great ornate gates & stormy voices in the Houses of Parliament’ (LTH 526). Hughes’s mythical-religious reading of British history as expressing a war between puritanism and the Celtic-Catholic Goddess encompasses and covers over this political notion of civil war as class war. As a result, the idea of ‘the enemy’ in Hughes shifts around a cluster of associations. In one letter it is Tory lords and politicians, in another it is Methodist puritanism (LTH 681), while in another Hughes wonders if it’s ‘going a bit fine’ to associate the Tory Party with ‘the old Norman/Anglo-Saxon axis’, and Labour with ‘the Celtic fringe’ (LTH 608).
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
Despite Hughes’s Laureate ‘dream’ of the nation as a whole, a sense of class warfare continued to run in deep in Hughes. In 1991, for instance, he was still regretting not being able to wholeheartedly like Wilfred Owen because Owen had belonged to the officer class. (Hughes’s father refused a promotion while in the army, and told ‘strange stories’ about the officer class [LTH 594].) When Tim Kendall points out that the Armistice was never signed in Hughes, he is right, though not in quite the right way.26 It is never signed because the First World War for Hughes was a nightmare expression of a class war that remained ongoing, as Hughes would learn at Cambridge. These mutually reflective wars in Hughes – First World War, Civil War, class war – form a nucleus of associations at the core of his imagination. There is no nature or dreamtime in Hughes that escapes these associations: a brother’s mythical Indian world gives way to the sense of the ‘tribal reservations’ of the defeated North, for instance, while nature itself is experienced as war in Hughes’s poetry, as Kendall has pointed out.27 More intimately still, these core associations are attached also to Hughes’s ‘passionately romantic’ mother Edith, born and raised near Haworth. Hughes tells of his mother’s ‘Bronte-esque’ [sic] dreams of freedom after her girlhood ‘hardworking confined life’ in clothing factories in the area (LTH 699). In the late poem ‘Anniversary’, Hughes’s mother is remembered ‘in her feathers of flame’, with ‘Red Indian hair’ and ‘olive and other-worldly’ skin, telling her sister Miriam about her life, ‘which was mine’, Hughes adds pointedly. In another elegy, ‘Black Hair’, she is again a Red Indian. A kind of Catherine to Hughes’s Heathcliff (‘Nelly, I am Heathcliff ’), Hughes tells in a letter of how she poured her dreams of wild freedom into him and his sister Olwyn after Gerald had left home (LTH 699). The family had by now moved to the mining town of Mexborough in South Yorkshire, having bought a newspaper and tobacconist’s shop with the help of a small legacy.28 For his mother, Hughes said, the South Yorkshire mining town was ‘Hell’ (LTH 699). Elaine Feinstein reports a boyhood friend of Hughes’s saying he does not remember Hughes’s mother ever going out to work.29 Certainly no one seems to have recognized the profound impression made on Hughes by his sense of his mother’s former hardworking life, and her dreams of freedom, which ‘intensified’ after the move to Mexborough (LTH 699). It is social life that precedes and casts its shadow over the PaleolithicIndian paradise Hughes shared with his brother. In the poem ‘Two’, from Remains of Elmet, Hughes’s 1979 sequence about industrial decline in the Calder Valley, where Mytholmroyd is situated, Hughes and his brother figure as American Indians, replete with game as they climb back down into the valley, at which point ‘the war’ opens. When the ‘guide’
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
flees, the feather falls from the head of ‘the other’, and his drum and song fall silent. The war is Hughes’s compound war. His father still suffered from nightmares about his wartime experiences; Gerald served in Africa in the Second World War as a mechanic in the RAF; and Hughes himself would do his National Service in the RAF. On a deeper associative level, the two brothers climb down not only from Gerald’s Indian-Paleolithic hunter world, but from the site of their Red Indian mother’s dreams of freedom. As these dreams coalesce around Hughes after his brother’s departure, he in effect becomes his mother’s freedom fighter – and falters at the prospect. With the prize-winning The Hawk in the Rain due for publication in Britain and America, Hughes wrote that ‘The most pleasing sensation’ he got from his success was his sense that it ‘realises some of Ma’s fairy-tale dreams’ (LTH 98). At the bottom of Hughes’s sense of his shamanic vocation is this sense of it being incumbent on him to somehow realize his mother’s dreams – to deliver her, through his own life, from the hell of oppressive labour. In this sense the worlds of nature and of the violated Goddess in Hughes are underwritten by the social, and poignantly so. In ‘Edith’, another late elegy for Hughes’s mother, she is ‘a horizon silhouette’ on horseback, a ‘furious Brontë figment’. This, in simple focus, is the final horizon of Hughes’s entire enterprise. In the extended preface Hughes wrote when the Remains of Elmet sequence was reissued in Three Books in 1993, and then as Elmet in 1994, the Calder Valley is presented as a historically rebellious, fanatical, violent region, a ‘badlands’ associated with freedom fighters and escapees. It was, Hughes notes, the last stronghold of the Celts, a hideout for those in trouble with the law (Defoe once hid from his creditors there), anti-monarchy in the Civil War, and the place where Chartism was born and where Methodism took on a particularly virulent form under Parson Grimshaw, the ‘hell-fire’ preacher at Haworth (E 9–11): Brontë country, in short. Correcting the myth that the Brontës lived in a moorland wilderness, Terry Eagleton points out that the region was at the very centre of an English historical experience that so preoccupied Marx in his Capital, and that in the 1830s and 1840s it was notorious for its violent radicalism, a Sir Charles Napier reporting in 1841 that ‘Every element of a ferocious civil war is boiling over in the district’.30 Hughes conceives of his valley in much the same terms. When he describes how the region ‘prides itself on the title “Cradle of the Industrial Revolution”’, his own sense of pride in this violent and dissenting heritage is tangible. (In the case of the puritan enemy, it is clearly Grimshaw’s incendiary spirit that Hughes is responding to – as he responds in the early poem ‘The Martyrdom of Bishop Farrar’ to the thought of his
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
supposed ancestor’s31 sermons becoming ‘tongued with fire’ as he is burned by Bloody Mary’s men.) The difference in tone between Hughes’s later, expanded preface to the Elmet sequence, and the much shorter, more elegiac preface to the original, pre-‘Tory’ Laureate version published in 1979, is marked. As in the 1993/4 preface, in 1979 the Calder Valley is noted as being ‘the last British Celtic kingdom to fall to the Angles’, a hideout for criminals and the cradle of the Industrial Revolution – but here, simply, ‘the end has come’ for the mills and chapels (RE 8). In the 1993/4 preface, this elegiac sense of the end is replaced by a sense of ‘spectacular desolation’, of ‘a grim sort of beauty’ infused with the spirits of Blake and the Brontës – writers not associated with elegy. In 1979 Hughes had made no mention of Chartism, of Grimshaw, of the region’s ‘pride’ in its heritage, of Wesley’s remarking on the local population being the most ‘barbarous’ people in England, or of the pro-Parliament Civil War document drafted by the local militia which found its way into Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The political emphasis of the new preface is significant, coming as it does from a supposedly Tory Laureate. Tom Paulin had rightly noted that the dissenting culture of the region is the ‘seething original ground’ of Hughes’s imagination, but for Paulin this nonconformist strain makes only for ‘a type of homelessness’ in Hughes, ‘a hungry sense of not belonging anywhere’.32 After he had started work on the new edition of his Elmet book, Hughes confided to his Barnsley politician friend Jack Brown that he felt a strong desire to go – or come – back up North and live there for a while, so that he might dig up some of his memories.33 To go or to come: the uncertainty over the right verb is telling, and reveals a far from homeless Ted Hughes. Suspected of Tory sympathies, his idea of the Laureateship as a shamanic, nation-healing calling shattered by the political convulsions of the 1980s, in the 1993/4 preface to Elmet Hughes reaffirms his sense of home, reminding everyone of his barbarian credentials and radical political pedigree.
Mexborough In ‘Edith’, Hughes pictures the ‘furious Brontë figment’ of his mother ‘Sitting under the soot and brick, in Mexborough’. If the move from Mytholmroyd to Mexborough – ‘the darkest badlands, narrow streets full of black miners & their wives’ (LTH 695) – represented a descent into ‘Hell’ for Hughes’s mother, that Hughes looked to recover ‘Paradise’ here (LTH 699) is suggestive. In the late poem ‘Leaf Mould’, Hughes remembers how he became his mother’s ‘step-up
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
transformer’: while she ‘grieved for her girlhood and the fallen’, he ‘mourned for Paradise and its fable’. In the poem ‘Anniversary’, Hughes’s mother is imagined galloping on a horse over the heather to bring him a new pen. ‘I do this for her’, Hughes reflects, in the confessional mode that is characteristic of his later work. Here Hughes’s sense of his poetic vocation as a shamanic calling is seen in relation to a son’s calling. This calling underlies the mythical works of the 1970s. Taken together, Crow, Gaudete and Cave Birds reveal the need to repeat a doomed or bungled attempt to rescue a damaged female deity and assuage guilt. At the end of the late children’s fable ‘The Dreamfighter’, God’s bodyguard – a ‘mutant’ creation who is employed by God to fight off his nightmares, and who has become, through his successes, too powerful – is brought down to size again by God by being sent in search of God’s supposed lost bride, a melted snow-woman. In what reads like lacerating self-parody, the White Goddess now proves an illusion, melted away, while the palace-dwelling dreamfighter turns into an ant, searching restlessly over the earth – a symbol of the very condition the Laureate’s shamanizing was always meant to heal. In ‘Leaf Mould’, the shuttle invented by local character Billy Holt is likened to an ant’s egg, ‘with its folded worker’, while the miner’s wife in the ‘Nightvoice’ section of ‘On the Reservations’, from the same collection, dreams in her helplessness she is an ant. In the manner of Yeats’s late poem ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion’, there is a strong sense in late Hughes of the mythical sublimations of the 1970s being deconstructed, of the poet looking more nakedly and directly into the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart, where the deep impression left by a mother’s experience of oppressive labour has, after all the mythic dreamfighting, never really been transformed. Underlying Hughes’s sense of his shamanic calling is a chosen son’s profound internalized need, both impossible and inescapable, to bring his mother clear of a Blakean hell of mills and mines and to give her her freedom, which she imagined on the moor, in nature. The sense of reconstructing a natural Paradise in Mexborough in the midst of an industrial Hell comes less from an eight or nine-year-old boy than from a Blakean state of Experience. The psycho-geography Hughes maps onto his second childhood home is continuous with that of his former home, the sharply delineated contraries of nature and industry, freedom and oppression being further confirmed as they find new form. In the farmland at Old Denaby, discovered by Gerald before he left for Devon to game-keep prior to his leaving for the war, Hughes was bequeathed a new site in which to carry on the dream he had lived in with his Indian-hunter brother above Mytholmroyd. The sense of still being with his brother in spirit was made ‘doubly so’ at this time by Hughes
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
reading Tarka the Otter (LTH 724). Manor Farm, the location of this new Eden, was divided ‘by a poisonous river’ (LTH 623) from the town, an Acheron that you had to pay a penny fare to a ferryman to cross (LTH 693). The same river Don will later figure as a River of Woe in the poem ‘On the Reservations’, Hughes’s lament for the defeated miners of the 1984–5 miners’ strike. In terms of his childhood memories, the woe associated with this mythologized crossing into a second version of Paradise is attached to Hughes’s mother, left behind in Hell, and who in Hughes’s imagination escapes only vicariously through her younger son into whatever Paradise he can regain in his work. In this sense, nature in Hughes is always the product of industry, of a heroic but doomed attempt to obliterate an intolerable social reality and rescue the violated Goddess. But this is not the whole story: what is mapped out in the psycho-geographies of Mexborough and Mytholmroyd, in the reserving of nature from the industrial towns which surround it, are the preliminary conditions for a return of the repressed. The cause of much critical difficulty with Hughes – certainly that which is marked by a kind of binary, non-dialectical thinking about nature/ culture – is that in the poems this repressed history returns within the very nature that had once provided escape from it. Nature and industrial production are fused by association, giving birth to those infernal, mechanized animals, made of iron and steel, for which Hughes is famed. These animals stand as an affront to traditional ideas of culture and nature. The usual assignation of them to a crude Darwinism restores the categories under threat: ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ are returned to their proper places, and Hughes’s ‘anti-human’ primitivism is supposedly seen in proper perspective. The lesson of Hughes’s poems, though – as of his childhood recollections – is that such simplistic binary thinking belongs to the childish state of Innocence. It is only in some such ‘dreamtime’ that nature and history might be held apart – though this is not to deny the imaginative potency of this dreamtime, so jealously marked off. ‘Everything to the right of that lane… was mine’, Hughes remembers – ‘I had the whole thing to myself ’ (LTH 693, 623). While his Mexborough friends were the sons of miners and railwaymen, at the same time Hughes was leading another solitary life at Old Denaby, and he ‘never mixed the two lives up’ (PM 16). As the imaginary ground of the poems, a site from where Hughes’s imagination draws its sustenance, Old Denaby is ring-fenced twice over: a child’s private playground; a poet’s sacred place. A double perspective, bearing the marks of both Innocence and Experience, is necessarily at work as Hughes remembers the deep ditch, lane, railway crossing, and poisonous river which were the borders that separated Old Denaby from the badlands of
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
Mexborough (LTH 693), and from the ‘sky-burn of Sheffield’ on the horizon, as described in the late poem ‘Old Oats’. Within this double perspective, the sharp demarcation of the child’s natural ‘kingdom’ (LTH 623, 693) carries, by the same token, the equally sharp sense that the final horizon of this new nature reserve is social. When through a school-friend’s connections this dream-territory was later extended to include the Crookhill Estate nearby, with its 100-acre park and gardens, the house, so it turned out, was a sanatorium for miners with tuberculosis (LTH 724). Hughes’s vision of childhood innocence, precariously delineated against the social world, is no mere nostalgia, any more than Hughes simply repeats this childhood flight from history in his poetry. Rather, these nostalgic projections of a childhood dreamtime are a knowing product of Experience, and carry the full burden of that state. Cordoned off from the industrial badlands, Old Denaby is a place where Hughes’s brother’s (and mother’s) dream life can be recovered – as the miners were taken to Crookhill to recover. The need to hold fast to this dream is as impossible as it is fundamental, and accounts for the force and violence of the poems as Hughes follows his Blake into Experience. The same need lies behind Hughes’s pre-Plath intention of following Gerald to the ‘paradise’ of Australia.34 Instead it will bring Hughes and Plath to North Devon – to Tarka Country. In this way, Hughes remarks – with great personal insight, but also with a profound sense of the social horizons of the most intimate personal experience – Mytholmroyd, Old Denaby and Devon ‘all flow into one’ (LTH 725). As dialectical opposites, nature in Hughes can never dispel culture. On the one hand, we see in Hughes a pressing Romantic desire to experience nature as a primary, even primeval, state – to recover the natural man (and woman); on the other, an acute awareness of the oppressive historical experience that structures this very desire – an insight that Hughes has not been properly credited with. Invoked as a kind of exorcism of the nightmare of history, of the dark Satanic mills and mines all around, the nature Hughes conjures nevertheless retains its infernal imprint, the marks of how and where it has been forged. An anecdote in a letter written near the end of his life illustrates Hughes’s late, self-deprecating awareness of this. Here Hughes confessed to never having heard a nightingale, but relates how he once followed up on a rumour in school that there was one in some woodland near Conisborough, not far from Mexborough. Eventually, he says, he heard ‘three piercing notes’ – but ‘could swear they were the squeals of dry brakes in the shunting yard down below’ (LTH 730). For reasons that are ultimately social Hughes needs to project himself, and the mother whose desire he identifies with, into nature and the
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
Goddess. This projection points away from the damaging social reality that has given rise to it. But the social remains lurking within Hughes’s nature as its barely repressed underside. A world of iron and steel and industrial activity is bodied forth by Hughes’s thrushes and pike and ghost crabs, just as the squeal of brakes in a shunting yard lies behind the notes of that elusive nightingale. What we have in Hughes is not nature poetry, but rather a fiercely idiosyncratic instance of the dialectic of nature and culture that all nature poetry, in the end, surely is. Lacan’s image of desire as a Moebius strip might serve to illustrate the complex way this dialectic works in Hughes. Presented in Lacan as a figure of eight, through its circularity the strip represents the famous dictum: ‘Man’s desire is the desire of the Other’. A twist in the strip means that its outside surface continues its inside as it folds back on itself, representing the ‘social operation’ through which the emerging subject’s desire is engendered by identification with the Other’s desire, twisted with it, and directed out into the world.35 We might think of the dialectic of culture and nature in Hughes as a similar social operation, whereby the Other of nature is projected from the social world which becomes its underside as Hughes identifies with his mother’s desire. This is why Hughes’s poetry returns us in the end not to nature, but to its formative intersection with culture – to the socially produced lack at the heart of a mother’s Brontë-esque dreams of freedom. To understand Hughes’s profound psychological investment in nature, we have to understand the formative desires and identifications that have shaped this investment, and the ways these desires and identifications have in turn been shaped by family experience – by, in short, the experience of industrial labour and industrialized warfare. We have to be able hear, inside the notes of a nightingale, the squeal of brakes in a shunting yard.
Cambridge Despite the ‘social rancour’ Hughes experienced at Cambridge, it appears he didn’t see his resistance to the academic study of English literature in terms of class. For Hughes it was a matter of a poet’s distrust of the rational, analytical intellect. Yet the extreme terms in which Hughes continued to view academia throughout his life suggest a deeper associative link between his ‘devastating’ experience of Cambridge36 and an enemy that elsewhere is explicitly identified in terms of class. References to ‘Academy tower machine-gunners’ and ‘perimeter electrified barbed wire’, to ‘the critical exhalations and toxic smokestacks and
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
power stations of Academe’ – ‘I stumbled into the smog – gasmasks, protective clothing, armour, weaponry… earth-quaking of ignorant armies’ (LTH 661, 617) – betray the extent to which this new ‘ninth circle’ of Hell (LTH 617) is associated with the older hells of industry and war for Hughes. Plainly this type of imagery implies much more than a Romantic antipathy toward the way the rational intellect clips an angel’s wings and unweaves rainbows. Inextricable from this knot of associations, into which Cambridge is now bound, is a sense of class antagonism. Which brings us to Hughes’s famous fox dream. Hughes is approaching the end of his second year at Cambridge, and is feeling an increasing resistance to writing his weekly English essay. It’s late at night. He’s given up on his latest attempt to get going, and gone to bed. A fox enters his room, walking erect, and with human hands. It is burned and bloody. It makes a bloody palm-print on the page of the unwritten essay, and says to Hughes: ‘Stop this – you are destroying us’ (WP 8–9, LTH 422–3). Obeying its command, Hughes switches from English Literature to Archaeology and Anthropology for his final year. In Hughes’s interpretation of his dream, the humanoid fox is the Romantic natural man, being slowly murdered by academic dissection, by ‘the spirit of surgery & objective analysis’ (LTH 423). For Hughes, to interpret and dissect any further – what is the meaning of the fox’s burning, for instance? – would be to compound the destructive effect on the fox. For Hughes, a shamanic calling is to be obeyed, not questioned. Hughes takes the fox at its word, and wisely so: his creative technique, a version of Keats’s negative capability, depends on the suspension of this type of analytical thinking. (Hughes said he eventually stopped reading criticism of his own work: ‘It makes me selfconscious in the wrong way’, he explained – ‘It switches on the wrong set of headlights – they glare instead of light things up’.37) For Hughes’s critics not to have inquired further into the meaning of this dream, though, is to have sold Hughes short. In Hughes’s poetry the relationship of culture and nature, reason and instinct is by no means so black and white. Nature for Hughes is in any case always culturally mediated, a thought-nature – and not least through the academic study of English Literature. Hughes’s accounts of his dream in a letter and in Winter Pollen are representations (writing) of a representation (dream) – the result of him struggling to represent (in an essay) a representation (literature). A facile point perhaps, were it not that the dream, and the poem it fits with – ‘The Thought-Fox’ (a further representation) – were so conspicuously imprinted at every level with a culturally prescribed experience of nature. The problem with the usual appeal to nature as the ultimate begetter
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
in Hughes, the prime creative mover, is that it misses the ways in which the nature Hughes takes up has already been shaped by culture. What prints the page in Hughes’s dream, and in ‘The Thought-Fox’, is not simply nature, instinct, the natural man. As Hughes once said of his speaking hawk, nature is not so simple.38 ‘The Thought-Fox’ as good as spells it out: the fox’s ‘prints’ in the blank snow are ‘neat’, like neat writing; when the page is printed at the end, illiterate nature and literate culture, fox-print and writing, having become indistinguishable. The imagined ‘midnight moment’s forest’ at the start of ‘The Thought-Fox’ calls up the usual suspects – Blake’s ‘forest of the night’, in which the Tyger burns as Hughes’s dream-fox had been burned, and Coleridge’s ‘Frost at Midnight’ are very much to the fore.39 Considered closely, both these sources reveal that the horizon of Hughes’s poem, and dream, extends well beyond the Romantic notion of the natural man – or rather, that this notion in Hughes has been grafted onto other things by association. The picture of a homesick Coleridge in ‘Frost at Midnight’, sent away to boarding school and struggling to concentrate on his schoolbook, is an implied counterpart to the Cambridge student, struggling in his room with his essay. Nowhere does Hughes say he was homesick at Cambridge: he had, he says, got over the ‘culture shock’ of Cambridge life by the time he dreamed his fox (WP 8). The uncannily expectant focus on the room door in Hughes’s dream, though – ‘As I waited, listening, I saw the door was opening slowly’ (WP 9) – closely resembles the school scene in ‘Frost at Midnight’, where, like Hughes, Coleridge is struggling to fix his attention on his studies: Save if the door half opened, and I snatched A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up, For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face, Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved, My play-mate when we were both clothed alike!
The estranged family member in Coleridge becomes the strange human fox in Hughes’s dream. Where Coleridge looks forward to a Wordsworthian childhood for his son, the implication is that Hughes is looking backward to a childhood also spent in nature, the red dream/thought-fox heralding from the Red Indian dreamtime hunting wildlife with a much-loved brother. The same brother had once plucked Hughes out of the fire at home after he had tripped into it: Hughes’s hands were burnt and blistered.40 In Hughes’s dream, the fox shows its burnt hands by printing the page with blood. When Hughes’s brother worked at the Bessemer Steel Works in Rotherham, he had a lucky escape when his
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
right hand became caught in machinery.41 In the account of his dream Hughes published in Winter Pollen, he describes the fox with its wounded hands as having emerged from a furnace. On a deeper level, then, the dream does reveal a form of homesickness – it is well known that Hughes missed his brother profoundly, and for a time considered emigration to Australia to join him in another projected dreamtime. Projected backward and forward in both Hughes and Coleridge, these dreamtimes in nature are an escape from, and a healing of, a damaging social reality, exacerbated by family separation. If Hughes’s dream-fox hails from home, then reflected also in its wounds are the charred and bloodied bodies of Hughes’s father’s comrades, of the men sent ‘pointlessly’ to their deaths by the real ‘enemy’, which was not Germany. It is important to remember that in Hughes’s imagination, the Great War was in fact a civil war – an ‘unfinished business’ (WP 43–4) which for Hughes, it seems, was still going on in Cambridge in 1953, when the burned and bloody fox comes into his room as if direct from the front. The idea of civil war is not far from Hughes’s mind when he refers to the typical Cambridge undergraduate at this time as a ‘Restoration fop’ (LTH 680). It is with uncanny precision that Larkin dubbed Hughes, among other things, the Mexborough Marvell,42 after the ode-writer to Oliver Cromwell. The ‘exhibitionist manners and styles’ of these Cambridge fops Hughes experienced as ‘a personal sort of torment’ (LTH 680). In contrast, the ‘manners’ of Hughes’s animals seem positively Cromwellian, with their tearing off of heads. (There are in fact quite a lot of beheadings in Hughes, which no one seems to have noticed, and which we’ll be coming to in Chapter 1.) Both Hughes’s brother and post-war father, then, enter Hughes’s room at Cambridge with the fox. Hughes’s fox dream was followed the next night by a lesser-known dream in which this time a leopard comes through the door, walking erect again, and wrestles Hughes into his armchair (LTH 422–3). The keen astrologist in Hughes could not have failed to have read his birth sign, Leo, in his dream-self ’s exclamation: ‘It’s a leopard!’ – these three spoken words being the most vivid thing about the dream, Hughes recalls. Whatever the mythical meanings of leopards are, everyone knows their proverbial meaning. Again this dream suggests that Hughes has not, as he might have thought, adapted so well at Cambridge. A version of this dream-leopard appears in the story ‘The Rain Horse’, published in Wodwo in 1967, but written in 1958. The story sees Hughes return to Old Denaby after a twelve-year absence. The ‘cross-ploughland trek’ (DB 67) and ‘drumming’ rain (DB 72, 75) described in the story, and the narrator ‘at every stride plunging to the ankle’ (DB 69), recall the trench warfare or civil war-like
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
terrain of ‘The Hawk in the Rain’, while the horse of the story, at times eerily still, at times charging, links with the horses which stand ‘patient as the horizons’ in ‘The Horses’, from The Hawk in the Rain, and with the thunderous circling horses of ‘A Dream of Horses’, from Lupercal, which ‘cannoned the world from its place’. The rain horse’s cat-like movements – at one point it seems ‘to be running on its toes like a cat’ and later pauses ‘to lower its head and paw over its ear with its fore-hoof as a cat does’ (DB 68, 76) – suggest a link with the early poem ‘The Jaguar’, though in the story the horse is like a ‘nightmarish leopard’, silhouetted against the sky (DB 69). The story goes over Hughes’s early poetic ground once again to recast it in a more personal light: we are back here in the former playground paradise of Old Denaby, revisited now by a post-Cambridge Hughes (DB vii). The dream-leopard that had wrestled Hughes into his armchair at Cambridge is now a nightmare horse-leopard that runs him into the ground, into the mire of the land: ‘As he fell the warning flashed through his head that he must at all costs keep his suit out of the leaf-mould’ (DB 71). Hughes will describe his mother digging leaf-mould for her garden in ‘Leaf Mould’. The later poem recalls how Hughes ‘escaped’ over firmer ground, his dissonant footfalls ‘twanging’ up the street. The overt sense of guilt in this later poem is a common theme in upwardly mobile writers. In novels of the 1950s such as John Braine’s Room at the Top (1957), the type of guilt engendered by social climbing is a pressing thematic preoccupation. In Hughes’s story it operates in an implicit, though no less urgent, way. Behind the image of the leopard-horse silhouetted on the crest of a hill is ‘the horizon silhouette’ of a mother, the ‘furious Brontë figment’ on horseback in the late poem ‘Edith’, trapped by industrial horizons. The violence of ‘The Rain Horse’ has nothing whatsoever to do with any alienation from nature. The pain in the protagonist’s chest at the end, ‘like a spike of bone stabbing’ (DB 78), which makes him wonder if he has strained his heart, has a much more intimate and potent source. This image at the end of Hughes’s story is reworked in Plath’s poem ‘Daddy’ in the line ‘There’s a stake in your fat black heart’ – Plath’s pun on ‘stake’ as investment indicating the speaker is far from ‘through’ such profoundly personal issues.43 ‘The Rain Horse’ is a covert ‘Mummy’ to Plath’s openly confessional ‘Daddy’: the story implicates Hughes’s early animal metaphors, as well as his leopard dream at Cambridge, in anxieties about being the bearer of his mother’s dreams of freedom. These anxieties are aggressively discharged in the early nature poems – in the form of a charging horse, an imprisoned jaguar (‘a leopard raised to the ninth power’, Hughes explains44), of thistles which ‘spike the summer air’ in revenge, of ‘silhouette’ pike which watch through a
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
mirror surface, as the silhouette rain-horse waits and watches. (In a later pike poem, appearing on the same page in the Collected Poems as ‘Edith’, the pike ‘behind the mirror’ is likened to a wife who ‘has frittered away / In housework’.) Wherever the protagonist moves in ‘The Rain Horse’ he finds himself trapped in the gaze of the ‘ghostly’, ‘clairvoyant’ horse (DB 72). Mirrored in the gaze of a clairvoyant mother who saw ghosts, Hughes is both captive, and captivated. Hughes’s story is modelled on the end of Lawrence’s The Rainbow, where Ursula finds a new sense of spiritual liberation after suffering a fever following a similarly violent encounter with horses in the rain: ‘She saw in the rainbow the earth’s new architecture, the old, brittle corruption of houses and factories swept away, the world built up in a living fabric of Truth, fitting to the overarching heaven’.45 The ending of Hughes’s story is not so optimistic. The ‘obscure confusion of fright and shame’ that hangs ‘just under the surface’ of the protagonist’s mind (DB 78) is an expression of an obscure weight of expectation and guilt, experienced with all the force of a shamanic calling – to which the protagonist is unable to respond. No Lawrentian sweeping away of the world of factories is to be accomplished for Hughes’s mother, however indirectly. An inchoate sense of failure and guilt continued to dog Hughes throughout his life, and it is at work well before Plath’s suicide. The Cambridge scholar might have escaped the horizons that trap his mother, but he is not really free. The leopard in his Cambridge dream forces Hughes back into his chair: he must sit back down; as bearer of his mother’s dreams he must complete an honours degree. The switch to Archaeology and Anthropology is at once a compromise and solution: Hughes stays on to complete a degree, and comes home in spirit to the original poet and storyteller of the family,46 to a mother who had introduced him as a boy to the world of myth when she brought an encyclopedia into the house at Mexborough.47 The reasons why Hughes cannot change his spots, why he abandons his efforts to ‘adapt’ at Cambridge (LTH 423), are deep and complex – and certainly go well beyond the Romantic notion of abstruse research versus the natural man which Hughes, with his ‘diabolical fear of subjectivity’ (PC 286) at the time, interprets his dreams along the lines of, deferring a more direct recognition of their full meaning. Fathered in the trenches of the First World War, mothered by the Industrial Revolution, Hughes was never destined to fit in at Cambridge, and yet he was constrained to see it through. The big cat of Hughes’s second Cambridge dream, replacing the fox of the first, also finds its way, via Blake’s big cat, into ‘The Thought-Fox’, where it is subsumed in the midnight moment’s forest. Hughes describes his dream fox’s blood-print on his page as ‘glistening’ (WP 9). When, in the poem ‘Anniversary’,
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
Hughes remembers his Red Indian-haired mother, her face is ‘glistening’ (as are the horses in ‘The Horses’). The early dream and late poem might seem too far apart for this to mean anything, but the version of the dream published in Winter Pollen was written in 1993 – close to the appearance of the poem in Hughes’s New Selected Poems in 1995. In ‘Anniversary’, Hughes imagines his ‘other-worldly’ mother ‘in her feathers of flame… scattering red coals’; in the fox dream, the fox is burnt, as from a coal-fired furnace. Hughes’s mother in the poem brings him his pen from the moor; the fox in the dream, and in ‘The Thought-Fox’, prints his page. ‘I do this for her’, Hughes says in this late poem; in the dream, he does what he has to do for the fox. There are obvious differences: the fox is in intense pain as a result of its burns, while the mother of ‘Anniversary’ is a soft-flaming angel, laughing, weeping, chatting with her sister Miriam – released, at last, from the hardworking, confined life of her girlhood, from a Hell of mining and mill towns. In fact the imagery is, in a deep sense, consistent across both dream and poem – it is as if the fox, released from its suffering, has metamorphosed into Hughes’s posthumous, angelic mother. (Hughes thought of his animals, he says, as ‘angels’ [WP 261].) If this seems to be pushing it a bit, certainly a Jungian critic would have no difficulty with this type of transformation. What this same Jungian critic might baulk at is the idea that at the bottom of all this lies not the activity of any archetype, operating at a more fundamental, instinctual level than the social, but rather – at the risk of sounding vulgarly Marxist – the history of class struggle in England. The point is made clearer if we recognize the meaning of the presence in both ‘The Burnt Fox’ and ‘The Thought-Fox’ of Lawrence. Everyone recognizes Lawrence in Hughes’s own stoking of the flames of Being, but the influence of Lawrence on Hughes’s hot or burning dream/thought foxes doesn’t end there. Predictably enough, the key reference point in this case is Lawrence’s short story ‘The Fox’, which also features a human fox. In Lawrence’s story, two women, Banford and March, have taken on a farm. As in Hughes’s dream, and Coleridge’s ‘Frost at Midnight’, in a pivotal moment in Lawrence’s story an uncannily heightened sense of expectation is focused on the door through which a stranger will come: ‘…they heard the footsteps approach the back door. They waited a second. The back door opened softly’. Banford cries out, before a young man appears – ‘But to March he was the fox’.48 The fox in question, which has been stealing chickens, has made a deep impression on March – ‘his knowing look seemed to have entered her brain’ (p. 139) and ‘possessed the blank half of her musing’ (p. 140), much as Hughes’s thought-fox leaves its printed impression on the ‘blank page’ the poet muses over, before entering
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
‘the dark hole of the head’. Later, when March inspects the fox’s dead body, its belly is ‘white and soft as snow’ (p. 172), snow that becomes the snow across which Hughes’s fox creeps in his poem. The young man March associates with the fox has a ‘sharp’, ‘glistening’ look (p. 142), adjectives used by Hughes to describe the foxes of his poem and dream respectively. Lawrence’s description of the reappearance of the real fox also foreshadows Hughes’s own description of his shadowy, bold, hot-smelling fox, ‘concentratedly’ going about its business. Lawrence writes: ‘And then – a shadow. A sliding shadow in the gateway. He gathered all his vision into a concentrated spark, and saw the shadow of the fox, the fox creeping on his belly through the gate’ (p. 170). The echoes of Lawrence’s story in Hughes’s poem might make the poem appear merely derivative, were it not for the significance they bring to bear on Hughes’s fox. The young fox-man in Lawrence’s story has returned home from the war to find himself the cause of social rancour in what was his grandfather’s farmhouse. Banford comes to find the presence of ‘a beastly labourer’ in her ‘refined and nice’ farmhouse intolerable (p. 168), and wishes they had not let him in: ‘She resented the big, raw, long-legged youth sticking his khaki knees out and sitting there with his soldier’s shirt-cuffs buttoned on his thick red wrists’ (p. 159). War and class are crossed here in a way that Hughes, who had read virtually everything of Lawrence’s in his teens,49 could not but have found personally meaningful. In a less-than-subtle end to Lawrence’s story, Banford is killed by a tree felled by Henry, the young man, who watches ‘with intense bright eyes, as he would watch a wild goose he had shot’ (p. 199). Socially motivated violence expressed as natural violence, man as beast: we can see here how Hughes, who played with the sons of miners when he was not trapping animals, takes his cue from from Lawrence, the miner’s son. As a working-class grammar-school boy from the industrial North, struggling to adapt to Cambridge, Hughes would have found much to steel himself with in Lawrence. Hughes remarked that Lawrence was ‘straight oxygen’ (LTH 487) – in contrast, presumably, to the critical exhalations and toxic smokestacks of academia. In Lawrence’s The Rainbow, the younger son Tom Brangwen, his mother’s favourite, struggles to get on at the grammar school he is sent to, while his granddaughter Ursula will later find college life a ‘sham workshop’, the workaday ‘circle of light’ in which she lives like ‘the area under an arc lamp’ or camp fire, a ‘blinding light’ outside of which ‘the darkness wheeled round about, with grey shadow-shapes of wild beasts, and also with dark shadowshapes of the angels, whom the light fenced out’ (pp. 403, 405–6). In Lawrence’s imagery here we can locate Hughes’s notion of academic study as a blinding set
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
of headlights, as well as Hughes’s conception of his animals as angels. This is nothing new. What has not been properly understood are the ways in which this kind of thing is crossed with the matter of class in both Lawrence and Hughes. The phrase ‘sham workshop’ in the above description of Ursula’s feelings about college – where, like Hughes, she throws over a barren subject (French) for a more living and vital subject (Botany) – implicitly contrasts academic work with the more honest or real work of the artisan, such as that of Ursula’s father, a woodcarver. We have seen how Hughes’s war-ravaged father, a woodworker by trade, figures in the composite symbolism of Hughes’s wounded dream-fox at Cambridge, where, like Ursula among the ‘elect’ private students (p. 398), Hughes had become disillusioned. There is also something of Ursula in the leopard of Hughes’s second dream: rejecting the ‘pretence’ of academic life, she is ‘free as a leopard that sends up its raucous cry in the night’ (pp. 415, 416). One imagines Hughes in The Anchor pub at Cambridge, similarly disdainful of all the foppishness, and finding release in singing Irish rebel songs.50 But it is Tom Brangwen, among Lawrence’s characters, with whom Hughes’s thought and dream foxes are associated most closely. As with Ursula’s desire to move in circles of a higher class, Tom’s mother has an aspiration for him to become a gentleman, but like Crow in ‘Crow’s First Lesson’, it is ‘as if he were guilty of his own nature’. Tom makes ‘a violent struggle against his physical inability to study’ – ‘He sat gripped, making himself pale and ghastly in his effort to concentrate on his book’ (p. 17) – but it is no good. A scholarship-winning Cambridge student’s problem is not academic ability, as Tom Brangwen’s is here. Still, as the younger son and bearer of his mother’s dreams, struggling to the point of distress with his unwritten essay, Hughes must have seen something of himself in Lawrence’s characterization of Tom. Lawrence’s description of Tom’s nature feeds into ‘The Thought-Fox’, revealing how in that poem Hughes comes to author his own nature in similar terms. Tom is, it is explained, ‘more sensuously developed, more refined in instinct’ than the other boys – ‘sensitive to the atmosphere around him, brutal perhaps, but at the same time delicate, very delicate’, with an exquisite sensitivity to poetry (p. 17). While we might not usually think of Hughes as delicate, his thought-fox is ‘delicate’ as snow, supremely sensitive to the atmosphere it moves in. It is also brutal – ‘hot’, ‘sudden’, ‘sharp’ – the first in a long line of delicate brutes in Hughes (the terrifying thrushes on their ‘delicate legs’, attuned to ‘stirrings beyond sense’; the snowdrop, ‘brutal’ as the winter stars; the pike, all ‘submarine delicacy and horror’). In effect, what Hughes turns to Lawrence for is a form of validation, self-confirmation. A confirmation of nature, instinct, Being, yes – but of an
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
instinctual refinement that is in contradistinction to class refinement, much as Ursula and her lover Skrebensky in The Rainbow are ‘sensuous aristocrats, warm, bright, glancing with pure pride of the senses’ (p. 420). This social meaning, latent in ‘The Thought-Fox’, surfaces in the late ghost story ‘The Deadfall’, written around the same time as ‘The Burnt Fox’ piece in Winter Pollen and ‘The Anniversary’. The story is autobiographical, ‘with a few adjustments’ (DB ix), and is set at the time of the young Hughes’s hunting expeditions with Gerald outside Mytholmroyd. Here another fox-spirit makes an appearance, enabling the young Hughes to join his mother in seeing ghosts, as all three of her children had wanted to do. The appearance of the fox-spirit is counterpointed with a comically rendered attempt by Hughes and his brother to raise the spirit of an Ancient Briton (as local folklore has it) from under his stone: ‘Rise up, O Ancient Briton, and quench your ancient thirst’, the older brother portentously intones (DB 4). As with the children’s story ‘The Dreamfighter’, there is more than a hint of self-parody here in the depiction of the two would-be shamen, looking for spirits – as it turns out – in the wrong place. The attempt to raise the Ancient Briton’s spirit, to connect with a deeper mythical reality, comes to nothing. In the earlier poem ‘The Ancient Briton Lay Under His Rock’, from Remains of Elmet, it is made clear what the Ancient Briton represents. ‘The Mighty Hunter’ here lies among the bones of sabre-tooth tiger and cave bear, and serves as the imaginary embodiment of the Paleolithic-hunter dreamtime the two brothers constructed as boys. Yet in both poem and story, the very realm from which Hughes’s mythical-shamanic enterprise is supposed to take its bearings won’t yield its ghosts. The poem ends with the diggers after the Ancient Briton reflected back at themselves in his gaze, ‘Labouring in the prison / Of our eyes, our sun, our Sunday bells’. The need to escape into the imagined primeval life of the Ancient Briton is revealed as a socially produced, inverse reflection. Sundays are felt to be as much a prison as workdays, the ‘deadfall’ Methodism of the region ‘darkening the sun’ in the shape of a chapel outside the kitchen window in the poem ‘Mount Zion’, from the same sequence – a kitchen window a mother might look out of, dreaming of Brontë-esque freedom. In the late poem ‘Comics’, Hughes describes the ‘Wesleyan prudery’ of his mother’s girlhood. In ‘The Ancient Briton’, the play on ‘son’ in ‘prison’, ‘sun’, ‘Sunday bells’, reveals that it is in an imprisoned, Wesleyan mother’s gaze that her son’s religious calling is constructed and reflected. While in ‘The Deadfall’, the Ancient Briton’s stone yields nothing to the ghost-hunting brothers, another stone – a gamekeeper’s ‘deadfall’ trap, ‘big as a big gravestone’ (DB 9) – turns out to be the real site of the uncanny. Hearing
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
his name whispered, the younger brother is awoken in his tent in the night. His brother asleep still, he peeks outside. Someone is standing near the ‘red glow’ of their low-burnt camp-fire – ‘a person and (…) somehow not a person’. A little old woman – the farmer’s old mother, the boy guesses, or some eccentric old woman who ‘spent the night roaming the hillsides’ (DB 13, 15). Following her to the deadfall, the boy discovers a fox cub, trapped by its leg and tail, and is able to lift the stone just enough to release it, at which point the old woman vanishes. The cub’s parent, discovered next morning when the two boys return, is not so lucky. It is part of a ghost story’s effect that it does not give up its meaning readily. But a trail of association can be followed from the story, through other Hughes texts, and which leads back to ‘The Thought-Fox’ – a kind of master signifier-poem in Hughes’s oeuvre. As we have seen, the literal deadfall in the story links with the metaphorical ‘deadfall’ of the methodist chapel outside the kitchen window in ‘Mount Zion’, and with the idea of being trapped in a valley prison in ‘The Ancient Briton’. When in ‘Leaf Mould’ Hughes remembers his mother, he remembers by the same token how he ‘escaped’ from the Calder Valley – while by implication she had not. An otherworldly mother who roamed the hillsides in her dreams, whom Hughes imagined as a girl imprisoned by the ‘deadfall’ weight of a life of labour, Sunday bells; a fox’s ghost, ensuring at least her offspring escapes the deadfall. Just as the glistening Red Indian mother, for whom Hughes writes, lies somewhere behind ‘The Thought-Fox’, so too she haunts this late autobiographical story. Not on the level of any one-to-one symbolic correspondence – Hughes’s associative method, which I’m attempting to sketch here, is more fluid, delicate and complex than that. In another, not unrelated, way, the outlaw fox of ‘The Deadfall’ is also identified with the two brothers. The social meaning – better still, the political meaning – of Hughes’s ghost story is in effect pointed up, and sharply so, by the elder brother, who decides they will bury the dead fox they find on returning to the deadfall. The younger brother reminds him it belongs to the gamekeeper, who looks after Lord Saville’s grouse. The boys will only get into trouble if they shoot some grouse, and ‘this time’ they haven’t (DB 9). But other times? In this way the brothers are aligned with the fox which the elder brother presumes the deadfall is set for, ‘a notorious, solitary bandit’, with his hideout near their camp (DB 11). The sense of identification between brothers and fox is confirmed by the elder brother’s answer to his younger brother: ‘This fox belongs to itself ’, not to any gamekeeper or lord. Gerald’s pointed answer reflects back on ‘The Thought-Fox’, in which the fox comes about ‘its own business’. Only when read alongside the later story can the buried political meaning of the
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
earlier poem be unearthed. This meaning is made more explicit in the children’s poem ‘A Moon Man-Hunt’ (CPC 100), where the foxes in their red jackets hunt ‘That menace, that noble rural vermin, the gentry’. When the brothers in the story bury the dead fox, the younger brother finds a small ivory fox, a kind of totem, which he keeps to himself. The story goes back over familiar Hughes ground – nature-spirits, totem animals, the ‘ancient’ or natural man – in order to tell a false lead from a true one. In a way typical of Hughes’s later work, ‘The Deadfall’ intimates that the true meaning of Hughes’s shamanic calling is, after all, less to do with the world of ancient myth, or with any imputed primitivism, than with more immediate social matters – class, family, work, religion – that determine that calling in the first place. If the encounter with the dream-fox at Cambridge carries all the importance for Hughes of a shamanic encounter with a familiar spirit, it is because of the family history that is condensed in it. Still, Hughes’s sense of Cambridge as destructive, as confirmed by his dream, is too one-sided. While Hughes embraced his outsider status at Cambridge by playing Heathcliff, mixing with ‘a sort of socialist group’ of friends, and not bothering to wear a gown over his shabby jacket,51 the same Cambridge English he dropped also imprinted itself in more positive ways on the young poet. In the same letter in which he relates his fox dream, Hughes is dismissive of the ‘Leavis-style dismantling of texts’ he encountered at Cambridge, which he nevertheless felt he had a talent for (LTH 423). A Leavis-style constructing of texts, though, might be another matter. F. R. Leavis was the dominant academic presence in Cambridge English at the time, and Hughes is said to have enjoyed his lectures.52 While Leavis’s name might now be synonymous with a discredited traditionalism, his elitist and exclusive great tradition making him an obvious target for the Marxist or feminist critic, at the time Leavis represented a new commitment to the idea of serious literature that went against the more foppish tendencies of Cambridge English Hughes was so antagonized by. In fact Leavis finds an unlikely, though qualified, advocate in the leading British Marxist critic Raymond Williams, who emerged from Cambridge in Leavis’s wake. Williams has written of Leavis’s ‘militant assault’ on Cambridge English, an assault that met with opposition from most of Cambridge because it was ‘evidently disruptive of the milder habits of quietly precise reading and solitary or intimately shared composure which was always the more likely academic outcome’. For Williams, Leavis’s new critical seriousness was ‘an assault on a whole system of social and cultural and academic values’.53 Leavis’s example also implied that access to great literature was not the privilege of a leisured class. His followers, it has been pointed
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
out, tended to be state-aided young men, who did not have to feel they were deserting their class in buying into a great tradition.54 In a not unrelated way, Hughes thought of himself as representing a new seriousness in poetry, which was in opposition to a ‘cosy’ Movement sensibility: One of the things those poets had in common I think was the post-war mood of having had enough… enough rhetoric, enough overweening push of any kind, enough of the dark gods, enough of the id, enough of the Angelic powers and the heroic efforts to make new worlds… All they wanted was to get back into civvies and get home to the wife and kids and for the rest of their lives not a thing was going to interfere with a nice cigarette and a nice view of the park. They wanted it cosy…. Now I came a bit later. I hadn’t had enough.55
While angelic powers and dark gods may not sound much like Leavis’s central human values, Hughes’s sense of the depth and seriousness of his undertaking as being disruptive of an existing cosy arrangement owes something to the example of his famous lecturer. This is Leavis more in spirit than in substance, but there is also plenty in Leavis that would have appealed directly to Hughes. In Leavis’s hostility towards the Spenserian tradition of versification Hughes was to find his own metrical bearings,56 while Leavis’s emphasis on the best literature of the past in contrast to a depleted present – an emphasis underwritten by Eliot’s notion of a dissociation of sensibility in the seventeenth century – was profoundly influential on Hughes, informing both his late book on Shakespeare, for instance, and his adoption of a seventeenth-century metaphysical style in his first book, The Hawk in the Rain. Leavis was also a champion of Lawrence, while his sketch for a Cambridge English school, Williams reveals, was to include not only the fall from the seventeenth to the twentieth century, but also topics such as the rise of capitalism, the causes of the civil war and – perhaps most surprising – popular culture.57 The sketch includes topics close to Hughes’s heart, while Hughes’s ambivalent feelings about popular culture – the same writer of the cartoon-poems of Crow,58 for instance, can also dismiss the 1980s political cartoon programme Spitting Image as ‘intolerably stupid’ (LTH 532) – are themselves no doubt influenced by Leavis and his notion of cultural decline. Being more into Beethoven than the Beatles seems to position Hughes close to Leavis in terms of his view of popular culture. Yet Hughes’s class bearings are always liable to pull him the other way, so that he is able take his amusement at foppish public school types at Cambridge mimicking the Scouse accents of the Beatles to try to be cool (LTH 627). It is over-simplistic to see Hughes as having no real connection to popular culture, yet this notion persists. In the index of the recent selected Letters of
Mytholmroyd, Mexborough, Cambridge
Ted Hughes, for instance, there are the expected entries for Beethoven, folklore and jaguars, but none for the presumably less relevant Beatles, Spitting Image or popular music – all of which nevertheless feature in the letters, and in revealing ways. In a letter of 1982, Hughes bemoans that ‘the 1948 Education Act debouchment of the masses’ had by then ‘subsided to Pop’ (LTH 453). The Education Act Hughes refers to, which was actually passed in 1944, had put in place a system of free compulsory secondary education, and opened up university education to working-class children. Entering Mexborough grammar school in 1943, Hughes would be among the first waves of workingclass children mobilized by this Act in terms of educational aspiration and opportunity. The same educational ‘debouchment’ would produce the Beatles and pop music, as well as the Angry Young Men. Hence Hughes’s military metaphor. It is a metaphor that, given its political significance elsewhere in Hughes, implies a sense of solidarity with what is conceived of as a general, epoch-changing class assault on, and takeover of, ‘culture’. Hughes’s later blanket dismissal of pop music seems to do with the idea that it had by then lost its edge. The post-war class debouchment of which pop music was originally an expression is another matter. War metaphors appear in Hughes whenever he touches on questions of class, and we have seen how these metaphors are imaginatively rooted in Hughes’s identification with his father’s class and preferred rank in the First World War. Pop music cannot be dismissed outright for Hughes because of this very personal sense of class allegiance, experienced as if in a state of war. Lamenting that he was never included with the Angry Young Men – though he had better barbarian credentials than any of them except Sillitoe – Hughes remembers being abused ‘for using the “affected, proletarian familiar abbreviation”’ of his first name, and for using language above his station: ‘The Cultural High Church’, Hughes reflects, ‘didn’t fall on its face to the North until the Beatles came along’ (LTH 521). Victory to the North, to the Beatles, to ‘Ted’ Hughes. It was Leavis, then, who offered Hughes a seemingly classless access to a Great Tradition at Cambridge. At the same time, Hughes’s class identification with the cultural ‘debouchment’ following the 1944 Education Act meant he could never be a pure Leavisite; rather, Hughes would reinterpret the idea of a dissociation of sensibility along his own lines, identifying its causes in ‘the inter-conflict of upper & lower classes in England’ (LTH 146). Still, Leavis’s notion of how Life is realized in great literature was an idea that seems to have so impressed Hughes, that the poems appear to leave no room for anything else. Life, conceived of as Nature, a Lawrentian flame of instinctual Being, fills up the
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
poems: contemporary social reality is consigned to the shadows. In the early piece ‘Context’, a statement of intent later placed at the start of Winter Pollen, Hughes asserts that the poet must concern himself with ‘the real thing’, that ‘living poetry’ depends on ‘qualities of imagination, depth, breadth, intensity and accent in the spirit of it, rather than in reference to many matters’ (WP 1). Behind this lies Leavis’s militant emphasis on the real thing in great literature, on authentic and vital human experience, which in Hughes’s understanding is in opposition to more superficial matters of the moment. As Williams remarks of Leavis though, the notion of Life in literature (or, in Hughes’s terms, ‘the real thing’, ‘living poetry’, ‘the spirit of it’) can only ultimately result in a ‘theoretical block’ for the critic, a block which of course for Williams is only got round with recourse to a Marxist methodology. As a corrective to the Leavisite ideal of the ‘naked reader’ before a ‘naked text’, Williams proposes ‘the kind of reading in which the conditions of production, in the fullest sense, can be understood in relation to both writer and reader’, an inquiry into ‘the whole set of social practices and relationships which define writers and readers as active human beings’.59 It follows that to understand Hughes properly, we need to understand – to adopt one of Williams’s key terms – the ‘structure of feeling’ that produces in the poems such an aggressive vaunting of Life, instinct, the real thing; how Hughes’s fierce emphasis on the ‘real thing’ is shaped by powerfully mediated historical experience. Paradoxically, in the final analysis it is Cambridge English – in the form of Leavis’s radical commitment to the real thing in great literature – that empowers Hughes to abandon Cambridge English, in obedience to the real thing that comes through his door in his dream at Pembroke College. The real thing is now radically relocated in Archaeology and Anthropology, in primitive mythology, in the non-literary forms of folktales and folklore, which Hughes had first discovered in a book his mother had shown him. The plunge into the world of myth, shamanism, the Goddess, is also a return home, Hughes’s ‘metaphysics of the palaeolithic world’, as he knowingly and exaggeratedly terms it in a late letter, a construction built on the childhood experience of living in northern industrial towns, which edged onto – but never into – an ‘unspoiled’ (underlined by Hughes), mythologized natural paradise (LTH 624). Blakean contraries, each structuring the other – the ‘unspoiled’ defined and underlined in contrast to the spoiled, paradise in contrast to an industrial badlands, separated off by a poisonous river. A structure of feeling.
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
Elizabethans In a broadcast made after the new Queen’s return from Kenya in February of 1952, after the death of George VI, Winston Churchill looked forward to a new Elizabethan age, speaking of the monarchy as ‘the magic link which unites our loosely-bound but strongly interwoven Commonwealth’.1 For all of Hughes’s own Churchillian notion of the crown as ‘the living symbol of a hidden unity’ (RCD 60), it seems he did not join in the coronation celebrations. Instead he wrote a dialogue between the two Queen Elizabeths, mocking the diminished powers of the new one.2 The crowning wasn’t enough of a crowning for Hughes. But Hughes’s recoil from the coronation has perhaps another, hidden, point of reference and meaning. As backdrop to the public celebrations, beginning only a few months after the royal visit and belying Churchill’s rhetoric, is the Mau-Mau rising in Kenya, which would further diminish the declining empire and sense of national prestige that the coronation was meant to re-invigorate. It is important to remember there persists in Hughes a strong counter-impulse to his boyhood patriotism: one away from the hold of the centre, towards an outside of ‘nature’, the primitive other. Hughes’s sense of the importance of the crown as a symbol of unity is really the obverse of, and indeed is necessitated by, an underlying sense of violent disunity. An antipathetic world of Crow-ish mischief and misrule, of violent beheadings, always exerted the stronger pull on Hughes’s imagination. This world is experienced with such vehemence that only a more emphatic and anachronistic – hence impossible – crowning could keep it in check. From the start, then, Hughes was set to be at odds with the post-war consensus. Britain had now entered, it was claimed, an ‘end of ideology’ era,
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
with both Labour and Tory parties committed to a new Welfare State capitalism and Keynesian economics, and with mass unemployment, class division and poverty considered in some quarters to be things of the past.3 Thom Gunn’s Fighting Terms, published in 1954 just after the coronation, is a crucial book for Hughes in this respect. Gunn was the leading Cambridge poet of the time, and Hughes said he was the only contemporary poet he was aware of, and that he greatly liked his poems (PC 32). Gunn’s book holds up a mirror to the new Elizabethan age in a way that answers to Hughes’s own mocking of the coronation as diminished and compromised. ‘It was a violent time’, Gunn writes of the first Elizabethan age, ‘Wheels, racks, and fires / In every writer’s mouth, and not mere rant’ (‘A Mirror for Poets’).4 Yet if Gunn’s ‘Mirror for Poets’ enabled Hughes to view something of his own feelings in sharp definition, it also presented a problem. This violent territory had already been annexed, and by the dominant poetic voice of Cambridge. Hughes’s response is to take up the implicit challenge to poets in Gunn’s poem: to seek to out-gun Gunn in terms of wheels and racks and fires – most obviously in ‘The Martyrdom of Bishop Farrar’, where fire breaks out of the bishop’s mouth, and smoke burns his sermons to the skies. While Hughes’s first book, The Hawk in the Rain, is stylistically a very mixed bag (Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas and Wilfred Owen are all clearly audible), it is the metaphysical bluster and posturing of the poems that leaves the greatest impression. A key influence here is T. S. Eliot’s regard for Elizabethan drama and metaphysical poetry, which Hughes would have absorbed at Cambridge.5 The metaphysical qualities of The Hawk in the Rain are less a response to Donne or Marvell, though, than to Gunn. The torturous, Donne-like syntax of poems like ‘Billet-Doux’, ‘Incompatibilities’ and ‘Egg-Head’, the self-conscious rehashing of Elizabethan conceits in ‘The Dove Breeder’, ‘September’, ‘The Decay of Vanity’, ‘Two Phases’, the memento mori quality of ‘Soliloquy of a Misanthrope’, and the Marvellesque ‘The Man Seeking Experience Enquires His Way of a Drop of Water’, are to be understood not so much as an engagement with the poetry of the first Elizabethan age and after, as with the poetry of the second Elizabethan age, and a Cambridge rival. The Elizabethan and metaphysical conceits Gunn refashions in Fighting Terms are reworked with fresh violence in The Hawk in the Rain. Gunn’s ‘Tamer and Hawk’, for instance, gives a self-conscious twist to innumerable Petrarchan conceits wherein the poet is captive and enslaved by his mistress: ‘You but halfcivilize, / Taming me in this way’, the speaker sardonically points out at the end, as tamer half-turns to prey. Hughes responds to Gunn’s version of this old
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
conceit in ‘The Dove Breeder’, where love strikes into the ‘mild-mannered’ dove breeder’s life like a hawk into a dovecote. Where Gunn’s speaker ponders being both ‘catcher’ and ‘caught’ on his lady’s ‘wrist’, Hughes’s dove-breeder, who soon dries his tears, ends the poem with ‘a big-eyed hawk on his fist’. Hughes thus looks to outstrip Gunn in terms of the violence with which thought and feeling, mind and body, hawk and fist, are yoked together. In this both Gunn’s and Hughes’s poems respond also to Yeats’s ‘Yellow-eyed hawk of the mind’, which will ‘not be clapped in a hood, / Nor a cage, nor alight upon a wrist’ now that it has ‘learnt to be proud / Hovering over the wood’ (‘The Hawk’). Yeats laments in his poem that a recent attempt to be witty and sociable was mere ‘pretence’ in the absence of his mental hawk – an image for the detached intellect – which remains up in the clouds. Taking their cue from Yeats’s poem, Gunn and Hughes seek to overcome such dissociation of sensibility in the context of a second Elizabethan age, where all seems diminished, mere ‘rant’. But Hughes must go one better. The hawk on a wrist in Gunn’s poem has become a hawk on a more aggressive fist in Hughes – a fist playfully raised at Gunn, as much as to say: no half measures here. It is with ‘The Hawk in the Rain’ that Hughes overthrows Gunn most emphatically by filling the latter’s ‘A Mirror for Poets’ with his own version of a violent time. The terrain is now instantly recognizable Hughes: nature experienced as trench warfare, or a ‘drumming’ civil war battlefield; horizons that trap; violent shires. Again the airy hawk from Yeats’s ‘The Hawk’ is hovering in the background, but here Hughes also remembers ‘The Second Coming’, in which the falcon cannot hear the falconer. It is, after all, in violent disunity and antagonism, rather than any achieved sense of crowning unity, that Hughes is in his true element. Or rather in the dialectic between these two, which is the subject of ‘The Hawk in the Rain’. Gunn’s, and Yeats’s, hawks are ‘hurled upside down’ in this poem, ‘smashed’ into the ‘mire’. The poem speaks not of half-civilized compromise, but rather of bloody-minded revolution – a sense emphasized by the ‘drumming’ fields, the violent upheaval in the land. The feeling of relish in the blunt Anglo-Saxon diction and pummelling rhythms of the poem indicate this is no exercise in wit: the impression is of a poet really slugging it out, grappling now with material very much his own. In so far as the poem evokes the idea of civil war, the hawk might be read as ‘the passionately contemplated image of a national leader’, which like the image of the crown is needed ‘to assemble and invoke’ our ‘deepest powers’,6 and without which we are left floundering, like the poem’s speaker. While such a reading would accord with Hughes’s royalist beliefs, the poem also sanctions a counter-reading, in
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
which the hawk figures as representative of an ‘effortless’ master class, enjoying a hallucinatory detachment from the land which sustains it, and which the speaker labours over. (One reading the poem allows for is that the speaker is working the land – why else is he out here?) The poem is a remarkable early expression of the core tension in Hughes’s work between wholeness and violent division, mastery and revolt – the latter suggested by the obvious sense of satisfaction with which the hawk is brought crashing down to earth at the end of the poem. But to say the poem hangs in the balance between these contrary impulses would be to fudge the issue of its violence. The description of the hallucinatory hawk as the ‘master- / Fulcrum of violence’ is key here. It is a difficult phrase, with added violence inflicted on it by the enjambment, prefiguring the hawk’s downfall. ‘Master fulcrum’: both mastery of violence is suggested, and conversely, ultimate cause of violence. A paradox then: the very image of a desired mastery of our fallen, violently selfdivided state, which is projected outwards – as with the symbolism of the crown – is figured also as its final cause. Implicit here is a challenging reversal of the idea of the crown as symbol of national unity. I discuss elsewhere the Lacanian logic of this interplay between real (the speaker’s actual earthbound condition) and imaginary (hallucinatory hawk), which is rooted in this perspective in the infant’s assumption of a coherent but external image at the mirror stage through which it masters its helplessness.7 It is with the political ramifications this dialectic takes on in Hughes that we are concerned here. Reflecting much later on the question of violence in his early work in an essay in Winter Pollen, Hughes frames the question in social terms. Hughes detects a certain value system at work in his readers’ responses, a system that affords, Hughes argues, a delusory refuge from invisible forms of violence in which it is implicated. The ‘“customary social and humanitarian values” of England’s stranglehold policy on Ireland’ is one example Hughes gives (WP 265). Read in the light in which Hughes re-reads the violence of his early work, the detached mastery of the hawk, whose wings hold all creation in a delusory ‘weightless quiet’, and which is imagined with such force smashing into the mire at the end, can hardly represent an unambiguously desired good. The symbolism of the hawk is two-sided: on one side of the coin the crown, symbol of unity and mastery; and its reversal, the hawk as symbol of a delusive colonial-ideology, ultimate cause of violence. At a time of colonial violence and rebellion against the crown, when Britain has just been humiliated by the Suez Crisis, the political resonances of the poem’s expression of violent upheaval in the face of a higher mastery are worth noting. In a typical associative leap that crosses class and colonial
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
violence, Hughes will later think of the embattled miners of the 1984–5 miners’ strike as being analogous to the Mau Mau rebels of the 1950s. The point is clinched when we see that the ‘drumming ploughland’ of the poem is an image for the verse itself. To versify: to turn over, as a plough turns the earth. The drum beat sounded through the verse here is that of the old alliterative tradition Hughes associated with conquered and suppressed Saxon shires, a tradition opposed in Hughes’s imagination to the imported poetic models of the new Norman master class, and the resulting dominance of the iambic pentameter. In this respect it is Hopkins’s ‘The Windhover’, rather than Gunn’s or Yeats’s hawk poems, that is the decisive reference point for Hughes’s poem. In Hopkins’s sprung rhythm Hughes heard the Anglo-Saxon alliterative tradition resurgent, ‘not merely in tension’ with, but ‘combatively out of synchrony’ with, the iambic pentameter (WP 344). Hughes’s poem echoes Hopkins’s more closely than any other. The ‘steady air’ through which Hopkins’s falcon flies is recalled in Hughes’s line ‘Steady as a hallucination in the streaming hair’ (the metrical turbulence of ‘The Windhover’, as Hughes describes it in Winter Pollen, carries the bird ‘across and up off the page like a hallucination’ [WP 340]); ‘the mastery of the thing!’ in Hopkins is echoed in Hughes’s description of the hawk as ‘master- / Fulcrum of violence’; while ‘Rebuffed the wind’ in Hopkins is reversed in Hughes’s account of the hawk ‘meeting the weather’ and being overturned. As in Hughes’s poem, in Hopkins’s the action takes place over ploughland, and the imagery of falling, galling and gashing at the end of Hopkins’s poem is picked up in the description of the hawk’s imagined violent demise at the end of Hughes’s. According to Hughes, Hopkins’s poem, which is ‘To Christ our Lord’, represents the transformation of physical bird into spirit, a trajectory that is implicitly answered in Hughes when his ‘angelic’ hawk is returned emphatically to the earth, to nature. For Hughes, Hopkins misrecognizes his religious calling, the Goddess appearing to the Jesuit poet as a ‘mad nun’ (WP 372). This reservation aside, in ‘The Hawk in the Rain’ Hughes picks up from where Hopkins leaves off with his own combative sprung rhythm. Hughes’s violent evocation of this suppressed alliterative tradition in his early verse registers, without making explicit, a strong sense of class enmity. This sense is also embodied in ‘The Hawk in the Rain’ in the pitching of words with Old and Middle English roots (‘drown’, drag’, ‘heel’, ‘swallowing’, ‘mouth’, ‘habit’, ‘dogged’, ‘grave’ etc.) against Latinate and Old French words (‘effortless’, ‘fulcrum’, ‘violence’, ‘hallucination’), the latter for Hughes signifying the imported language of a Norman master class. Hughes has a keen instinctive ear for linguistic
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
origins, and it is no accident that in ‘The Hawk in the Rain’ native English words are predominantly used to describe the labouring speaker, while Latinate and Old French words are attached to the hawk, symbol of mastery. The politics of Hughes’s voice and versification are explored further in Chapter 5. The thing to note here in relation to Hughes’s thumping response to Gunn, which begins with Hughes responding to the injunction in Gunn’s ‘A Mirror for Poets’ to the new Elizabethan poets not to ‘pass by’, but to find ‘something greater’ to identify with in their own time to match their larger-than-life forebears, is that through it Hughes very quickly finds his own ground. The masculine persuasive force of Donne as evoked in Gunn in turn opens, for Hughes’s ear, onto the older, rougher lines of Anglo-Saxon verse, which Hughes was able to hear in his own dialect. It is here that Hughes leaves Gunn and enters into his own. Though Faber & Faber sought to capitalize on Gunn’s and Hughes’s poetry of violence when they issued a selection of Gunn and Hughes poems in 1962, both poets would come to recognize that, as Gunn flatly put it, they had ‘almost nothing in common’.8 In retrospect it is clear that Gunn was expressing a sexuality at odds with his conventional background of English middle-class respectability.9 The masculine force of Fighting Terms betrays a restlessness that would soon find more overtly homoerotic expression in the imagery of leathers, bikers, toughs, whips and straps in Gunn’s next volume, The Sense of Movement (1957). When critics complained of a certain superficiality in Gunn – that, despite all the hoo-ha about bikers and toughs, Gunn finally ‘cannot penetrate to the suffering and bewilderment of the actual working-class youth’,10 or is unable to ‘move beyond a statement of the powerful appearance’ of the bikers in a poem such as ‘On the Move’11 – they missed the point. The outsider status of Gunn’s bikers answers to an outsider sexuality: his subject never was the actual suffering and bewilderment of the working class. This is, however, precisely the ground that opened to Hughes through his association with Gunn – a ground Hughes was more intimate with, and which gave him the advantage. In his Marxist reading of the Gunn-Hughes association, Stan Smith rightly points out that while both poets are drawn to a ‘dark proletarian underside’, this world is ‘viewed from a distance by Gunn as a violent terrain’, while in Hughes it figures more intimately as ‘a primordial realm of animal instinct and feudal barbarity’. As with Tom Paulin’s previously discussed reading of Hughes (which we’ll be returning to), in the final analysis for Smith, Hughes ‘mystifies the crises which everywhere inform his poetry’ by moving ‘since the beginning from the realm of history to the timeless sphere of nature and cosmology’.12 This notion that nature in Hughes is a timeless realm, outside of history, needs to be corrected.
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
Violence: ‘A social question’ Which brings us to that seminal Hughes poem, ‘Hawk Roosting’. The imagined mastery of the hawk in this poem makes it akin to the earlier hawk in the rain. Indeed, the hawk of the later poem has been read as both an expression of and a critique of ‘pure identity in its fascist mode’.13 This aspect of the hawk – its embodiment of the idea of a crowning master race, exercising its natural dominion over creation – seems clear enough. Hughes himself points out that the bird sounds like ‘Hitler’s familiar spirit’,14 a resonance foregrounded in the poem by the line describing the earth facing upwards for its inspection. Again, as in ‘The Hawk in the Rain’, abstract, Latinate words (‘convenience’, ‘buoyancy’, ‘advantage’, ‘inspection’) accentuate the hawk’s mastery over the earth. Here the hawk as master fulcrum, in the sense of origin, of violence is made strikingly explicit. Its ‘manners’ are ‘tearing off heads’; by its right of possession, it kills where it pleases. In evoking in this way the idea of the mannered, landowning classes, the poem posits fascism as a difference in degree only from what Hughes refers to as the ‘stranglehold’ deployments of England’s customary social and humanitarian values in places like Ireland – the degree being the clarity with which the fascist mentality views its involvement in violence, the false ‘sophistry’ of humanitarian values being rendered unnecessary through the fascist’s direct appeal to nature (Hitler’s idea of natural racial superiority). Forms of ideological violence (colonial, class) implicit in the pretence to manners and sophistry are bluntly and provocatively exposed by the poem. Though Hughes might have originally conceived of his hawk as ‘simply Nature thinking’,15 the finished poem is pitched very aggressively towards what it projects as a wellmannered, cultivated, middle-class poetry-reading culture. This pointed ideological ruffling of feathers has to account for the controversy over the poem, and for the all-too-easy projection of violence back onto Hughes himself – as if the poet had betrayed himself here, had himself fallen into the trap the poem sets through its evocation of the powerful ideological appeal of fascism. But the admirable difficulty of this poem lies in the challenge it offers to its implied readers to consider their own implication in invisible and disavowed forms of violence. The hawk speaks to us from out of our own blind spot in this respect. Its lack of any conscience, of social and humanitarian values, is offered as a counterpoint to the reader’s ‘tacit criminality’, as Hughes has it in his essay on the subject (WP 257). We only have to substitute ‘ideology’ for ‘social and humanitarian values’, and ‘false consciousness’ for ‘tacit criminality’, to see how close Hughes is to post-Marxist thinking about violence here. Writing more
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
explicitly out of a Marxist tradition of thinking about violence and ideology, Slavoj Žižek, for example, makes essentially the same case as Hughes. Žižek begins by drawing a distinction between ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ violence: The catch is that subjective violence and objective violence cannot be perceived from the same standpoint: subjective violence is experienced as such against the background of a non-violent zero level. It is seen as a perturbation of the ‘normal’, peaceful state of things. Objective violence is invisible since it sustains the very zero-level standard against which we perceive something as subjectively violent.16
Compare with Hughes, who begins by asking: ‘Isn’t this a social question: how to define the word “violence”? It depends on where you stand – in the invisible but super sensitive and overlapping fields of defensive behaviour’ (WP 251). Or, in Marxist terms, the field of ideology, whose most powerful effect, Marxism teaches us, is to render itself invisible through its construction of a ‘normal’, ‘natural’ state of things as the standard by which ‘abnormal’ and ‘unnatural’ expressions of violence are perceived and judged. Both Hughes and Žižek cite the meat industry as an obvious example of a form of violence rendered invisible by, but which also sustains, our normal state of things (WP 256, 259). For Hughes, the invisible defensive field of social and humanitarian values that hides our tacit criminality explains ‘our extraordinary readiness to exploit, oppress, torture and kill our own kind’ (WP 256). In the same vein Žižek remarks, after pointing out that eating pork chops would not be the same if we visited a factory farm: ‘And what about, say, torture and suffering of millions we know about, but choose to ignore?’17 The similarities between Hughes’s and Žižek’s lines of argument are worth considering because they reveal that it is from Marxist discourse on ideology that Hughes takes his cue here, particularly in regard to the idea that social and humanitarian values are implicated in invisible forms of violence. As Žižek puts it, ‘It is deeply symptomatic that our Western societies which display such sensitivity to different forms of harassment are at the same time able to mobilize a multitude of mechanisms destined to render us insensitive to the most brutal forms of violence – often, paradoxically, in the very form of humanitarian sympathy with the victims’.18 While Žižek is feted as ‘The Elvis of Cultural Theory’,19 Hughes has been assigned as a thinker to a kind of Darwinian primitivism. Hughes’s thinking about violence needs to be taken more seriously – though it has to be said that Hughes has not helped himself in this respect by foreclosing his mind, as he puts it, to European intellectual debate, something he explains in a note to his Laureate collection as
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
being typical of his generation, for whom Marxism in effect meant Stalinist repression and the Iron Curtain (RCD 59). Soviet tanks, we should remember, had rolled into Budapest in 1956. Even the Arthur Seatons of the time could not now identify with communism. It turns out that the real savagery and violence of Hughes’s poetry has, at least in Hughes’s thinking on the subject, nothing at all to do with nature. In his own interpretation of violence in his work, Hughes offers us a proto-Marxist take on the subject, in which he turns the tables on his critics by locating the real cause of violence in their social and humanitarian values. The assumption had been that what we have in Hughes is ‘a kind of naive admiration for animal life – a kind of raw nature cult, which assumes that human consciousness brings only limitation’.20 Hughes’s evocation of the world of instinct was felt to be a brutally reductive, if forceful, affront to our notions of what it means to be human: ‘Because for him all life is a meaningless chaos, Hughes has no moral lessons to preach’;21 ‘all is black, all is futile, all significance gone’, the critics complained;22 what we are left with is ‘a heroic celebration of the mindless’.23 Viewed from a ‘zero level’ stance of an assumed non-violent background, the hawk in ‘Hawk Roosting’ can only appear as mindless (‘no falsifying dream’), amoral (‘I kill where I please’), and so ultimately meaningless in human terms. But viewed in relation to forms of invisible violence disavowed from within that zero-level stance, the hawk is a different prospect altogether. From this perspective, the hawk clearly has something to say about false consciousness, about the invisible but super-sensitive defences which guard against recognition of our criminality. At work in these critics’ unreflective, subjective appraisals of Hughesian violence is the ‘ideological operation par excellence’ described by Žižek, ‘a mystification which collaborates in rendering invisible the fundamental forms of social violence’.24 Put most simplistically, in locating the violence of Hughes’s poems in raw nature, these critics have forgotten where the cooked meat they (presumably) eat has come from – that they too eat, and so in effect kill, where they please, because they have the means to do so. A comparison of the early critical responses to the productions of this latterday Heathcliff with those that greeted Wuthering Heights serves to clarify further the ideological operation at work in Hughes’s reception. Wuthering Heights is a key point of reference for Hughes not just in terms of literary influence, but in terms of his class consciousness at Cambridge. The novel also provides Hughes with an important image for his mother, with her Brontë-esque dreams of freedom from a hardworking confined life (LTH 699). The reviewers’ reception of Brontë’s novel is strikingly similar to that of Hughes’s early work. This story of ‘brutal cruelty and semi-savage love’ has a kind of ‘rugged power’, it was
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
conceded, but it is a ‘purposeless power’: ‘What may be the moral which the author wishes the reader to deduce from the work it is difficult to say’, is a typical complaint.25 So too with Hughes: everywhere it was conceded that here was a powerful and original new voice, but like Brontë’s story of brutal cruelty and semi-savage love, Hughes’s raw nature cult seemed in the end to be futile, purposeless, mindless even, because Hughes has no moral lessons to preach. A more perceptive reviewer of Brontë’s novel felt a certain class antagonism at work, the author having deliberately affected crudeness or lowness in a way that was calculated to offend: ‘A person may be unmannered from want of delicacy of perception, or cultivation, or ill-mannered intentionally’, this reviewer points out, before concluding that ‘The author of Wuthering Heights is both.’26 The class bearings of the social and humanitarian values (cultivation, delicacy of perception, manners) that underpin, unreflectively, those early reviews of Wuthering Heights are today more visible. Nineteenth-century reviewers, assuming their own value system as a zero-level standard from which to view the savagery of Brontë’s novel, were not in a position to see the meaning, for example, of Heathcliff ’s attack on Edgar Linton’s social and humanitarian values: ‘And that insipid, paltry creature attending her from duty and humanity! From pity and charity!’.27 ‘Pity would be no more / If we did not make somebody Poor / And Mercy no more could be, / If all were as happy as we’: Hughes’s Blake,28 who on this evidence Brontë must certainly have read, spells it out for us. Nearer the time Hughes was writing, Arnold Kettle had recast Wuthering Heights as a political novel, correcting the old view of the novel as a story of semi-savage love. Kettle pointed out that what Heathcliff in fact does ‘is to use against his enemies with complete ruthlessness their own weapons, to turn on them (stripped of their romantic veils) their own standards, to beat them at their own game’.29 The novel was now revealed as not so much about brutal passion, savage love, but about class, property ownership, marriage, legal rights, which together constitute the zero-level of nineteenth-century gentility and, under romantic veils, its invisible means of oppression and exploitation – of reducing people to the level of the ‘savage’. It is the same stripping away of falsifying veils and sophistry – or ‘moral teething’, as Heathcliff sneeringly puts it (p. 151) – which a poem like ‘Hawk Roosting’ is intent on. The land-owning hawk (‘it is all mine’), which has got right to the top of its world, and as a result eats wherever it pleases, has beaten us at our own game. The befuddlement of the early critical responses to Hughes – which certainly sense a powerful challenge, but are unable, on account of where they stand, to properly conceptualize it – matches the befuddlement of the first responses to Brontë’s novel exactly.
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
Capital visions Given the aggressive stripping away of certain ideological veils in ‘Hawk Roosting’, the ethical suspicion in early responses to Hughes that there is something of the poet himself invested in his hawk, that Hughes enjoys the violence, is surely not in itself mistaken – it is only a mistake to suppose on this basis that Hughes must be some kind of fascist (though Plath enjoys twisting Hughes round in this way in ‘Daddy’). I mentioned earlier the abstract Latinate diction which is attached to the masterful hawk, as in ‘The Hawk in the Rain’, but a notable difference here is that this later hawk is also characterized by a more blunt, monosyllabic diction rooted in Old Saxon and Old and Middle English (‘sit’, ‘top’, ‘wood’, ‘high’, ‘kill’, ‘locked’, ‘hooked’, ‘foot’, ‘heads’, ‘sleep’, ‘eat’, ‘bones’, sun’, ‘eye’). Where the two linguistic sets were clearly differentiated in the earlier poem – the Latinate or French words used to describe the hawk, the Anglo-Saxon diction the earth-bound speaker – the roosting hawk partakes of both. Like the Yorkshire-born Cambridge scholar whose familiar it really is, the bird speaks both the language of the educated elite and the dialect of the natives. The story goes that when fellow Cambridge poet and lover of drunken scrapes Peter Redgrove once challenged Hughes to say who would win in a fight, Hughes replied that he would tear off his head.30 The comment suggests the extent to which Hughes identified with his famously problematic hawk, whose manners are tearing off heads. There is a conspicuously high number of decapitations in Hughes – in Lupercal alone, beside the hawk’s penchant for beheading its prey, we are presented with the ‘mounted’ head of a retired colonel (‘The Retired Colonel’), a tomcat who ‘Will take the head clean off your simple pullet’ (‘Esther’s Tomcat’), and an anxious maker of wolf-masks to ward off wolf-spirits, ‘lest they choose his head’ (‘February’). The theme continues most notably in Crow, with man’s ‘bodiless prodigious head’ bulbing out onto the earth in ‘Crow’s First Lesson’, and Crow’s own head falling off ‘like a leaf ’ in ‘Revenge Fable’, while in ‘Glimpse’ the touch of a leaf on Crow’s throat ‘Guillotined further comment’. All these heads becoming divided from their bodies relate most obviously to Hughes’s notion of a modern dissociation of sensibility, the idea that the modern rational intellect has become cut off from nature, the mind from the body. The politics of this capital theme in Hughes, however, have yet to be pursued. Hughes referred Eliot’s dissociation of sensibility to ‘the inter-conflict of upper & lower classes in England’, to ‘the development of the English gentleman’ and a concomitant ‘tabu [sic] on dialect’ (LTH 146). For all Crow represents
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
instinct, nature, he has a very definite class location, his super-simple and superugly language being an expression of Hughes’s notion of his dialect as a separate little self. When in ‘Glimpse’, for example, Crow tries to get above himself by aspiring to a Romantic sensibility – parodically rendered by his ‘trembling’ ‘O leaves… O leaves –’ – he is threatened with the guillotine. The image links with the image of the man in ‘Revenge Fable’, whose head falls off ‘like a leaf ’ when he turns on his own mother, Nature. In her meditation on the meaning of the severed head in art and religion, Julia Kristeva reads such violent representations as an expression of ‘all the glory owed by the unconscious to the all-powerful mother’.31 This seems of obvious relevance to the idea of Hughes as a poet of the Goddess, the severed head of ‘Revenge Fable’ serving as an express reminder of such indebtedness to a ‘ghostly’ mother. It also provides a close fit with Hughes’s notion of Shakespeare’s ‘Tragic Equation’: Kristeva’s violently castrating mother, whose ‘excessive’, ‘vital’, ‘libidinal impact’ on the psyche ‘warrants an equally capital repression’,32 is matched by Hughes’s/Shakespeare’s Goddess, who exacts a similarly violent price for her repression by transforming her repressors into boars, by making them lose their heads. These similarities are in fact not so remarkable, as both Kristeva and Hughes are working out their ideas within a post-Freudian frame, much as Hughes and Žižek are on common ground when they rethink violence along post-Marxist lines (though those reviewers who scoffed at the battiness of Hughes’s reading of Shakespeare might want to take note of the closeness once again of Hughes’s supposedly idiosyncratic thinking – ‘the designs his brain concocts’, ‘the anarchic welter of his imagination’33 – to the ideas of one of the most widely influential and challenging of contemporary thinkers). The point of reading Hughes through Kristeva is to show how the political dimensions of the all-powerful mother-Goddess in Hughes, far from being peripheral echoes or aftershocks of more essential psychological operations, are from a psychoanalytical perspective inseparable from these operations at core. In short, both mythical Goddess and political revolutionary are constituted by the same Freudian equation, involving separation, splitting, projection, repression. For Kristeva, ‘liberating violence… violence of the young, violence of the exiled and the oppressed’, is as fundamental an expression of this all-powerful mother as more arcane, mythical or religious representations.34 Discussing the French Revolutionary justice system, Kristeva points out how ‘democratic equality immediately merged with metaphysical speculation in the minds of those in charge’: ‘since only what is high and celestial is attacked at the head, to bring down that head would mean to prepare another “beyond”. Following the model of alchemical experimentation, decapitation became an
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
esoteric necessity, indispensible to the emergence of a new head, a new era’.35 Hughes’s preoccupation with Jungian alchemy, and with the symbolism of the crown, springs from the same need to prepare a beyond from within a state of splitting, separation, repression. This state is both psychological and political. If Hughes experienced his dialect as a Crow-like, separate self, it is because of a taboo resulting from the inter-conflict of upper and lower classes. Hughes’s remark that his hawk, whose manners are tearing off heads, is Isis, mother of the gods,36 seems less eccentric in light of Kristeva’s reading of the meaning of the severed head in art, history, religion. Such attachment to an all-powerful, decapitating mother reveals a sensibility ‘in tune with all revolutions’, as Hughes says of Yeats; with the kind of ‘psychic energy’ which, Hughes explains, ‘accompanied, all over Europe, the French Revolution’, and to which his Blake was ‘so susceptible’ (WP 265, 263). The point is an important one, for Hughes has been placed ‘among a few angry aristocrats on the far right’ in terms of his political sensibility. Tom Paulin, who places Hughes thus, notices in his subject a ‘powerful populist current’ in connection with Blake, which conflicts with Hughes’s supposed aristocratic leanings:37 but this is no more than a side thought. The English nationalist and Burkean monarchist Paulin emphatically gives us could hardly be more removed from Blake, with his susceptibility to revolutionary energy. A key reference in Paulin’s reading of Hughes is an address Hughes gave at a memorial service for Henry Williamson, author of Tarka the Otter and, as Paulin reminds us, Nazi sympathizer. For Paulin, Hughes speaks too ‘indulgently’ of Williamson’s political views, an indulgence that for Paulin betrays Hughes’s own political leanings towards the far right.38 Hughes writes that, ‘It seemed to [Williamson] that he had glimpsed the perfect society’ in the form of ‘the stable, happy world of some of the big old estates, where discipline, courtesy, tradition, order, community and productive labour flourished in intimate harmony with a natural world that was cherished’. Hughes remarks that for Williamson this glimpse of a perfect social order was in contrast to ‘the shoddy, traditionless, destructive, urban emptiness that seemed to him to be destroying England… and destroying within Englishmen their own historical character, as effectively as the work of a deliberate enemy’.39 Here Paulin sees Hughes’s own politics laid bare. The attentive reader, though, may have noticed Hughes’s careful and repeated use of the phrase ‘seemed to him’ in the above description of Williamson’s aristocratic never-never land. Even if we miss this qualifier, as Paulin apparently does, Hughes is more blunt when he comes to the end of his address, stating flatly that he and Williamson ‘had terrible arguments about his politics’.40
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
What is strained about Hughes’s address, and which might easily throw a reader or listener interested in political undercurrents, is the way Hughes seeks as best he can to reclaim Williamson as ‘a poet of the natural world’, a ‘North American Indian sage among Englishmen’, who lost his way when he entered ‘the dreadful world of Modern History’.41 Far from betraying his own politics through an indulgent apology for Williamson’s, Hughes is only able to celebrate Williamson in so far as he can separate the man from his politics. For Paulin, Hughes’s mind moves ‘instinctively from nature to monarchy’, aristocratic hierarchy, feudal power.42 In fact, Hughes requires Williamson to relinquish his vision of ‘a society based on natural law, a hierarchic society, a society with a great visionary leader’ in order that ‘the clear, undistorted spirit of natural life’ which underpins it can be recognized.43 Williamson’s fascist politics, Hughes politely points out to the memorial audience, were a dreadful distortion. Hughes wants to see Williamson as at heart a North American Indian – a powerfully meaningful image for Hughes, as we know. Through it Williamson is made over into Hughes’s own image, and is politically corrected. In a letter to his brother, in whose Red Indian dreamtime Hughes had once lived, Hughes describes the ‘Park walls and great ornate gates’ of the English country estates as housing ‘the whole army of occupation’ (LTH 526). It is clear here on which side of those walls Hughes stands. Paulin’s take on Hughes represents a kind of misreading that is not uncommon. The poem ‘The Retired Colonel’ – though it was written before Hughes was acquainted with Williamson – seems for Paulin to come straight out of Williamson, with its apparent valorization of an old, heroic, aristocratic order. But what this poem mischievously serves up, even as it seems to eulogize ‘his sort’, is the severed head of the colonel: ‘Here’s his head mounted, though only in rhymes’. Seen as another variation on all those severed heads in Hughes, the image drastically alters the inflection of the poem – the way it presents this ‘man-eating British lion’, now ‘brought down’. The colonel’s head is held up to us, ‘mounted’ as if on a revolutionary pike, but also framed, set in perspective. While the language of the poem – ‘cowerings of India’, ‘posterity’s trash’, ‘pimply age’ – suggests the colonel’s voice, the poem holds up to question what it makes clear is a ‘stereotype’ viewpoint. The ‘rabble starlings’ upon Trafalgar Square have now appropriated the man-eating British lion’s ‘roar’. (Their descendants reappear as a community of ‘hooligans’ in the later poem ‘From Where I Sit Writing My Letter’, wanting everyone to join in, the description of their ‘Sizzling bodies’ here lending a positive Lawrentian inflection to the same rabble mob energy responsible for bringing down the colonel’s type in the earlier poem.)
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
‘The Retired Colonel’ ends by placing this ‘caricature’ head for our consideration alongside that of the last English wolf, symbol not of a heroic military and aristocratic past, of landed estates in harmony with the natural world, but rather of ‘starved gloomy times’. The images contrast with, rather than complement, one another, a contrast further underlined in the reference to last sturgeon of the Thames, which implicates the caviar lifestyles of the gentrified classes served by the Empire in forms of exploitation that are both natural and political. To find in this poem a lament for a lost, heroic England is to seriously misread it. The poem is in fact another Hughesian revenge fable, in which those assigned as primitives or brutes to ‘nature’ by the ideology of Empire – India, the rabble classes, the hungry mob – are offered their trophy. For good measure, the act of revenge is repeated in Gaudete when a similarly imperialistic Major Hagen, ‘hunched’ at his window by his tiger skull trophy, ‘as in a machan’ (G 23), is cuckolded by the demonic Lumb, a kind of unruly Lawrentian phallus on the loose. ‘September’, from The Hawk in the Rain, is another poem adduced by Paulin as an example of Hughes’s aristocratic, Burkean leanings, but again things are not quite as they might at first seem here. The image of the two lovers subject to time, the minutes ‘uproaring’ with their heads, ‘Like an unfortunate King’s and his Queen’s / When the senseless mob rules’, certainly relates to Hughes’s notion of the unifying symbolism of the crown. But this highly stylized Petrarchan conceit does not confirm any straightforward identification with the idea of monarchy any more than, for example, the Catholic Donne’s ‘She’s all states, all princes, I’ does. The poem hangs much more in the balance between rebellion and monarchical order than Paulin realizes. The way in which the ‘uproar’ of the minutes here links with the ‘roar’ of the starlings in ‘The Retired Colonel’, for instance, might give us pause, given that poem’s meaning. The final description of the trees ‘casting their crowns’ brings out the pun on ‘unfortunate’ in the description of the King and Queen, a play on the idea of fortune as wealth further accentuated by the use of words such as ‘counting’ and ‘telling’, and the reference to a ‘silk’ wrist. This sharp awareness of a forceably relinquished privilege, condensed in the word ‘unfortunate’, wittily compromises the sympathy the word simultaneously invites. The poem is by no means uncritical of Hughes’s royalism, which is put to the test here by the poet’s separatist, revolutionary self. Accomplished as it is as an early exercise after Shakespeare or Donne (and Gunn), the poem pales as we follow the trail of beheadings Hughes leaves as he comes into his own. Considered alongside the hawk roosting, whose manners are tearing off heads, the imagery here appears
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
merely mannered. For all Hughes’s boyhood patriotism and thoughts about the symbolic importance of the crown, it is clear that the violent energy of Hughes’s poems is not in the service of any crowned head. There is little wonder that the coronation of Elizabeth II was not enough of a crowning for Hughes. While such excess and vitality might warrant the mastery of a crown, as in ‘The Hawk in the Rain’, everywhere in the poems – with the exception of the peculiarly stilted and mannered Laureate offerings – such capital repression is resisted and overthrown.
Angry young man Evoked in ‘Hawk Roosting’ is the idea of a land-owning master class, the poem working in this respect as an exposé of the stranglehold forms of violence covered over by ‘manners’ and ‘sophistry’. At the same time, invested in the hawk’s blunt and ferocious dismissal of such manners and sophistry is something of Hughes himself, his dialect: a felt sense of class antagonism and assertiveness that has not gone entirely unnoticed. Stan Smith remarks a passing likeness of Hughes’s hawk, which sits at the top of the wood, to Joe Lampton, the ‘ruthlessly egocentric’ working-class hero of John Braine’s Room at the Top (1957).44 In light of what we now know from his published letters about Hughes’s chagrin at never having been included as an Angry Young Man, Smith’s point is worth pursuing further. In Braine’s novel, Lampton describes himself as ‘the devil of a fellow’, his rise to the top in the novel being accompanied by ‘a conqueror’s sensation’ at having appropriated something of the privilege and power of the well-to-do classes: ‘Warley was below in the valley waiting to be possessed, I’d just come from a beautiful room as near T’Top as made no difference, I was going to a rich house to meet rich people and who could say what would become of it?’45 ‘You’re a very direct sort of person, aren’t you?’ a friend in the new social set Lampton has entered remarks; ‘I always go straight for what I want’, he replies (p. 42). There is more than a passing resemblance to Hughes’s hawk here, whose flight is ‘direct’ and who represents, Hughes tells us, the devil as Nature.46 It is made clear in Braine’s novel that Joe’s interest in a big boss’s daughter is fuelled by a desire for revenge against the class represented by her officer-class, Cambridge-student boyfriend, Jack Wales. Joe’s ‘mental picture’ of Jack’s Cambridge life is of ‘port wine, boating, leisurely discussions over long tables gleaming with silver and cut glass’, and ‘over it all the atmosphere of power, power speaking impeccable Standard English, power which
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
was power because it was born of the right family, always knew the right people’ (p. 56). Hughes would see his own experience of ‘social rancour’ at Cambridge reflected here. The war metaphors through which Braine’s anti-hero expresses his sense of class enmity – Lampton ‘deliberately dropping into broad Yorkshire to counter-attack Wales’ genuine officer’s accent’ (p. 41) – must also have struck a chord with Hughes, who thought of class in terms of war, and Cambridge as ‘enemy country’ (PC 282). As in Hughes, the sense of the enemy in Braine’s novel is carried over from wartime memories. The Angries’ dissatisfaction with the post-war consensus is summed up in Braine’s novel by Alice, the married woman Joe takes up with: ‘It’s all so safe and civilized and cosy… All these men, so well-mannered and mild and agreeable – but what’s behind it all? Violence and death. They’ve seen things which you think would drive anyone mad. And yet there’s no trace’ (p. 103). Hughes would describe the Movement poets and the ‘post-war mood of having had enough’ in the same terms: ‘All they wanted was to get back into civvies and get home to the wife and kids… They wanted it cosy’.47 As a description of the lower middle-class Movement set, this is pretty sweeping; but as an evocation of the restless spirit of the working-class Angry Young Men it is precise, and reveals Hughes’s closeness in spirit to these more socially engaged writers. Hughes bemoaned the ‘crude image’ of ‘instinctive primitivism’ assigned to him by early reviewers, which prevented his inclusion with the Angries (LTH 520). Hughes’s close affinity with these writers has still not been adequately recognized. Braine’s novel in particular seems to have made an impression on Hughes, chiming as it does with much of Hughes’s own inheritance and experience (war, class, Cambridge). However, it is clear from Hughes’s comments about his barbarian credentials that he saw his imputed ‘primitivism’ reflected generally in the ‘Anger’ of the period. The supposedly Darwinian emphasis on eating, appetite, jaws, guts and gluttony, which is so pronounced in Lupercal – ‘The crow sleeps glutted’, ‘His belly strong as a tree bole’, ‘They eat cinders, dead cats’, ‘This curved jawbone did not laugh / But gripped’, ‘Finally one // With a sag belly and the grin it was born with’ – begins to take on a different set of meanings when considered alongside the similarly pronounced emphasis on the gut as primary locus of being in the Angries. In the likes of Sillitoe and Braine and Stan Barstow, ‘guts’ are insistently valorized as a badge of working-class courage or strength or authenticity: ‘“You’re too violent. One day you’ll really cop it”…“And you’re too narrow-gutted ever to get into trouble,” Arthur responded’;48 ‘They can spy on us all day to see if we’re pulling our puddings and if we’re working good or doing our “athletics” but they can’t make an X-ray of our guts to find
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
out what we’re telling ourselves’;49 ‘It’s no use trying to fool yourself about love. You can’t fall into it like a soft job, without dirtying your hands… It takes muscle and guts’;50 ‘Your guts melt when you look at some of these bints in there’.51 The social meaning of guts in these quotes is clear. The social meaning of Hughes’s pig and pike and hawk roosting, which are also driven by gut instinct, has always appeared less clear. The general sense in Lupercal is of the gut everywhere ‘biting through the mind’s / Nursery floor’ (‘Mayday on Holderness’), of blood being ‘the belly of logic’ (‘An Otter’). ‘Why don’t you have the guts to admit it, you sly spineless bastard?’ Arthur Seaton puts it to the man who’s had him beaten up (p. 189): it is in response to what is aggressively projected as falsifying mores and manners that both Hughes and the Angries want to reduce everything to gut level. To see in the eating machines of Lupercal and Wodwo simply a version – however vivid and strikingly rendered – of Darwinian primitivism is to miss the all-important social inflection of this ‘primitivism’. As Joe Lampton wryly remarks, when his huge, Henry the Eighth-like ‘appetite for everything’ is playfully noted: ‘I haven’t chopped off anyone’s head yet’ (p. 129). We can see here what Hughes meant when he said he had better barbarian credentials than any of the Angries except Sillitoe – clearly Hughes’s roosting hawk represents an advance on Lampton on these terms. Reading Hughes this way, we can finally dispel the misleading ‘primitivist’ label, which Hughes himself viewed as being wrong-headed. Seen alongside the ‘iron grip’ and ‘iron stare’ of an Arthur Seaton (pp. 14, 209), the iron eye and vice-like grip of Hughes’s pike begin to give up their social meaning. If the iron and steel animals of Lupercal are more machine-like than organic, then conversely, the Arthur Seatons and Jimmy Porters of the period seem to hail from a jungle. Seaton feels ‘the forces of righteousness’ closing on him, ‘spoiling the fangs and blunting the claws of his existence’ (p. 100), and during his time in the army he vents his anger at COs by sending out his drunken chanting ‘like primeval madness over the dark fields and woods’ (p. 139). In Look Back in Anger, Jimmy’s wife Alison describes her feeling of being ‘dropped in a jungle’ on entering Jimmy and his friend’s lives: ‘I couldn’t believe that two people, two educated people could be so savage, and so – so uncompromising’ (p. 42). Jimmy’s memories of his war-ravaged father – ‘He would talk to me for hours, pouring out all that was left of his life to one, lonely, bewildered little boy, who could barely understand half of what he said’ (59) – must again have hit home with Hughes. In the late poem ‘Dust As We Are’, Hughes remembers being the ‘supplementary convalescent’ to his own post-war father, whose trauma was conveyed by his silence.
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
While Hughes then was never associated with the Angries, he felt rightly that they had much in common. The difference between Hughes and the Angries is not thematic – the themes are essentially the same: war, savagery, class. Both Hughes and the Angries are involved in repossessing a damaging class stereotype – the working-class brute – and in articulating the same ferocious rejection of a superficial world of manners and sophistry that is counter-projected. The difference is that while the Angries articulate explicitly the immediate social experience at stake, bringing the targets for their anger clearly into view, Hughes pursues a more oblique, but ultimately more searching, inquiry into nature – or rather, into the historical ideas about nature that underwrite such social stereotyping. This history extends back through the nineteenth century, when Darwinian nature and the machine age came to be powerfully combined in the cultural imagination to forge the image of the industrial working class as mechanized brutes that Hughes inherits.
The great tradition Hughes’s Jaguar, in turning the world under the thrust of its heel, evokes that other cosmically big cat, Blake’s Tyger. Like the Tyger, whose brain seems to have been forged in an industrial furnace, Hughes’s cat bears the traces of where its author’s imagination was forged. Drills, fuses and cages belong to the world of coalmining – a fleeting association perhaps, but one which becomes clearer when we see how the same images are recycled in the early children’s poem ‘The Earth-Owl’, which is set in a moon-mine, and describes the ‘terrible drill’ that revolves the neck of the earth-owl, the ‘thrust’ of its wings, and the ‘gunshot of dust / Sparks, splinters’ as it bursts through mine walls, leaving the moon-miners ‘dumbfounded’ (CPC 77), much as the crowd at the zoo stares ‘mesmerized’ at the jaguar. It is more than mere coincidence that the 1950s saw the emergence in Britain of a new, more aggressive form of industrial action, the ‘wildcat strike’, along with the general perception that trade union activity was out of control.52 ‘The Jaguar’ is a good example of the way in which Hughes’s imagination responds to the contemporary moment by bringing a long perspective to bear, the Blake reference taking us back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. But the poem is no simple Blakean evocation of infernal industrial energy. Blake here is an organizing point of reference for a number of contemporary associations, both personal and political, that are brought into play in the poem. The
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
poem’s first version appeared in the Cambridge magazine Chequer in 1953. In 1951, Hughes’s brother Gerald had visited from Australia to introduce his new wife and spend Christmas with his family in Yorkshire, where Hughes was home from Cambridge on holiday. At this time, Gerald recalls, he gave his younger brother driving lessons, which gave the Cambridge scholar a break from his studies that he ‘greatly enjoyed’. ‘One special day’, the two brothers took their mother for a trip across the moors, where they shot several grouse. Gerald points out that this day is commemorated in Hughes’s late poem, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’.53 The poem gives a more troubled account of the trip. In it a slightly larger-than-life Gerald appears, ‘manly from Africa’, his ‘soul’ in the ‘beringed fist’ of his wife Joan in the back seat. ‘And who’s that other beside her?’ the poem asks. The reference to Hughes’s mother, who remains unnamed in the poem, echoes the hauntingly repeated line in The Waste Land – ‘But who is that on the other side of you?’ – a reference, Eliot explains in a note, to an account of a doomed Antarctic expedition. The allusion registers Hughes’s mother as a haunting presence. If Joan holds Gerald’s soul in her beringed fist, the implication is that what Hughes’s mother holds in her ‘broody fingers’ – which have had to relinquish the first of her brood – must be the soul of her as yet unmarried younger son. (The image of Joan holding her husband’s soul in a ‘fist’ suggests the powerful psychological and emotional undercurrents at work.) The family outing as it is rendered in this late poem is typical of Hughes’s later, Plath-influenced confessional mode. As Hughes remembers it, the day out called up too many ghosts. The poem describes how ‘The Mighty Gitchimanitou’, or Great Spirit, handed the brothers the ‘charter’ to the moors, dispossessing Lord Saville. Personal mythology and social history merge here – memories of a Red Indian mother who as a girl endured a hardworking confined life, and of a Red Indian childhood shared with Gerald, are crossed with the historical memory of the birth of Chartism in the area, as well as with the memories of the First World War. Up on the moor, out in nature – the very site of his family’s mythologized dreamtime, of a mother’s Brontë-esque dreams of freedom – the poet finds himself in a dark ‘Dialogue with history’. Written much closer to the time, ‘The Jaguar’ also evokes a child-like dream of ‘wildernesses of freedom’. The poem is in fact less about a big cat than a car; about, that is, the same liberating driving experience later remembered in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. Hughes’s brother bought his car at a time when owning a car was still a relative luxury. Car ownership at this time provided dramatic new opportunities, widening geographical and social horizons and allowing youngsters ‘to escape the limiting world of their local communities,
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
and suburban families to escape into the fresh air of the countryside’.54 Where in ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ Gerald’s car climbs ‘out / Over the top’ of the moor, in ‘The Jaguar’ this new, exhilarating driving experience is subliminally evoked in the description of the world rolling by under the jaguar’s thrusting heel. In ‘Second Glance at a Jaguar’, the big cat’s body ‘is just the engine shoving it forward’. This metaphor is less obvious in the first jaguar poem, but the germs of it are there in ‘fuse’ and ‘coil’55 – as any mechanic, such as Hughes’s brother, would no doubt notice. The jaguar, on its ‘fierce fuse’, is the very first of Hughes’s mechanized animals. The poem’s first version had contained the line: ‘But what holds them, from corner to corner swinging’. As a description of visitors at a zoo staring at a jaguar this is strained, which is no doubt why Hughes later changed it; but as a description of back-seat passengers, swinging from side to side as the car corners at exhilarating speed, it seems clear enough. But the poem is not merely an overblown metaphor for a novice driver’s sense of freedom at putting his foot down on the gas, however thrilling that might be: it is too aggressive a beast for that reading to satisfy. There is palpable anger at work in the poem. Jaguar is of course the name of a particularly prestigious car. As Dominic Sandbrook notes in his book on the period: ‘While most men might aspire to drive a Vauxhall, a Humber or a Jaguar, they were more likely to drive one of the cheaper family cars, perhaps a Ford Popular, an Austin Seven or a Morris Minor.’56 Advertisements for Jaguar cars in the 1940s and 50s proclaimed the Jaguar to be ‘The finest car of its class in the world’, and victories at Le Mans in the early 1950s enhanced the car’s status at this time. While Ted or Gerald or any other young man from their class might dream of driving a Jaguar, the car was out of reach. Gerald had bought a second-hand Austin.57 In eliding the greatly enjoyable, but second-class, driving experiences that give rise to it, ‘The Jaguar’ does not so much reject this type of vain class aspiration as obliterate it. The vaunting instead of a superior form of class in the shape of an instinctual prowess owes much to Lawrence and his ‘sensuous aristocrats’: to characters like Ursula in The Rainbow, ‘warm, bright, glancing with pure pride of the senses’.58 ‘If you’d been in her own class –’ Connie’s sister laments to Mellors in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, on learning her sister is pregnant by the gamekeeper: ‘Or if I’d been in a cage at the Zoo –’, Mellors replies.59 A similarly defiant sentiment lies behind Hughes’s poem, which evokes the finest car of its class and the promised freedom of the open road only to turn a deaf ear to the sound of its thrust, instead projecting true nobility, and the spectacular freedom dreamt of by Hughes’s mother, in nature.
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
As always in Hughes though, nature is not quite so simple. With the world under its heel, it is hardly surprising that when he ‘conjured’ his jaguar, Hughes’s critics ‘smelt a stormtrooper’.60 The jaguar in this sense is akin to the hawk which revolves the world in ‘Hawk Roosting’, and which has the earth face upward for its inspection. Like that poem, ‘The Jaguar’ also has something to say about fascism, class, and the idea of natural superiority. Jaguar cars were previously SS Jaguar, a name changed after the war because of its unfortunate associations. Through its evocation of murderous violence, the poem reactivates this association, and in so doing reverses received notions of savagery in relation to the lower, brutish classes. Like ‘Hawk Roosting’, the poem locates the savage within the fascist sensibilities and sympathies that lurk in the upper reaches of the British class system, in ‘blind’ and ‘deaf ’ ideas of blood superiority and of the right of empire to bring the world to heel. It is worth remembering that the poem was written and re-written in the years of the Mau Mau rising between 1952 and 1956, when British forces created ‘rehabilitation’ camps that housed as many as 100,000 detainees, and that hundreds of them were shot or hanged attempting to escape.61 The anger of this poem at this kind of fascistic, imperial activity is very real. Brute nature and instinctual directness are also, in a sense, status symbols, applicable to a class which by virtue of its lowness has always been seen as closer to ‘nature’ than to ‘culture’. This lower, brute class was now upwardly mobile, and developing an appetite for the very status symbols that were previously beyond its horizon. ‘I had no scruples, no horizon but the hot lunacy of my own instincts’, Joe Lampton could be heard confessing (p. 199) the same year that Hughes’s jaguar was making the ‘horizons come’ by virtue of its instinctual thrust. Admiring an Aston Martin parked in the street, Lampton hates the young man who gets in it with his ‘expensive’ girlfriend: tasting ‘the sourness of envy’, Lampton then rejects it, ‘Not on moral grounds’, but because envy is too like ‘the convict sulking because a fellow-prisoner’s been given a bigger helping of skilly’; still, he reflects, ‘This didn’t abate the fierceness of my longing’ (p. 29). These things were his ‘rights’, Lampton feels, and like Hughes’s hawk he offers no argument to support his assertion. In Hughes the old, naturalized association of the lower classes with brute instinct is evoked and reworked in the context of the same anger and aspiration voiced by the likes of Lampton. It is through the images of drill, fuse and cage that ‘The Jaguar’ recalls this old association: in the background here is the idea of miners as brute labour, existing beneath culture; as belonging in the cultural imagination to an infernal underworld, like the jaguar in ‘Second Glance at a Jaguar’. The poem simultaneously evokes both the
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
idea of an aristocratic, status symbol-owning, fascist class, and its contrary and nemesis: the sub-human labourer, the Blakean revolutionary, the wildcat striker. On the one hand, the jaguar is counterpointed in the poem with the flea-ridden apes and ‘cheap’ tart-like parrots, which evoke the idea of the lower classes; on the other hand, the tiger and lion, ‘Fatigued with indolence’, evoke the idea of a leisured, colonial class, associated with India and Africa. The suggestion of both ‘boor’ and ‘Boer’ in ‘boa-constrictor’ condenses these associations: both boorish working class and warmongering colonial class are constricted in their Blakean metal cages – the one reduced to a stereotyped brutishness, the other suffering the ennui of mastery and leisure. Like the hawk roosting, the jaguar is a composite symbol, not reducible to a single meaning. The embodiment of fascist purpose and direction for an indolent, fossilized aristocracy, it is also revolutionary energy for the ape-like masses, whose more prosaic ‘yawn’ signifies a different kind of weariness. In terms of race, yet another cat is signified: one evoked in the new emphasis in the later The Hawk in the Rain version on the spinning, thrusting and rolling movement of the jaguar on its heels. It is too early for ‘Jailhouse Rock’, which was released in Britain in 1958, but Elvis Presley, the Hillbilly Cat who had famously appropriated Southern Black music, and whose singing was characterized as caterwauling, had arrived on the scene between the 1953 and 1957 versions of ‘The Jaguar’. Elvis famously had his spinning, rolling and thrusting movements cut off at the waist on television. ‘Being a fair dancer’ himself, Hughes ‘greatly enjoyed’ going to dances, Gerald reminisces.62 It may be too fanciful to see Elvis’s name encrypted in the line ‘more than to the visionary his cell’ in the poem’s later version, but it is impossible not to see Elvis’s signature curled lip in Hughes’s description of the ‘black-lipped half-snarl’ he was trying to capture in the poem, one that jaguars have ‘when they’re going to and fro’ and ‘feeling pent up’. ‘They snarl slightly sideways’ Hughes explains, ‘twisting their heads slightly… lifting their side-lip in a sneering almost’, in a way that ‘just simmers’ (LTH 587). There’s no reason to doubt that Hughes studied closely the jaguar at the zoo where he worked; but plainly, Hughes’s visionary jaguar carries associations that extend well beyond the literal. As the cat of the post-Elvis version of the poem spins, rolls and thrusts, it takes on this new association: added to the idea of the classy car now is the famous collector of cars, risen from poverty, spinning from the bars of a new ‘jungle’ music that signified dangerously unfettered self-expression. By this time rock ’n’ roll had been appropriated by another Ted with a history of violence. We have seen previously how sensitive Hughes was about his name.
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
If he felt abused by others for using ‘the affected, proletarian familiar abbreviation’ Ted – a name he was only able to feel comfortable with after the Beatles came along and made ‘the Cultural High Church fall on its face to the North’ (LTH 521) – what then must Ted, rather than Edward, Hughes have made of the Teddy Boys? Initially from lower-class areas of south London, the Teddy Boys arrogantly asserted themselves by appropriating an ‘Edwardian’ style of dress originally designed by Savile Row tailors for upper-class young men.63 Though Hughes profoundly admired Beethoven, he also admired Sillitoe, whom he conceded had the edge on him in terms of barbarism. Given his implied admiration, then, for that famous literary Teddy Boy Arthur Seaton, Hughes cannot have been entirely unsympathetic to the social and cultural meanings of Chuck Berry’s 1956 injunction to the great composer to ‘roll over’. The idea of Hughes as the literary equivalent of a Teddy Boy has been mooted before;64 what hasn’t been seen though is how intimately a poem like ‘The Jaguar’ approximates its cultural moment in this sense. When the film Blackboard Jungle, which contained the Bill Haley song ‘Rock Around the Clock’, was shown in 1955, Teddy Boys ripped out seats to dance; a year later, when the film Rock Around the Clock was shown, there were riots.65 The jaguar of Hughes’s 1957 poem, displaced from its jungle, also rocks around the clock, its violent thrusting momentum making the world roll and the horizons come. Compare the final lines of Hughes’s poem with these lines made famous first by Bill Haley and the Comets in 1955, and then by Elvis: ‘I bin over the hill, way down underneath / You make me roll my eyes and then you make me grit my teeth’. The animalistic sexual innuendo of ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ is picked up by Hughes’s emphasis on the thrust of his similarly uninhibited cat. The poem then crosses a number of associative threads – Jaguar cars, Elvis Presley and juvenile delinquent Teddy Boys, the miners of Hughes’s childhood, and surely also the Mau Mau rebels, who in ‘On the Reservations’ are explicitly associated with striking miners. Through the organizing presence of Blake, the poem’s various ‘primitives’ and rebels are made mutually reflective, and are implicitly pitted against the expensive car-driving classes. In this way violence answers violence in the poem, as Hughes held it does in his work: the protofascist violence Hughes saw as implicit in ideological notions of the brute or degenerate or primitive – notions which served the now crumbling British empire, as well as the German SS – is answered in kind. But to Blake, Wordsworth, the Brontës, Lawrence, must be added such writers as Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Gaskell, Dickens, H. G. Wells, if we are to trace more comprehensively the social provenance of Hughes’s mechanized
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
beasts. While Blake’s dark Satanic mills loom large on Hughes’s literary horizon, the idea of brute, mechanized labour that everywhere informs Hughes’s ‘natural’ metaphors is received not from Blake, but from the great nineteenth-century novelistic tradition that concerned itself with the problem of class. A direct line is discernible, for example, from Blake’s Satanic mills – which are mental as well as physical – through Dickens’s Hard Times, with its descriptions of mechanical learning of facts, and of factory machinery which gives Stephen Blackpool ‘the sensation of it having worked and stopped in his own head’,66 to Lawrence’s description in The Rainbow of a ‘hard, mechanical’ schoolroom, looking out on the ‘hideous abstraction of the town’ and its ‘great, mathematical colliery’ (p. 321). Hughes’s argument in his ‘Myth and Education’ essay that the emphasis on objectivity in education over the past three hundred years, at the expense of the imagination, has left the inner world ‘a place of demons’, the outer world ‘a place of meaningless objects and machines’ (WP 151), is not new. Nor is Hughes’s version of nature as savagely mechanical. We can see it already in operation in reverse form, for example, in Dickens’s description of Coketown, its red and black ‘like the painted face of a savage’, the piston of the industrial steam-engine working ‘monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness’ (p. 27). Industry as nature; nature as industry: the nightmare fusion of these opposites, as expressed in Hughes’s mechanized animals and elements, has already taken place in Dickens, as it has in Blake’s furnace-produced Tyger. It is present also in Lawrence, in such descriptions of mine-workers as ‘weird fauna of the coal seams’, ‘The anima of mineral disintegration!’: ‘Creatures of another reality, they were elementals, serving the element of coal, as the metal-workers were elementals, serving the element of iron… They had some of the weird inhuman beauty of minerals, the lustre of coal, the weight and blueness and resistance of iron, the transparency of glass… They belonged to the coal, the iron, the clay, as fish belonged to the sea and worms to dead wood’ (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, p. 159). In such imagery Hughes’s imaginative bearings are already set out, but Hughes makes the metaphor very much its own. In Dickens and Lawrence, industrial life is imagined as a monstrous perversion of nature. Hughes reworks this metaphor by twisting it round the other way: instead of industry imagined as a weird version of nature, nature is now imagined as industry. A fish in Hughes will typically find itself in an ‘engine’ of a stream, ‘That made it and keeps it going / And works it to death –’ (‘Ophelia’); salmon are ‘Trapped face-workers, in their holes of position’; even the vegetation is hard-worked, as in ‘the sweating, speechless labour of trees’ (‘Four March Watercolours’). These examples, selected at random from the late
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
book River, published in 1983, show the persistence of this trope in Hughes. It is essential Hughes: the industrial lode from which his ‘nature’ is fashioned. The reversal Hughes’s natural-industrial metaphors represents in relation to writers such as Dickens or Lawrence is also the source of Hughes’s difficulty. For if in Dickens or Lawrence an a priori nature is perverted by industry, in Hughes nature was never so simple in the first place. By rendering nature as furnaces, labour, machinery, Hughes gives us back, with all its implicit violence, an old ideological construction: the mechanized brute, sunk below culture back into nature – an image which even those earlier novelists most sympathetic to the plight of the working classes tend in the end to reinforce. Hughes reappropriates this image with a vengeance. Hughes’s Darwinism, then, pertains more to the cultural applications of evolutionary theory in the nineteenth century and up to Lawrence, than it does to Darwin. When in ‘Ghost Crabs’, from Wodwo, Hughes describes how the ‘labouring of the tide / Falls back from its productions’ to reveal ‘a packed trench of helmets’, he uncovers a cultural nightmare which extends back beyond the First World War, which Hughes regarded as its apotheosis. In the notes to his Laureate collection, Hughes explains that his ‘historical horizon’, ‘closed’ by the First World War, extends back to encompass ‘the slavery of the nineteenth century in the great industrial camps’ (RCD 58). Compounded by the idea of evolutionary degeneration, it is in this period that this industrial slave class becomes, in the cultural imagination, less than human: ‘like the lower creatures of the seashore, only hands and stomachs’, as Dickens memorably pictures it in Hard Times, ‘shouldering, and trampling, and pressing one another to death’ (p. 66). Dickens’s crab-like working classes, all hands and stomachs, lie behind Hughes’s voracious ghost crabs, which are products of the same fantasy of industrialized evolution in reverse. As Hughes’s nightmare creatures ‘press’ through dreams, fastening onto and mounting each other, they are implicated in ‘the turmoil of history’. Hughes understood well that the unconscious is not outside of history, that dreams themselves are socially structured. The thick darkness of the ‘submarine badlands’ from which the ghost crabs emerge is coloured by Hughes’s memories of Mexborough, ‘the darkest badlands… full of black miners & their wives’ (LTH 695). A similar metaphor is used by Lawrence in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, when the upper-class, colliery-owning Clifford feels dragged down ‘to the depths’ by his wife’s affair with the gamekeeper Mellors, and is led to reflect on his ‘moral destiny’, which is ‘to prey upon the ghastly subaqueous life of our fellow men, in the submarine jungle of mankind’ – a jungle from which he feels the soul may nevertheless ‘escape’ into ‘real light’
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
(p. 266). ‘Ghost Crabs’ emphatically answers Clifford in this respect: Hughes’s low, sexually predatory creatures are ‘God’s only toys’. Remembering the Darwinian-industrial creations of writers like Lawrence and Dickens, Hughes animates them with fresh violence. His productions are hungrier, angrier, than their literary ancestors: Dickens’s pitiful creatures, reduced to hands and stomachs, Lawrence’s anima of mineral disintegration, have in Hughes’s hands acquired a more active ‘mineral fury’. Reconceived in an era of explosive social mobility, they are now on the move, no longer enslaved in industrial camps, or packed into trenches. The same image that so troubled the nineteenth-century novelists – the industrial working class as part machine, part savage – Hughes positively embraces. Elizabeth Gaskell had pitied the ‘Mere machines of ignorant men’ she saw around her in industrial Manchester, comparing the workers with Frankenstein’s creation: ‘The people rise up to life; they irritate us, they terrify us, and we become their enemies… Why have we made them what they are: a powerful monster, yet without the inner means for peace and happiness?’67 The class fear and loathing betrayed by Gaskell here, which was prompted in her era by the Chartist demonstrations and riots, and in Mary Shelley’s by Luddite violence, Hughes seeks to exploit through his own terrifying, machine-like creatures. It is in this context that Hughes’s post-Darwinian take on nature needs to be understood. When Hughes writes of a pike’s life being ‘subdued to its instrument’, he is not describing pure instinct, as is usually assumed. We need to hear more clearly the meaning here of that word ‘subdued’. As E. P. Thompson points out in his monumental The Making of the English Working Class: ‘Again and again in these years working men expressed it thus: “they wish to make us tools”, or “implements”, or “machines”’.68 Subdued to their instruments, the nineteenth-century working class, it was imagined, represented a return to nature that was a dark parody of Wordsworth’s notion of the passions of the lower rural classes being incorporated into the beautiful forms of nature. The mindless, ‘natural’ automatons of Lupercal and Wodwo, governed by hunger, emerge not from nature, but from the social class identified with nature. The later poem ‘Us He Devours’, from Wolfwatching, revisits this early, intuitively grasped theme in Hughes in a more knowing way. The title is taken from a line in Eliot’s ‘Gerontion’: ‘The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours’. The allusion might seem on the face of it to underline Hughes’s supposed point about the pitilessness of nature, energy, life, as experienced in Eliot’s poem by an old man. But in its description of ‘Vacant shuttles’ which ‘weave the wind’ – a description that would not be out of place in Remains of
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
Elmet – Eliot’s poem carries a more personal meaning for Hughes. The idea in Eliot’s poem that ‘Virtues / Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes’ also sounds not unlike Hughes’s idea that our customary social and humanitarian values work to conceal our tacit criminality. In Hughes’s poem, the poet hears in a bird’s anguished tapping at buds in winter the ‘Immanence of famine’. ‘Famine’ isn’t a word usually associated with wildlife, instead suggesting human ‘anguish’ and ‘despair’. A contemporary point of reference for this poem, with its ‘insupportable sun’ and ‘high and dry’ bones, is the famine in Ethiopia of 1982, which caused much soul-searching and appeals to humanitarian values when shocking images of the ‘biblical’ scenes were televised at the time. But the hunger of the poem is also by implication that caused by the vacant shuttles of the Great Depression when Hughes was born. As in the early poem ‘Relic’, which describes how ‘None grow rich / In the sea’, ‘Us He Devours’ expresses the experience – both contemporary and historical – of being reduced to a state of nature by having ‘nothing, or barely enough’. The poem calls up the gothic visions of social degeneration of writers like Dickens and Wells. The poem’s slime, the ‘breath of the water’s face’, the mention of prehistoric creatures such as the Megalodon, subliminally evoke the beginning of Bleak House, for instance, with its image of society devolving back into a primordial mire: ‘As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill’.69 As in ‘Ghost Crabs’, the inhabitants of the world of Bleak House have been reduced to an ill-tempered ‘slipping’ and ‘sliding’ and ‘jostling’ of each other: to the very state of primeval nature that holds such powerful sway over the Hughesian imagination. The key allusion though is to Wells’s The Time Machine. The Great Orme, referred to at the start of the poem, is a limestone headland on the north coast of Wales. It is a site of historical as well as geographical interest, its copper mines that were worked in the nineteenth century extending back to the Bronze Age. The setting prepares for the reference to Wells’s novel in the gill-arches’ cry of ‘Eloi Eloi’. In a poem about ‘God’s creatures’, the primary sense here is taken from the Bible, where Jesus calls to God on the cross: ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ (‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’) (Matthew 27.47–8) – a reference that seems darkly inflected in the context of the famine in Ethiopia. But given the background presence of mining on the Great Orme, ‘Eloi’ must also allude to Wells’s gentle but hapless beings of that name, who lead a life of leisure, but who are devoured by the blind, ‘white, ape-like’ Morlocks,70 descended long ago from a labouring class shut out from the sunshine, and
‘In What Furnace Was Thy Brain?’
who now find the sun insupportable (as it is in Hughes’s poem) and have to live below ground. There is something of Wells’s Morlocks in Hughes’s image of the working class as a ‘white ape, blind, tied etcetera’ (LTH 116, 523), and the name is faintly present in ‘Us He Devours’ in the description of the Great Orme as an ‘immense Mollusk’. Wells’s novel reflects the same cultural anxieties and fears about the debased working class that are variously expressed in the likes of Dickens, Gaskell and Mary Shelley. It also expresses essentially the same fantasy of class revenge as a Frankenstein or Mary Barton or Wuthering Heights does: ‘The Nemesis of the delicate ones was creeping on apace. Ages ago, thousands of generations ago, man had thrust his brother man out of the ease and the sunshine. And now that brother was coming back – changed!’ (p. 58). He comes back changed in Hughes too, in the shape of the Darwinian nature that had claimed him. With the notable exception of Emily Brontë, the responses of the great nineteenth-century novelists to brute labour were typically marked by an ambiguous mixture of pity and repulsion: these were, after all, writers writing about the working class, not out of it. Hughes, in contrast, is writing out of his class. The humanitarian concern of a Gaskell or a Mary Shelley for this monstrous people, and the moral fears underpinning Wells’s gothic vision of the Morlocks, are replaced in the working-class Hughes with a more obvious sense of relish at the return of the repressed. The more violent this return, it seems for Hughes, the better. Hughes said that ‘everything one writes modifies the life of everything else one has written’ (PC 98). The allusions to Wells and Dickens in ‘Us He Devours’, and more generally to the nineteenth-century gothic tradition through which ideas about class and evolution were explored, modifies the Darwinian nature in early Hughes by clarifying its social meaning. The same tradition that saw Frankenstein’s creature evolve into Heathcliff, into the vengeful, ape-like Orlick, and into the Morlocks, among others, ultimately gives rise to Hughes’s jaguar, hawk roosting and pike. If the initial impulse to turn to nature in Hughes was to turn away from the oppressive mills and mines of his native Yorkshire, ‘Us He Devours’ retrospectively understands the gothic meaning and irony of what he found there: the very image of the natives who worked those mills and mines.
‘The Laureate of Violence’: Hughes and Heaney
In his seminal book The Country and the City, Raymond Williams takes up the Leavisite notion of cultural decline by questioning the idea of the lost ‘organic community’ of ‘Old England’ this notion presupposes. When was this Old England in existence, Williams wonders, before pursuing the idea through various backward projections of it in writers like Hardy, George Eliot and Clare. Inevitably, these ever-receding literary projections of the ‘timeless rhythm’ of Old England lead Williams back to Domesday, when ‘four men out of five are villeins, bordars, cotters or slaves’. Or then again, Williams asks, is Old England to be found in ‘a free Saxon world before what was later seen as the Norman rape and yoke? In a Celtic world, before the Saxons came up the rivers? In an Iberian world, before the Celts came…?’ The answer is of course, as Williams points out, in Eden.1 Or else in the childhoods of the authors mentioned, which for Williams have at least some significance and relevance. In this respect, Hughes’s refusal of the pastoral and its nostalgias – instead of which Seamus Heaney heard Norsemen, Normans and Roundheads hacking away in Hughes2 – makes him more akin to Williams than to his former lecturer Leavis. Like Williams, whose Marxist perspective makes him less enchanted with the idea of merry England, when Hughes looks back through the nineteenth century he sees industrial slave camps (RCD 58); beyond this, his attention is taken up by the civil war of the seventeenth century, already brewing for Hughes in Shakespeare’s day; and beyond this, by the Norman conquest, and the resulting attenuation of the Anglo-Saxon alliterative tradition as the iambic pentameter becomes dominant. In Hughes’s historical horizon there is no place for the Old England whose loss is continually lamented in the tradition of writing about the English countryside that Williams examines. Of course, it might be pointed out that the ancient land over which Graves’s White Goddess ruled serves
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
something of this purpose in Hughes. But then again, in Hughes’s hands the Goddess functions not so much a vestigial figure who is representative of a lost Britain, but more as a violent psychological force to be reckoned with in the here and now. Hughes’s Eden, when he looks back on it, is a knowing product of Blakean contraries: the ‘paradise’ of his childhood is located not in any idealized England, but in pointed relation to a backdrop of industrial badlands. Hughes’s refusal of the tradition of pastoral lament for Old England finds a ready contrast in the expression of this kind of thing in Larkin, whose nostalgic evocation of ‘The shadows, the meadows, the lanes, / The guildhalls, the carved choirs’ (‘Going, Going’), of a careless countryside of ‘flowering grasses, and fields / Shadowing Domesday lines’ (‘MCMXIV’), smoothes over the history behind, say, those Domesday lines: a historical moment which Hughes’s imagination is, in contrast, fixated on. (I should perhaps say ‘would seem to smooth over’, as the description of ‘wheat’s restless silence’ which follows the reference to ‘Domesday lines’ in Larkin’s poem creates a niggling sense that all is not as ‘innocent’ in this Old England as it might appear – but this is by the by.) If in this, Larkin has been seen as the poet of post-imperial England, his nostalgic world of shadows and country lanes betraying an aversion to an England of ‘Strikers’ and ‘niggers’,3 then there is a sense in which Hughes’s more fraught vision of the English countryside is more Irish than English. As Terry Eagleton has pointed out, in contrast to the aesthetic and organic nature of England’s dominant literary tradition, nature in Ireland is ‘an economic and political category’ – ‘more a working environment than an object to be contemplated’. ‘Decipherable texts’ rather than aesthetic objects, Irish literary landscapes are inscribed with a ‘historical or contemporary meaning within their material appearance’, and it is this meaning that the Irish poet is typically drawn to. As Eagleton laconically puts it, ‘a landscape traced through with the historical scars of famine, deprivation and dispossession can never present itself to human perception with quite the rococo charm of a Keats, the sublimity of a Wordsworth or the assured sense of proprietorship of an Austen’.4 While Eagleton might deal a little too glibly with these writers, each of whom warrants a more considered treatment of their variously troubled representations of nature or country life, it is the idea of nature in Ireland as aesthetically rebarbative that is the key point here. Eagleton’s idea is of ready application to nature in Hughes, who was always more Brontë savagery than Austen propriety, and who in the autobiographical piece ‘The Rock’ rewrites a Wordsworthian spot of time to evoke the formative overshadowing of history. Eagleton also points out that the Romantic tradition of an idealized nature in nineteenth-century
‘The Laureate of Violence’: Hughes and Heaney
English literature developed alongside an antithetical discourse, ‘an altogether more gross, materialist language, heavy with biological ballast and grotesquely bereft of “culture”’ – the language ‘of bourgeois political economy, which speaks of men and women as labouring instruments and fertilizing mechanisms in a kind of savage Swiftian reduction’.5 Here we have, in short, the literary and discursive bearings of Hughesian nature – savage, famished, subdued to its instrument. We visited this ground in the previous chapter, where we saw how Hughes’s mechanized nature bears the deep traces of what Eagleton describes here – the discourse of the sub-cultural, sub-human, ‘Darwinian’ industrial working class. Eagleton proposes that in this way Ireland figures as Britain’s unconscious, as the place where ‘the Tennysonian nightmare of a Nature red in tooth and claw, obdurately resistant to refinement’, was incarnated.6 Eagleton’s argument is perhaps made clearer if it is pointed out that in satirical cartoons in Punch in this period, both Irish Nationalism and the uneducated British working class were figured as Frankenstein monsters.7 Eagleton’s image for this threatening, reflective relationship between Ireland and England is Heathcliff: a ‘dirty, ragged, black-haired child’, Eagleton reminds us, who was picked up starving on the streets of Liverpool and who speaks ‘gibberish’, and whose various labels – beast, savage, lunatic, demon – are ‘simply an English way of saying that he is quite possibly Irish’.8 For Eagleton, just as Heathcliff threatens the world of the Grange in Wuthering Heights, so the problem of Ireland threatens English civility. We might reconsider Hughes’s own identification with Heathcliff in this respect, and recall his singing of Irish rebel songs in The Anchor pub at Cambridge.9 In doing so, we might seek to posit something more than a theoretically constructed ‘Irishness’ for Hughes: we might discover, more intriguingly, a personal identification at stake. Hughes had Irish blood in him, and was proud of it. His paternal grandfather was Irish, and in family legend figures as a local sage and a great singer – a ‘Mystery man’ who probably came from Manchester or Liverpool (LTH 724). He is commemorated in the late poem ‘Familiar’ (not to be confused with another Hughes poem of the same title about Assia Wevill), in which he is ‘a seed / Of the Great Hunger’, ‘re-absorbed’ in the Calder Valley, where he managed to escape ‘the Sabbath / Toll of the valley prison’. Identifying closely with his grandfather in this late poem, Hughes is ‘proof ’ that his Irish forebear came through alive. The early poem ‘Crag Jack’s Apostasy’, from Lupercal, also commemorates this legendary Irish figure. The voice which speaks this poem is ostensibly that of Crag Jack, Hughes’s grandfather, but it might easily be Hughes himself speaking of his animal dreams, of the ‘dark churches’ of his childhood. Poet and
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
persona are virtually one here, revealing the Irish root of Hughes’s identification with Heathcliff, who also comes from Liverpool. In a letter Hughes reports that his grandfather died of pneumonia (LTH 724), though in ‘Familiar’ he dies of the same disease that killed the author of Wuthering Heights, tuberculosis – a Romantic literary death which again points to an association in Hughes’s mind of Crag Jack with the similarly named Heathcliff. Hughes, who was sensitive about the ‘proletarian’ abbreviation of his own name (LTH 521), presumably knew that Brontë was a gentrified version of the Irish Brunty, as he puns on the name in that most Wuthering Heights of Hughes poems, ‘Wind’. Here the wind is described as ‘brunt’, its violence threatening the ‘fine’ but fragile house, just as Heathcliff threatens the Grange – though with its ‘great fire’ and windows that ‘tremble’ to ‘come in’, the house is also redolent of the Heights, where the genteel Lockwood dreams a trembling Catherine at the window, pleading to be let in. The ‘Wuthering Heights’ atmosphere of the poem is obvious enough. What is less obvious is the way the poem’s elemental violence – the wind brandishing a black-backed gull ‘like an iron bar’, as if about to smash the glass-goblet house – is linked, through the play on the Irish ‘Brunty’, to the old matter of Ireland and England. On this reading, the sea that the house has been far out in all night is the Irish Sea, over which Hughes’s grandfather, and probably Heathcliff, came to England. Encoded in the landscape of the poem are Hughes’s true colours: the sky is ‘orange’, the ‘Blade-light’ ‘emerald’ – the colours of the Irish flag. Again the descriptions of nature are suggestive of warfare: the imagery of tents and blades, the violent booming and stampeding, are suggestive of old British campaigns in the Emerald Isle. It is as if these sounds and images have returned to haunt the English countryside, which as a result is rendered more Brontë-esque gothic than pastoral. English civility – the occupants of the house ‘cannot entertain book, thought, / Or each other’ – is implicitly threatened by its monstrous unconscious, a savage, recalcitrant Ireland. To claim that ‘Wind’ encodes Hughes’s true colours is again to fly in the face of our image of the British Poet Laureate – though it should be clear now that there is more than one Ted Hughes; or rather, that the desire for Complete Being in Hughes, his notion of the necessary unifying symbolism of the crown, betrays another Ted Hughes who was prone to feelings of violent discord. What propels Hughes towards wholeness is precisely its lack – a sense of internal struggle which is not simply referable to some universal psychological mechanism, Lacanian or otherwise. It has, as we are seeing, a political provenance. For all his notion of the crown as the symbol of spiritual unity of the British Isles,
‘The Laureate of Violence’: Hughes and Heaney
Hughes’s real spiritual home is Ireland. ‘Ireland has inner space’, Hughes felt, which England lacks – his periodical sojourns there providing ‘freedom from the English psycho-social control system (as that’s coded into voices, faces, the general look of things)’ (one senses again a restless class-consciousness here) (LTH 615). It was a visit to Ireland in 1965 that enabled Hughes, he says, to break out of a three-year poetic impasse after Plath’s death (PC 269). In Gaudete – a book about a ‘collision between a debased demonish spirit-power, in woodgoblinish form, and the sterile gentility of a Southern English village’ – the Reverend Lumb reappears at the end in the West of Ireland, ‘like a tenth century anchorite’. The shift from Anglicanism has its meaning, Hughes remarks (PC 59). The idea of Ireland as a spiritual entity owes much to Yeats, whom Hughes says he was ‘swallowed alive’ by while still at school (he claimed to have learned the complete poems): ‘my particular craze, in folklore and mythology, was the Irish’, Hughes explained, Yeats serving as his model (LTH 625). Whatever mythical meaning it carries for Hughes, the idea of a spiritual Ireland is not without its political meaning. As Eagleton also points out, if Ireland figured as Nature to England’s Culture, the terms are easily reversible: ‘For Ireland is also tradition and spirituality in contrast to its rulers’ crass materialism’, the Irish ‘natural aristocrats’ to England’s bourgeoisie.10 Hughes takes his notions of instinctual refinement and sensual aristocracy not only from Lawrence, then, but also from Yeats. The emphasis in Hughes’s poems falls much less on the idea of a spiritual Ireland, however, than on its reverse – the idea of a demonized, goblinish power, serving in effect as Britain’s unconscious, and out for a Heathcliff-type revenge. The poem that follows immediately after ‘Crag Jack’s Apostasy’ in Lupercal is ‘Pike’. As with the threatening, Brontë-esque landscape of ‘Wind’, the ‘malevolent’ fish bear the colours of Ireland, ‘green tigering the gold’ adding a splash of Blakean bloody rebellion to the description.11 Though they are among the flies, the pike are also conscious of their ‘grandeur’ – just as Ireland is death, famine, horror; as well as legend and spiritually. The fish’s green and gold are reflected in its ‘emerald’ and ‘amber’ surroundings, confirming the poem’s true colours and situating its evocation of a Tennysonian nightmare of nature red in tooth and claw in relation once again to the Emerald Isle. The savage reduction of the fish’s life ‘to its instrument’ is in this way related to an old discourse on Ireland as a place obstinately resistant to improvement or progress, ‘not to be changed at this date’. In this, ‘Pike’ owes something to Swift, and self-consciously so. The cannibalism of the pike in particular makes them a kind of savage Swiftian reduction.
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
The Irish satirist was Hughes’s favourite stylist, Hughes admiring his ‘clarity, precision, conciseness and power’ (LTH 20), and citing him as the nearest model for his own fables (LTH 46). Clarity, precision, conciseness and power are all in evidence in ‘Pike’, but the poem is also influenced by Swift in a more intimate way. The most famous example of Swift’s powerfully precise irony is ‘A Modest Proposal’, in which the Irish satirist gives a devastating twist on the old racial stereotype of the native Irish as cannibals by proposing that the famished Catholics of his country be permitted to sell their children to persons of quality to be eaten. The statistics of Swift’s article, which in illustrating the efficacy and reasonableness of the proposal ironically accentuate the horror of the situation, are echoed in the speaker’s marked preoccupation with measurements, numbers and calculations in Hughes’s poem, which barely keep at bay the ‘submarine horror’ of his imagination. Swift calculates ‘that a Child just born will weigh Twelve Pounds; and in a solar Year, if tolerably nursed, encreaseth to twenty eight Pounds’; as the food will be ‘somewhat dear’, it will be ‘very proper for Landlords; who, as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Title to the Children’.12 In Hughes’s poem, the old image of the cannibalistic Irish, coming through Swift, is savagely conflated in the image of two cannibalistic pike, ‘six pounds each’, one jammed down the other’s gullet. Swift computes that while infants’ flesh will be available throughout the year, it will be ‘more plentiful in March, and a little before and after: For we are told by a grave Author, an eminent French Physician, that Fish being a prolifick Dyet, there are more Children born in Roman Catholic Countries about Nine Months after Lent, than at any other Season’. The number of popish infants being ‘at least, three to one in this Kingdom’, the proposal will have another ‘Collateral Advantage, by lessoning the Number of Papists among us’.13 In ‘Pike’, the speaker watches with morbid curiosity the pike he keeps behind glass as their numbers reduce from three to one – a ratio that echoes Swift’s proposal for reducing the fish-eating Catholic population’s three-to-one ratio of children. The pike’s darkly mocking grin signifies the savage Swiftian humour at work in the poem, which is just subdued enough for its significance to remain elusive. Hughes would again use Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ as a model in his radio play The Wound, broadcast in 1962, where the sergeant rationalizes his cannibalism: ‘These strong lads underfoot… sacks of home-fed weren’t they?... We served them. Why what would their mothers think, us leaving their boys trodden under… Better that we say: “Lady, I took your son into my own blood and brought him back…”’ (W 129). In ‘Pike’ the Swiftian inflection is less overt: the poem toys with its reader, who senses mockery but, like the speaker who looks into
‘The Laureate of Violence’: Hughes and Heaney
nature for the source of his horror, can’t quite place it. This is because it is the ideological use of ‘nature’ – what is culturally encoded as ‘savage’ as opposed to what is ‘civilized’ – that is this poem’s true subject, as it was Swift’s. Planted by a monastery, the pike have popish associations: though their pond is ‘as deep as England’, within its ‘legendary depth’ lurks England’s unconscious, a demonized Catholic Ireland, ‘stilled’ by its civilized and rational colonial landlord (the speaker’s preoccupation with measuring and accounting signifying his rationality), but threatening to rise, as the ‘dream’ or nightmare-pike rise towards the speaker at the end. But if the pike suggest the rude pikes of Irish rebels, commemorated for example by Heaney in ‘Requiem for the Croppies’ – ‘We’d cut through reins and rider with the pike / And stampede cattle into infantry’14 – it is also legitimate to see in the fish an image of English pike-men. The pike in the poem have iron in their eye, underlining the shared linguistic root of their name with that of the iron or steel-headed infantry weapon. As Shakespeare will have reminded Hughes in Henry V, where Pistol tries to ascertain whether the disguised king is a gentleman or ‘base’ by asking ‘Trail’st thou the puissant pike?’, pike-men were commoners. As recently as the nineteenth century pikes were used in arms by the Luddites, bent on smashing the new industrial instruments that reduced their work, one ‘legendary’ attack involving these medieval weapons on a mill in West Yorkshire entering local folklore.15 These kinds of attacks were contemporary with Mary Shelley’s revenge fable, after which Frankenstein’s monster came to serve in the cultural imagination as an image for both English and Irish uprisings. It is this historical fear that ‘Pike’ subliminally evokes. Given his later preoccupation with the meaning of the boar in Venus and Adonis, Hughes might also have remembered Shakespeare’s description in that poem of the ‘battle set / Of bristly pikes’ (ll. 619-20) upon its back. The pike-boar of the poem, Hughes would certainly allow in retrospect, is an emissary of the rejected Goddess, a Goddess who is aligned in Hughes’s imagination with the suppressed Catholicism of Shakespeare’s time – as signalled by the ruined monastery referred to in the poem, and as later elaborated in Hughes’s Shakespeare book, where we learn early on about the historical background of the Tragic Equation (SGCB 74–8). Deeper still in the unconscious of the poem’s pond, and revealed only by a later pike poem which modifies the former, as Hughes came to see his later work as doing, is the ‘sunk stone’ of a ‘wife’ who has ‘frittered away / In housework’ (‘The Pike’) – surely the same ‘furious Brontë figment’ described in a poem on the same page of the Collected Hughes, ‘Sitting under the soot and
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
brick’ of Mexborough (‘Edith’). The pond in ‘Pike’, we now know,16 was on the Crookhill estate nearby – Hughes’s boyhood escape from the industrial hell his mother remained trapped in, certainly in Hughes’s imagination, and site of the sanatorium where miners went to recover. The pond, ‘fifty yards across’ in the earlier poem, is referred to as a ‘measured hole’ in the later poem: no longer portentously deep, at its bottom now is not any emissary from a Goddess, but a ‘heavy’, stony, deadfall weight of feeling attached to a furiously confined mother – a mother who, the later poem reveals, remains finally resistant to the poet’s mythical sublimations and displacements into nature. The later poem re-reads the earlier poem, as if the deeper meaning of the earlier poem had eluded the poet first time round. It uncovers, at bottom, the mundane, but profoundly personalized, historical background of the Goddess: a history of hard work and confinement, of famine, of lives – Irish and English – subdued to their instrument, reduced to a state of nature in the discourse of English culture. This is why Seamus Heaney is probably Hughes’s best reader. When Heaney looks into Hughesian nature, he sees history. In their various ways, Hughes and Larkin and Geoffrey Hill are for Heaney ‘afflicted with a sense of history that was once the peculiar affliction of the poets of other nations who were not themselves natives of England but who spoke the English language… those poets whom we might call colonial’.17 Or for our purposes, Irish. It takes an Irish poet, for whom the heavily politicized land can never simply be ‘nature’, to see that nature is not so simple in Hughes. For Heaney, Hughes’s ‘England of the Mind’, and those of Larkin and Hill, are made up of ‘deposits in the descending storeys of the literary and historical past’. In Hughes’s case, these comprise ‘the northern deposits, the pagan Anglo-Saxon and Norse elements’ which became the Middle English alliterative tradition before going ‘underground to sustain the folk poetry, the ballads, and the ebullience of Shakespeare and the Elizabethans’.18 This is exactly the line Hughes himself traces in his later ‘Myths, Metres, Rhythms’ essay in Winter Pollen. Hughes’s dialect-inflected voice, Heaney says elsewhere, is in opposition to the Larkin voice, the Auden voice, and to the literate English middle-class culture these writers represent. In the same interview, Heaney states the he felt grateful for the ‘release’ Hughes’s poetry gave him, enabling him as it did to see his own region and dialect as the proper ground for poetry.19 The stylistic and thematic influence of Hughes on early Heaney is, as has been noted, obvious, some of Heaney’s early productions reading like pale imitations of Hughes, tipping for one Heaney scholar into pastiche.20 It might appear that Heaney moves out from under Hughes’s shadow as his poetry becomes more overtly
‘The Laureate of Violence’: Hughes and Heaney
political with the beginning of the Troubles in Ireland in 1969. In fact it is in the early and mid-seventies, when Heaney would produce his most politically controversial work, that the influence of Hughes becomes more complex and profound.21 When, searching for an image adequate to the new predicament of Northern Ireland after 1969,22 Heaney came across the Tollund Man – a ‘Bridegroom to the goddess’23 – the image would, far from bringing Heaney clear of Hughes’s influence, plunge him deeper into the latter’s mythical territory. Hughes himself admired and encouraged the bog poems that followed,24 and which resulted in Heaney’s North (1975), a book which saw Heaney dubbed ‘the Laureate of violence – a mythmaker, an anthropologist of ritual killing’.25 It is hard to imagine Heaney’s implicit conflation of Iron Age fertility sacrifice and Republican martyrdom in ‘The Tolland Man’, within the mythical paradigm of renewal through sacrifice to the Goddess of the land, without the example and support of Hughes behind it. In his own writings and comments on Hughes, Heaney insists they are different kinds of animal.26 Heaney casts Hughes as a consonantal poet, a ‘poetwarden’ and ‘vowel-keeper’, whose consonants are Norsemen, Normans and Roundheads, ‘hacking and hedging and hammering down the abundance and luxury and possible lasciviousness of the vowels’.27 In contrast, Heaney projects himself as a poet of Gaelic vowels, of ‘the vowel of earth / dreaming its root’ in ‘Kinship’,28 his consonants providing a ‘soft gradient’ to the ‘vowel meadow’ of the land in ‘Anahorish’.29 The later poem ‘Casting and Gathering’, which was written for Hughes, likens the ‘sharp ratcheting’ of the English poet-fisherman’s line-casts to ‘a speeded-up corncrake’, while Heaney’s own, ‘vice-versa’, are all ‘hush’ and ‘lush’.30 In terms of style, this may be a fair enough characterization, or caricature – Hughes himself could complain of his ‘Puritan idiocy’ in avoiding a word that was ‘too richly apt’ (PC 122). But the association of Hughes with the Normans and with Cromwell’s Puritan Roundheads Heaney makes doesn’t square with Hughes’s own self-image as a poet of the Celtic-Catholic Goddess.31 Again, Heaney’s figuring of himself as a poet of feminine lushness, Hughes of masculine aggressiveness, holds some water – Hughes’s pike and dialectsymbolizing thistles are self-consciously overdone phallic symbols, symbolizing the aggressive ‘shoving forward of the working classes’, to borrow a phrase from Lawrence.32 But as Raphaël Ingelbien has shown, Heaney’s recourse to a Celtic, ‘feminine’ vowel music is largely in response to Hughes33 – or rather, to the version of Hughes that Heaney must project so as not to fall under his shadow. (While Ingelbien is good on Heaney’s creative misreading of Hughes in terms of Heaney’s construction of a national myth, like many before him he
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
can make little sense of ‘the excessive violence that held [Hughes’s] imagination in thrall’.34) Heaney’s difficulty is that he must stake a claim to his own mythical, political and poetic ground. For this reason he is unable to recognize – at least consciously – Hughes as a poet of the rebellious Celtic-Catholic Goddess. By way of his vengeful thistles and warriors of the north, who pay for their plundering of ‘the elaborate, patient gold of the Gaels’ when their blood enters ‘the iron arteries of Calvin’, Hughes is clearly present in Heaney’s North, with its Viking raiders and settlers, ‘hoarders of grudges and gain’ (‘Viking Dublin: Trial Pieces’). What is less clear is the bearing of Hughes on Heaney’s representations of Catholic Ireland as a Goddess. For Heaney, the Troubles express, ‘a struggle between the cults and devotees of a god and a goddess’: ‘There is an indigenous territorial numen, a tutelary of the whole island, call her Mother Ireland, Kathleen Ni Houlihan, the poor old woman, the Shan Van Vocht, whatever; and her sovereignty has been temporarily usurped or infringed by a new male cult whose founding fathers were Cromwell, William of Orange and Edward Carson, and whose godhead is incarnate in a rex or caesar resident in a palace in London’.35 This is an overtly politicized version of Hughes’s myth of the Goddess, rejected by Puritanism. The idea of an indigenous territorial numen in Ireland is explored in Heaney’s poem ‘Bog Queen’, from North. I want to propose that the key influence on this poem is Hughes’s ‘Pike’, and that Heaney’s political rendition of Hughes’s poem in ‘Bog Queen’ in turn has a bearing on Hughes’s later revisiting of the pike theme – this time in Ireland. Heaney’s poem refers to the discovery of a preserved bog body on the Moira estate, south of Belfast, in 1781.36 In the poem the bog queen ‘lay waiting’ – pike-like – ‘on the gravel bottom’, her ‘darkening’ brain ‘fermenting… dreams of Baltic amber’, much as the pike of Hughes’s poem hang in a ‘amber cavern’, in the ‘darkness’ of the speaker’s dream. ‘I rose from the dark’, the bog queen says portentously at the end of Heaney’s poem – alluding to the history of Irish uprisings behind the recent Troubles (Heaney will have seen that the name Moira contains the letters IRA) – just as Hughes’s pike rise from the darkness towards the terrified speaker at the end of that poem. What might seem, on the face of it, a case of one poet adopting the template of another’s poem as a frame to view his own, quite different concerns, is in effect an unerringly accurate – if inadvertent – unearthing of the political meaning of the former poem. There is nothing to my knowledge in Heaney that suggests he read Hughes’s ‘Pike’ as a poem about Ireland, but this is in effect what ‘Bog Queen’ does. This coincidence of meaning is clinched by the reference to the Frankenstein-like
‘The Laureate of Violence’: Hughes and Heaney
appearance of the bog queen as she rises at the end of Heaney’s poem, with her ‘hacked bone, skull-ware, / frayed stitches’. We have seen how both Irish nationalism and the English working class were figured as Frankenstein monsters in nineteenth-century discourse on these subjects, and how Ireland came to figure as England’s unconscious in this respect – as brute nature, hunger, violence, to England’s culture. Heaney is certainly alluding to the old English fears of the Irish Frankenstein at the end of ‘Bog Queen’, hence the self-consciously portentous note. The same discourse produced also the mechanized monster, ‘subdued to its instrument’, that was the English industrial working class – an old image Hughes will allude to in ‘On the Reservations’, his poem about the defeated miners of the 1984–5 miners’ strike, with its reference to ‘the lads’ produced ‘In the laboratories / Between Mersey and Humber ’. While Heaney needs to cast himself and Hughes as different animals to lay claim to his own poetic territory, both poets remain crossed at a deep inter-textual level in relation to the discursive tradition they recall, ‘Bog Queen’ employing ‘Pike’ to this end. Heaney arrives at Hughes’s meaning unintentionally then, it would seem, but no less accurately for that. Reading Hughes’s poem through Heaney’s enables us to see more clearly the political nature of the monster that lurks beneath the surface of the pond in ‘Pike’. It is an Irish as much as an English monster, as the poem’s colour scheme, the reference to Catholicism, and the echoes of Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ suggest. If this is something which Heaney intuits, but is unable to admit, what then must Hughes have made of Heaney’s use of ‘Pike’ in ‘Bog Queen’ – a poem which brings out the latent meaning of its model poem with uncanny precision? The answer lies in yet another pike poem Hughes wrote, this time explicitly linked to Ireland, and entitled ‘The Great Irish Pike’. The poem was written in 1982, but was never collected – indeed, given its political meaning, Hughes’s appointment as Poet Laureate two years later would have rendered its appearance in any post-Laureate collection impossible. When considered in light of its political moment, the note of defiance struck by the poem’s title can be heard more clearly. ‘Great’ is, of course, the adjective attached to Britain: here it is wrenched out of place, fixed instead onto Britain’s unconscious – a brutal, famished Ireland, returned in the aspect of the Republican hunger strikers. This is a poem very much of its moment. The hunger strikes and dirty protests of the time are imaged in typical Hughes mode by the pike’s ‘show of fangs’ as it ‘tried to protest’; by the poem’s emphasis on the fish’s abject flesh, ‘gilled’, ‘slimed’; and on its ‘criminal’, ‘Vermin’ nature. Hughes now saw the effect of ‘the “customary social and humanitarian values” of England’s stranglehold
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
policy on Ireland’ (WP 265) bodied forth in a particularly stark and brutal way. ‘Crime is crime is crime, it is not political’, Margaret Thatcher had insisted, refusing to allow the dirty protestors and hunger strikers special category status. The ‘condemned’ Irish pike of Hughes’s poem is ‘the criminal norm’ – ‘No trial for those eyes’ alluding to the policy of internment, disastrously introduced by the British government in the 1970s (in principle to be applied impartially across the sectarian divide, but in practice used only against Catholics when introduced, thereby entrenching and hardening opinions in nationalist areas37). The poem’s high degree of topicality is unusual in Hughes, suggesting his strength of feeling at the spectacle of the deadlocked, stranglehold situation in Northern Ireland. The media ban on Sinn Fein politicians and use of voiceovers on the news is also alluded to: trying to protest, the pike’s fangs ‘emptied the hearing’. The ‘Virgin’ who condemns the pike recalls the Virgin Queen’s campaign in Ireland, and her suppression of Catholicism in England – a religious war associated in Hughes’s imagination with the demonization of nature in the Bible (the pike have fallen asleep in Job in the poem, only to wake in ‘The Book of Vermin’). The Irish pike is beheaded by a ‘hired German’: the current Elizabeth presumably, conflated with her bloody namesake. Painted out of the narrative of ‘human progress’, the pike has an outlet in Freudian ‘nightmare returns only’. Hughes’s sense here seems to be that the meaning of his pike cannot be limited to a traditional Freudian conception of the instinctual unconscious. The poem demands to be understood in terms of the historical forces which have constructed a monster in order to condemn it, and which have ultimately determined its contemporary nightmare return. A more personal note is sounded in the ‘Sunday bells’ in ‘the straightened souls of our grandmothers’, which atomize the pike. Here Hughes’s Irish grandfather is remembered – the ‘seed / Of the Great Hunger’ described in ‘Familiar’, who also escaped ‘the Sabbath / Toll of the valley prison’. Viewing the hunger strikers in the Maze Prison through a prism comprised both of family history and historical discourse, the poem resists Thatcher’s pronouncement that ‘Crime is crime is crime’. The poem is, in effect, ‘Pike’ rewritten after passing through Heaney’s ‘Bog Queen’, in the new context of the situation in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. Just as the bog queen lay waiting ‘between turf-face and demesne wall’ – between Ireland as ‘nature’ and the culture of a colonial landed estate – so Hughes’s Great Irish pike lay ‘Between the mud bed’, with its ‘bronze daggers and gold fibulae’, and reeds ‘guarded’ by artificial herons. Here Hughes evokes the terrain of Heaney’s North, a ground littered with bones, diadems, gemstones, archeological finds, ‘the bearings of history’ (‘Bog Queen’). The
‘The Laureate of Violence’: Hughes and Heaney
poem’s final reference to the ‘resurrection of Valhalla’, hall of slain heroes in Norse mythology, resurrects a central trope of North, in which contemporary sectarian violence and old Viking codes of honour and vengeance are aligned. In referencing the Heaney of North, ‘The Great Irish Pike’ belatedly confirms Heaney’s transposing of the earlier ‘Pike’ to Ireland in ‘Bog Queen’, revealing that it was in fact there all along. Hughes’s description of the ‘falsetto’ witnesses against the pike in ‘The Great Irish Pike’ repeats Heaney’s own eschewal of the ‘fake taste’ of the discourse of ‘The “voice of sanity”’ in North – ‘“They’re murderers.” “Internment, understandably…”’ (‘Whatever You Say Say Nothing’). Heaney said his intention in the bog poems was to ‘grant the religious intensity of the violence its deplorable authenticity and complexity’.38 This is also Hughes’s purpose in ‘The Great Irish Pike’. The poem reminds us of the old Laureate of violence who predates the Poet Laureate, and who – as we shall see in Chapter 4 – will remain on a submerged level naggingly resistant to that project.
Redundant Energy: Mythical Reworkings
Hughes’s oft-quoted pronouncement that ‘The story of the mind exiled from Nature is the story of Western Man’ seems to give us, in a nutshell, the essential Hughes: the shaman poet, putting us back in touch with nature, Being. His counterpart is the committed conservationist, for ‘The history of Conservation is also the history of this opposition against it’ (WP 129–30) – the ‘it’ in question being the Developer, big business, the profit motive. ‘The Environmental Revolution’ article of 1970 does indeed offer a kind of master key to Hughes, because a little closer attention to these statements, the one serving as redress to the other, reveals the famous sentence on which they are modelled, and which they subliminally echo. Both of the above-quoted sentences mimic the famous opening sentence of Marx and Engels’s The Communist Manifesto: ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’.1 For Marx and Engels’s Bourgeois and Proletarians, Hughes substitutes Western Man and Nature; instead of Communist revolution – an idea that held little appeal in the Cold War era – we now have an environmental revolution. It is a slick rhetorical trick, but the displacement of one big idea by the next one here is only partially completed. When Hughes gets down to what he means by Western Man – the ideology of ‘profit and use’, ‘the mindless greed’ of big industry, the ‘shameless dealing’ of governments who protect it (WP 129–30) – he finds himself back under the shadow of Marx and Engels, of their critique of ‘the giant, Modern Industry’, and of the ‘naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation’ conducted under the name of ‘Free Trade’.2 In a less obvious way, Hughes’s Nature – exiled, demonized, there for Man’s profit and use – also remains linked by association to Marx and Engels, being ‘leagued with everything occult, spiritualistic, devilish, over-emotional, bestial, mystical, feminine, crazy, revolutionary, and poetic’ (WP 132). As Hughes must have known, Communism also was leagued with
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
everything occult, devilish, revolutionary: ‘A spectre is haunting Europe’, as Marx and Engels had sardonically put it – ‘the spectre of Communism’, and ‘All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcize this spectre’. They go on to compare bourgeois society, a society ‘that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange’, to a sorcerer, who ‘is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells’.3 We have seen how Hughes’s critique of violence in relation to ‘customary social and humanitarian values’ is essentially a post-Marxist insight into the relationship between ideology and invisible violence. Here, as Hughes makes a rallying cry for Conservation, he draws self-consciously on Marx and Engels: the polemical intent being to herald the next, more fundamental revolution. Yet the spectre of Marx and Engels, of class struggle, isn’t quite exorcized, and in this the piece betrays a deeper pattern that runs throughout Hughes’s major works of the 1970s. In each of the major mythical books of this period – Crow (1970, 1972), Gaudete (1977) and Cave Birds (1978) – Hughes variously pursues his theme of the Western mind exiled from Nature. Each sequence is projected as a failed – or at best only partially or provisionally successful – quest or mission or ritual to overcome this division, in interests of Complete Being. And each of these books is haunted in its way by the spectre of another type of division, another history than that of the Western mind and Nature, though not unrelated to it on the associative levels that Hughes’s imagination operates on. This repressed history fully surfaces in Remains of Elmet, published in 1979, after Hughes’s mythical resources are seemingly exhausted. Here class struggle, alienated labour, redundant energy find expression as themes in their own right, as Hughes addresses the industrial heritage that shaped his early childhood and family life in the Calder Valley. The sequence – and its later incarnation, Elmet (1994) – certainly gives expression to the escapist desire for a healing return to nature that Hughes has been criticized for, for all traces of ‘Chapels, chimneys, roofs’ to be washed away, leaving only ‘the laughter of foxes’ (‘Chinese History of Colden Water’). But the Marxist critic should be wary here of what seems too easy a ride. Both editions end on an uncharacteristically dark and troubling note: both ‘The Angel’ (Remains of Elmet) and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ (Elmet) intimate the work of healing is not done. More of a challenge for the Marxist critic, perhaps, is to take Hughes’s Calder Valley sequence in relation to the mythical books of the period – as filling in the historical backdrop to these works, the material base to the mythic superstructures, as it were. It is in Remains of Elmet that we find the origin of the name Lumb, the demon of Lawrentian-phallic energy who wreaks havoc in a southern English
Redundant Energy: Mythical Reworkings
village in Gaudete, in the so-called ‘Lumb’ mill chimneys of the Calder Valley – a place where, as Hughes remembers it, all that happened seemed to happen elsewhere, ‘since in England the world seems to lie to the south’.4 Before the Lumb chimneys can ‘flower again’, they must fall ‘into the only future, into earth’ (‘Lumb Chimneys’). In Gaudete, the Reverend Lumb is led into ‘subterranean darkness’ (G 13), before his double emerges into the English May-time, and gets straight to work cuckolding all the men in what seems in this light a fantasy of revenge against the South. As with Lumb, the demonic creative energy of Crow is another counterpoint to the ‘redundant energy’ described in Remains of Elmet – here in the form of weasels, ‘the demons who did all the labouring’ in the ‘time-long Creation’ of the place (‘The Weasels We Smoked out of The Bank’), much as Crow works on Creation while God sleeps. It is also in Remains of Elmet that the more personal meaning of Cave Birds is intimated. The mythical bird-beings of the ‘alchemical cave drama’ find a reflection in the ‘giant beating wing’ of the Calder Valley and the ‘living feathers’ of Hughes’s family in the poem ‘Heptonstall Cemetery’, bringing the abstruse story of Socratic rationality/error back home. Reading the mythical narratives alongside Hughes’s industrial sequence will enable us to see how these works are linked in a kind of dialectical loop. Considered this way, the mythical books cannot be taken to simply represent Hughes’s flight from an intractable history – a mother’s hardworking confined life, a father’s traumatic war – in order to redeem a nature goddess, and so assuage what is essentially a social guilt. (That such guilt is irrational does not make it any less real.) Instead we will see how the mythologized goddesses in these narratives, who are leagued with everything occult, devilish, bestial and revolutionary, ultimately deliver Hughes home again. We are dealing here not with any one-way flight, but with a to-and-fro dialectic between a projected Complete Being and the deprivations of a social world from whence that projection is made. In both Crow and Gaudete, the carnivalesque is Hughes’s mode for staging this dialectic – an unlikely form for Complete Being. (That Hughes felt deeply uncomfortable with the more ‘baroque’, ‘cold’, ‘abstract’ form of Cave Birds is telling [PC 54, 57, 61].) The energy of Crow and Gaudete is produced by mismatches, clashes, incongruities, the mixing of the sacred with the profane – of cartoons with biblical scenarios in Crow; or in Gaudete, of Lawrentian evocations of nature within a farcical sexual narrative that has as much to do with sex comedies of the time like Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974) as it does with any Blakean-Lawrentian cleansing of perception. As well as being
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
the most mythical of Hughes’s major works, the books of this period, and in particular Crow and Gaudete, are also his most playfully self-conscious. The accent here is firmly on farce, failure, misrecognition, self-parody, utopian dead-ends. Crow bungles all encounters with his creator, Hughes explained when performing the poems,5 while in the Epilogue poems of Gaudete, Lumb reappears in Ireland, to find his ‘circus’-like soul is ‘the usual mess of squabbles’ (G 177–8), his speech an endless Lacanian ‘Eking and deferring / Like a stupid or a crafty doctor’ (G 176). It is important to differentiate the utopian wish for Complete Being that underlies these mythical books from their carnivalesque form, which does not permit the closure necessary to the utopian project. The distinction proposed by Fredric Jameson between utopian wish and utopian form is useful here. By utopian form, Jameson refers to the written text or genre, after Thomas More’s Utopia, while the utopian wish is that which is detectable in daily life, in everything from political reforms to advertising.6 Plainly, Hughes’s books are not modelled on the utopian form inaugurated by Thomas More, and Hughes took a dim view of the type of utopian ‘vision of a new culture’ projected in Lawrence, which, as Hughes points out, ‘reality will always find wanting’ (PC 28). Both Crow and Gaudete, though, evoke Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a book often credited as being the first sci-fi novel, with its dark twist on Romantic utopian projects. ‘Crow Improvises’ describes a series of improvised experiments that attempt to bring together disparate aspects of history, nature, science, religion and human experience, the resulting calamitous ‘sparks’ calling up Victor Frankenstein’s botched quest to spark the perfect form into life. In ‘Crow’s Battle Fury’, Crow himself is remodelled as a Frankenstein creation after suffering a bout of uncontainable laughter – his face and guts are glued and stitched back into position, and a dead man’s eyes and heart plugged and screwed in, his uncertain, staggered steps at the end bringing to mind the old horror film images of Shelley’s monster. These references to Mary Shelley’s fable of a Romantic-utopian quest to create the consummate being hardly bode well for Crow’s quest for his bride or creator, as Hughes presented it in performance.7 In Gaudete, the main narrative, which is set in a southern English village, is at one point displaced into a thundery mountain landscape, where Lumb encounters the ‘dark shape’ of his double, which ‘Bounds’ towards him with ‘unnatural agility’ in the icy rain (pp. 77–83), just as the ‘shape’ of the creature had ‘bounded’ with ‘superhuman speed’ towards a showdown with his creator in the similarly gothic-sublime mountain setting, complete with lightning and rain, of Shelley’s book.8 As in Crow, Frankenstein is again a pronounced
Redundant Energy: Mythical Reworkings
presence in Gaudete, and in ways that serve to undermine the utopian theme of a new religion based on women. Later in the narrative, in another dream-like displacement, the ‘baboon woman’ whom Lumb encounters and is ‘delivered of ’ has a face ‘as if sewn together from several faces’, a Frankenstein monster face, ‘Alive and electrical’ (pp. 104–5). In an allusion to the myth of Actaeon, Lumb then sees her face ‘undeformed and perfect’, but is immediately ‘Blinded’ again (p. 106), before being later hunted down ‘like a hurt stag’ (p. 162). Lumb’s glimpse of this undeformed face, far from being utopian in character, is at the cost of the cancellation not only of himself, but also the narrative, the mythicalutopian enterprise. Asked about confessional poetry in a late interview, Hughes reflected that ‘Maybe all poetry… is a revealing of something that the writer doesn’t actually want to say, but desperately needs to communicate, to be delivered of ’, something which ‘leaks out obliquely, smuggled through analogies’.9 Plath is alluded to in the Epilogue poems of Gaudete, but in the type of confessionalism she bequeathed to Hughes in poems like ‘Daddy’, marriage breakdown and suicide are viewed against a deterministic blueprint of older family (and cultural) issues. The birth imagery of Lumb’s deliverance from the baboon woman indicates that it is not primarily Plath whom Hughes is being subliminally delivered of here, any more than it is primarily Hughes whom Plath is being delivered of in ‘Daddy’. Hughes’s mother Edith, who poured her dreams of freedom into her younger son, and for whom he felt he wrote, remains nameless in the mythical works because of Hughes’s ‘diabolical fear of subjectivity’ at this time (PC 286). In Gaudete, she appears only in negative: all analogies, myths, collapse after the baboon woman’s face is glimpsed ‘undeformed’; Lumb is cancelled, the Argument tells us, when he forgets his religious calling, and begins to feel a ‘nostalgia’ for ‘ordinary human life’ (p. 9). Lumb’s encounter with the baboon woman in a crater of mud comes after his discovery of the women of the village buried up to their necks in mud. The imagery of this episode recalls Beckett’s play Happy Days, in which the main protagonist Winnie is buried up to her waist, and later to her neck. ‘Why doesn’t he dig her out?’ she recalls a passer-by asking in reference to her husband, Willie.10 The allusion to Beckett is significant, as Hughes would go on to defend Crow against the charge of nihilism by sharply differentiating the world of Trickster from the absurd, nihilistic world of Black Comedy he associated with the playwright. On the face of it, Lumb’s attempt to help out the baboon woman might be construed as a response to Beckettian hopelessness, as Hughes understood it. But the scene is ambiguous, to say the least. Lumb’s attempt to help
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
quickly turns into an attempted escape as the woman holds him in a paralysing embrace. Once ‘free’ of her, he ‘flounders – away, anywhere further away’ (p. 106). Read in the light of a son’s guilty inability to free his mother of her past, the scene suggests a very different response to Beckett to that of Crow’s earlier ‘creative joy’ (WP 239). A crucial difference is that Crow was written before the death of Hughes’s mother, and abandoned once she had died. Gaudete was worked on after her death. The subjective truths brought home by a mother’s death, when glimpsed ‘undeformed’ by mythical obliquity and analogy, can only leave the Goddess exposed as a Frankenstein creation, stitched together over unhealed wounds. The meaning of Beckett’s overshadowing of the scene now becomes clear. Rather than being outstripped by any representation of mythical, life-affirming phallic energy, as in Crow, the Absurdist playwright – whose characters remain trapped, waiting for deliverance – is now conceded to. Of course, with regard to Hughes’s inter-texts, a Marxist critic might be expected to point out the significance of what Hughes leaves out, occludes, or distorts. In Shelley’s novel, for instance, the moment where the creature meets his maker again is where the creature’s narrative is initiated. The two talk, rather than fight it out, for the creature is intent on making Frankenstein understand his Godwinian account of how misery made him a fiend, and his resulting classconsciousness, his awareness of ‘the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty; of rank, descent, and noble blood’.11 Where Frankenstein, who wants to fight, is constrained to hear the creature’s tale, in the parallel scene in Gaudete the two Lumbs simply close in combat without a word. The division of property as an issue is elided in the interests of pursuing a mythical Tragic Equation, involving rival brothers’ myths and a goddess of undivided Being. This is typical of Hughes’s tendency to occlude the overt social dimension of his sources (the class antagonisms of Lawrence’s ‘The Fox’ in ‘The Thought-Fox’, the cannibalistic Irish of Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ in ‘Pike’, The Communist Manifesto in Hughes’s ‘The Environmental Revolution’ article). It is a pattern repeated in relation to the use of another, more contemporary sci-fi source in Gaudete, John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos (1957). Wyndham’s novel was made into the film Village of the Damned in 1962, not long before Hughes began work on Gaudete as a film script in 1964.12 (‘I simply wanted to make a lot of money by writing film scripts’, he confessed.13) In Wyndham’s novel, all the women of a sleepy English village become pregnant after a mysterious silver object appears, rendering everyone in the area unconscious for a while. Speculation follows that the villagers have been indulging in ‘orgiastic goings-on’, in ‘one of those fine old uninhibited rustic frenzies on Hallowe’en’.14
Redundant Energy: Mythical Reworkings
The result is a group of ‘changeling’ children, whose telepathic powers and Darwinian instinct for survival soon prove unsettling. At one point the men of the village assemble in the local pub, where they resolve to burn down the school with the cuckoo children inside. The parallels with Hughes’s story/film script – the cuckolded men, the actual orgiastic goings-on, the men gathering in the village pub bent on doing something about it – are clear. Wyndham’s apocalyptic visions seem to have exercised quite a hold over Hughes’s own apocalyptic imaginings. ‘Ghost Crabs’, with its crab-like creatures which emerge at nightfall ‘like a packed trench of helmets’, and which ruffle dreams as they tear each other to pieces, owes something to Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes (1953), with its mysterious ‘sea-tanks’ that emerge at night to pull people to pieces: ‘Some people don’t easily forget things like that’, someone points out in Wyndham’s novel. ‘They are apt to break through when one is asleep’15 (though the idea for the last line of Hughes’s poem, which describes the crabs as ‘God’s only toys’, is provided by the Midwich child who patiently tries to explain that ‘We are all, you see, toys of the life-force’16). The Triffids, Wyndham’s walking predatory plants, are the prototype for the various mobile and predatory plants of the children’s book Moon Whales and Other Moon Poems. Wyndham has been characterized as the ‘master of the cosy catastrophe’, his sci-fi a genteel, respectable, English affair17 – but Hughes’s relation to Wyndham is by no means the same as his relation to what he saw as the ‘cosy’ provincialism of the Movement, or to what A. Alvarez dubbed the ‘gentility principle’ in English verse.18 On a superficial level it is perhaps not hard to see why Wyndham’s Darwinian parables would have appealed to Hughes, given Hughes’s own supposed Darwinian primitivism; but as has been pointed out, Wyndham’s apocalypses are the occasion for searching social critiques that bear comparison with Marxist critiques of late capitalist modernity, the type of which went on to play a part in the student protests and environmental movements of the 1960s.19 As with Hughes’s use of Frankenstein, it is these elements of overt social critique in Wyndham that are elided in Hughes. This suppression in Hughes of the overt social dimensions of his literary sources is easy to demonstrate, but for the Marxist critic to stop here, having shown Hughes’s reputed flight from history into a mythicized nature, would be to stop well short of identifying how nature and myth actually operate in Hughes’s poetry. The real event in Hughes is the return of the repressed, of the personal and historical material that necessitates in the first place the turn to nature – something which the later, ‘confessional’ Hughes is perfectly aware of. Nature in Hughes – the point bears repeating – reflects back the very world
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
of industrial labour it once provided refuge from in another life, in the form of the paradises of Hughes’s childhood nature reserves at Mytholmroyd and Mexborough. In an analogous way, Hughes’s mythical constructions – frameworks for pursuing a utopia of the body, of Being – are also subject to a return of the repressed, which forestalls realization of the utopian wish. Everywhere we hear from Hughes himself that his myths are only partial, provisional, how the real thing is deferred. The utopian desire of the mythical works – Crow’s would-be marriage to his bride, Lumb’s new religion – is knowingly derailed, and in Gaudete at least, subject to a spectacular self-parody. Jameson’s reading of Bakhtin’s notion of the carnivalesque in relation to utopianism is particularly pertinent to Hughes in this respect. For Jameson, the carnivalesque ‘moment of freedom’, while itself partaking of the utopian wish, nevertheless places that wish ‘under a great strain, inasmuch as it constitutes a kind of vanishing mediator after whose disappearance order is sure to be restored’.20 Both Crow’s Trickster-ish licence, the ‘playful-savage burlesque’ which allows him to fill up life ‘with self-sufficient meaning’ (WP 241, 239), and Lumb’s religious-sexual moment of freedom, are carnivalesque holidays from closed forms. The expression of their ‘indestructible’ phallic energy is therefore doomed to repetition, as Hughes said (WP 241). Crow flies off, gets blasted to nothing, reappears in the next poem, like the cartoon figures on which he is partly based;21 Lumb is hunted down by the men of the village so that order might be restored, only for him to pop up again in Ireland, composing his hymns and psalms to an elusive and nameless female deity. The spectacular freedoms enjoyed by Crow and Lumb in the name of a female deity are the imaginative counterpart of a mother’s dreams of spectacular freedom (LTH 699), taken on by her son – a mother who remains nameless and elusive in these works. The use of carnival forms, which doom Hughes to repetition, finally reflect not so much the simple idea of phallic energy, as this deeper, impossible undertaking. Hughes’s Goddess finally resists all forms, all names, because she has a form and a name that the writer doesn’t actually want to say, but which he desperately needs to communicate obliquely, to be delivered of through analogy – a form and a name which makes Hughes more accurately a poet of a goddess of incomplete being. But leaving aside for a moment the question of a mother the poet is helpless to help, for he cannot change the past, there are more immediate social reasons for the carnivalesque incompletion of Crow and Gaudete. During the Cold War, Jameson reminds us, the notion of Utopia had become a synonym for Stalinism.22 We have seen how Hughes evokes The Communist Manifesto to
Redundant Energy: Mythical Reworkings
replace it with an environmentalist rallying call. By the same token, we saw how Hughes’s trumping of Marx and Engels was at best partial, incomplete – the enemy (big business, the profit motive) remaining virtually the same. Hughesian Nature, by virtue of being leagued with everything occult, crazy and revolutionary, also remains in league with the Loony Left, and the spectre of Communism. With a Marxist Utopia unavailable to writers of his generation, Hughes turns instead to a Utopia of the body, nature – but paradoxically, nature itself is rendered as disruptive, violent, carnivalesque energy, which will not lend itself to a utopian form. The 1970s was a time when environmentalism was fashionable, particularly among the world of middle-class professionals, teachers and artists – a world represented in Punch as a world of ‘wholemeal bread, encounter therapy, finger painting, dabbling in the occult, nudity’.23 The historian Dominic Sandbrook has described how, along with the associated fads for astrology and Eastern religion, ‘At one level, conservationism was an exercise in nostalgic escapism, a way of banishing the depressing headlines about strikes, terrorism and inflation’. The movement easily lent itself to a form of reactionary conservatism – a ‘returning to a supposedly more settled, orderly age, when Britain still ruled the waves, the lower orders knew their place and tower blocks did not yet blight the horizon’.24 This backward-looking aspect of the movement we can see in Larkin, whose conservationist poem, ‘Going, Going’, bemoans the crowd in the M1 café, their kids screaming for more houses, more caravan sites, more pay. Hughes’s conservationism is not so simplistic. Hughes didn’t share Larkin’s reactionary sense of an old England of shadows, meadows, lanes, of guildhalls and carved choirs; still, he must have regarded with some misgivings the current faddishness of his own, long-held interest in occult matters, in world religion and in astrology – at least on the evidence of the representation of nudity and occult goings-on in Gaudete. This latter form of escapism – the fad for everything green, alternative, natural – is the subject of the poem ‘A Green Mother’, in Cave Birds. The pickand-mix conservationist culture of the time, its embracing of the occult and of alternative religions, is likened in the poem to a ‘city of religions’ – ‘like a city of hotels, a holiday city’. In none of these places ‘is the aftertaste of death / Pronounced poor’. The green mother of the poem ‘wipes her child’s face clean’ of blood and tears, much as in ‘Chinese History of Colden Water’, from Elmet, nature washes away an oppressive history of ‘Chapels, chimneys, roofs’. Where ‘Chinese History’ gives expression to a utopian wish to escape history – though paradoxically the poem itself is a ‘History’ – ‘A Green Mother’ satirizes the utopian forms of this desire: the consumer-culture of green lifestyles and
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
religions, which the poem indicts as an escape from the spectre of poverty. There is a nagging sense in the poem that the green mother’s holiday hotels are available only to those with leisure and means to buy into this fashionable, predominantly middle-class culture. Sandbrook points out that ‘A common criticism of groups like Friends of the Earth was that they were merely opportunities for spoiled middle-class do-gooders to get together and indulge their bleeding hearts, and that they offered nothing to working-class households who supposedly had neither the time nor the money to worry about footling issues like the future of the planet’.25 It is for the same reasons of class – Hughes’s long memory of poverty, which is both personal and historical – that he could not fully identify with the middle-class bias of the conservationism he nevertheless held dear. The two worlds which collide in Gaudete are not, strictly speaking, nature and culture, but two cultures which have appropriated nature in different ways: the alternative, futuristic, mushroom-eating, herb-burning, occult religion of Lumb – the guise in which Hughes now parodies his own utopian Goddess worship as it is reflected in contemporary cultural forms – and the old, backward looking, ‘natural’ order of a southern English village in which everyone has their place, from ex-military colonial types like Major Hagen and Commander Estridge to Garten, the poacher. Lumb is the vanishing, carnivalesque mediator that causes these utopian social forms to clash, his reappearance in Ireland at the end mirroring Hughes’s repeated flights to his spiritual home. His social origins also lie elsewhere. The reason Lumb cannot realize his utopian wish in the utopian social form of a new religion has to do with these origins, which are recalled in his name. This repressed meaning returns in the main narrative at the point where Lumb tries to escape the men near the end. Trying to recharge, he hugs a tree, sinking his nerves ‘into the current of the powerline’ – only to experience his ‘separateness’, as the tree boles become ‘bleak as ruins’. Here the landscape in effect ceases to be that of a southern English village in May: the sky is now ‘empty’, the sun ‘without illusion of any sort’, conveying to Lumb ‘a poisonous thinness like the taste of pennies’, its shadows ‘prisonlike and depressing, / Hard-cut as machinery’. Every grass blade now ‘wears its affliction of shadow’ (G 156–7). In a kind of epiphany, nature has taken on the aspect it wears in Remains of Elmet, with its ‘poverty grass, poverty stone, / Poverty thin water’ (‘Light Falls Through Itself ’). As a prelude to this change of face, the shamanic pipe and drum music at the Women’s Institute meeting – a meeting which brings the main narrative to its crisis – conjures not any elemental spirit, but rather the idea of a ‘repetitive machine’, of ‘slogging, deadly, repetitive labour’
Redundant Energy: Mythical Reworkings
(G 139). Lumb’s namesake poem ‘Lumb Chimneys’, in Remains of Elmet (1979), describes the ‘slogging world’ of the industrial Calder Valley, Hughes’s first childhood home. Lumb’s symbolic end is in his name – his running away in this sense a lacerating self-parody of the tree-hugger in Hughes, who would flee the ‘slogging world’ of his background into a healing, mythologized nature. This world of ‘charred black chimneys’ is evoked in the Prologue before the action switches south (G 11). It is a world devastated in Hughes’s imagination by the First World War and the Industrial Revolution. The ‘oppressive’ northern town where we first meet Lumb (G 11), before he is led away to the underworld to attend to the ailing half-animal woman, is piled with corpses. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the miners of Tevershall had seemed like ‘half-corpses’ to Connie, but ‘with a terrible insistent consciousness in the other half ’: ‘There was something uncanny and underground about it all’, she reflects: ‘It was an underworld’.26 Hughes may take his cue from Lawrence when Lumb is removed from the northern town into an underworld; but while they might be coming from the same place, Hughes is no longer singing from the same hymn sheet. Lawrence’s utopian notion of the phallic regeneration of England, of a new ‘true phallic marriage’ – ‘For the phallus is only the great old symbol of godly vitality in man’27 – becomes the stuff of farce in Gaudete. Hughes parts company with Lawrence at the point where the utopian wish (for regeneration, Complete Being) becomes a projected utopian form (a new phallic marriage). This type of vision will always be found wanting by reality, Hughes felt, and his work remains stubbornly resistant to it. The social reality that finds the mythical enterprise in Gaudete wanting, complicating Hughes’s relation to the conservationism of the period, is contemporary as well as historical. This reality can be better brought out by comparing the description of Lumb’s flight with the similar description of a fox’s flight in the poem ‘Foxhunt’, from Moortown Diary (1979) – a collection which, in its grim focus on the manual labour of farming, provides a further material counterpoint to the mythical works of the period. As Lumb runs he finds his lungs are ‘not those of a wolf or even a fox’; nevertheless, as he is forced to push on, he is ‘foxy-cautious and alert’ (G 155, 160). In ‘Foxhunt’, the ‘gruff military barkers’ of the hunt have ‘tripped over’ a fox, who must run till his legs ‘turn to iron’. In Gaudete, the men’s shouts ‘catch and trip’ Lumb, who feels as if his blood were ‘pouring through iron channels’ (G 159, 156). He is finally caught in the sights of Major Hagen’s Mannlicher ·318. The significance of these overlapping descriptions of chases, with their militaristic, establishment-representing pursuers, lies in what shadows ‘Foxhunt’. It also lies behind Lumb’s failed attempt to recharge
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
himself from the ‘powerline’ of a tree. In a way typical of Hughes’s use of nature to reflect industrial activity, in ‘Foxhunt’ the noise of the hounds is described as ‘rusty, reluctant / Rolling stock being shunted’. The year is still in its ‘pit’, mustering its energy ‘to start opening again’; lambs are ‘organizing their gangs’. The poem was written on 27 December 1975. Memories of the miners’ strikes of 1972 and 1974 – the latter prompting the General Election in which Ted Heath’s Tory government was ousted – are condensed in the imagery of the poem. The strike of 1972 had caused the power cuts that are a part of everyone’s memories of the 1970s. In the 1974 strike, the railway-men had joined the miners in their industrial action for higher pay, and the country was on a three-day week to try to stave off power shortages. The government had declared its fifth state of emergency in three years, and there was talk of the military stepping in as the country seemed to teeter on the brink of anarchy or revolution.28 These political emergencies are glanced at askance in ‘Foxhunt’, with its sense of nature-asindustry (the pit, rolling stock) opening for work again after a shutdown, while in Gaudete, the power cut is in nature: Lumb, hunted like a fox, finds he cannot connect with nature’s powerlines. ‘Foxhunt’ also recalls Hughes’s Cambridge fox dream. In the poem the fox’s feet are imagined as ‘raw blood-sticks’, just as in the dream the fox’s hands are burned and bloody. Hughes writes down ‘Foxhunt’ as the fox runs, which also recalls ‘The Thought-Fox’, where the page is printed as the poet imagines a fox. Thought-fox, dream fox, hunted fox, and Lumb are thus aligned. While this aligning of personal, poetic and historical associations can hardly be taken to indicate a solidarity with the miners’ actions of the early 1970s, it is not unrelated to Hughes’s sense of the Tory establishment as the ‘enemy’ – a term Hughes would use in reference to the miners’ sense of embattlement after the 1984 strike (LTH 566). ‘Foxhunt’ evokes more clearly than Gaudete the strikes, shutdowns, states of emergency and power cuts, which marked indelibly the early 1970s. This same political context exerts its pressure on Gaudete in less obvious, but more revealing, ways, compromising the flight into nature – Lumb’s attempt to empty his body ‘of all its history’ (G 158) – to the extent that it collapses into self-parody. No longer ushering Lumb/Hughes towards ‘glowing hieroglyphs of endowment’ (G 164), nature now mirrors back a history of social division that, after the supposedly classless 1960s, had returned emphatically in the early 1970s, as again the spectre of Communism loomed large in some people’s fears (if less so in reality). In this way, Gaudete answers to Jameson’s sense that the best Utopias ‘are those that fail the most comprehensively’, by revealing how our imaginations are ‘hostages to our own mode of production (and perhaps to whatever remnants of
Redundant Energy: Mythical Reworkings
past ones it has preserved)’.29 Hughes’s imagination, it is revealed in Gaudete, is finally hostage to ‘the slogging world’ he would return to in Remains of Elmet, to a sense of social deprivation and struggle and hunger which nature’s fullness can only in the end, for Hughes, serve to reflect, not eradicate. Hughes’s would-be Utopias, to adjust Jameson’s formula, don’t so much illuminate the historical conditions of their possibility30 as register these conditions as violent disruption, a return of the repressed which prevents exactly the kind of totalizing closure and transcendence which Marxist critics have been too quick to attribute to Hughes. In an early response to Crow, for example, Terry Eagleton proposed that in these poems ‘the inviolable security of myth’ had ‘replaced, rather than confronted, the contingencies of history, as simple compensation’. Noting Crow’s cartoon-like quality, Eagleton reads the cartoon hero, ‘battered and flattened by the full force of a sinister technology yet stubbornly unkillable’, as a ‘fantasy response to the actual dilemmas of oppression and insecurity in contemporary society.’ While Eagleton allows that this technique ‘may work as art when it takes serious measure of the recalcitrant material it confronts’, this is not his sense of Crow.31 This early Marxist take on Crow – the idea that Hughes turns to myth as it ‘provides a measure of freedom, transcendence, representativeness, a sense of totality’ which is lacking in social life32 – is worth taking up, as it is variously repeated in the more extended Marxist readings of Hughes’s imputed escape into nature which would follow.33 We have seen how the mythical frame of Gaudete collapses under pressure from the recalcitrant social material it seems removed from – how that book takes full measure of Lumb’s, and by extension Hughes’s, utopian desire to empty himself of history by plugging himself into nature’s power. It is precisely this measure-taking of myth or nature as providing, in Eagleton’s words, ‘freedom, transcendence, representativeness, a sense of totality’ that is the subject of ‘Crow and the Birds’. The likes of eagle, owl, heron and blue tit are represented here as achieving the type of freedom and transcendence which Eagleton ascribes to myth, as they variously soar, sail, zip and – significantly – ‘labour’ clear of a world marked by guilt (‘tomorrow’s conscience’) and lack (‘yesterday’s promise’), a world of machines (rotovator, laundromat) and industry (the ‘upglare’ from the Bessemer steel works where Hughes’s brother nearly lost a hand). Images of bullfinch, goldfinch, wryneck and dipper follow, plumped and bulbed and peering from apple bud, sun, moon and dewball, followed by the final deflating reference to Crow: ‘spraddled head-down in the beach-garbage, guzzling a dropped ice-cream’. Clearly Crow does not aspire to the freedom, transcendence, representativeness, or sense of totality of the other birds.
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
The carnivalesque puncturing of the ballooning natural or mythical totalizations at the end of ‘Crow and the Birds’ is typical of the use of a final pay-off line in Crow. When confronted with the serpent who has reduced man and woman to an abject attitude of prayer, Crow ‘Beat the hell out of it, and ate it’ (‘A Horrible Religious Error’); when presented with the Redeemer, ‘Crow stropped his beak and started in on the two thieves’ (‘Crow’s Song of Himself ’). This brutally reductive, ‘Darwinian’ primitivism in Hughes is, as we have seen, pregnant with social meaning. It recalls the nineteenth-century discourse of brute, mechanistic labour and evolutionary degeneration that gave birth to the various Frankenstein monsters, Heathcliffs, creature-like Hands, and Morlocks of the great tradition Hughes inherits. (Interestingly, Hughes tells us that Crow is the creation of God’s nightmare, which takes the form of a voice and a hand34 – the latter the synecdoche for manual labour in the nineteenth century.) These monsters rise up as a challenge to religious and moral discourse of the period – as in Heathcliff ’s attack on the duty and humanity, pity and charity of Edgar Linton, or the creature’s more reasoned line in Frankenstein that misery made him a fiend. Crow is the progeny of these brutal literary forebears. There is something, for instance, of Heathcliff ’s resistance to social and humanitarian values in Crow’s inability to say the word ‘Love’, which results in the vomiting forth of various predators and parasites, of savagely Freudian versions of man and woman. Hughes thought of the Crow project in terms of a ‘productive industrial complex’, prone to shutdown through strike action (LTH 472) – though he was also wary of the mythical aspects of Crow being lost should he come across as too much a ‘salt-of-the-earth half-literate scouse, rough as hell’ (LTH 605). It is worth pointing out that the editor’s comment Hughes was objecting to here, which had accompanied a scathing review of Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, makes no reference to Crow as being Scouse. Only Crow’s joyful ‘instinctive vitality’ and ‘steely courage’ and sturdiness are commented on.35 The notion of Crow as a Liverpudlian is entirely Hughes’s. (Heathcliff, we might recall, was found in Liverpool.) Hughes’s concerns about how Crow might be reductively construed are not unfounded: Crow’s antics among the holidaymakers on the beach align him with Larkin’s crowd in the M1 café, with the kids ‘screaming for more’ – more houses, parking, caravans, pay – much as Crow is pictured in his filthy nest ‘Screaming’ for grubs and crusts, ‘Anything’ (‘Lineage’). Did Larkin recall Crow here, published two years earlier? If so, the hidden reference to Crow’s name in the screaming proletarian ‘crowd’ is accurate, as this is indeed where he hails from, with his super-simple and super-ugly language. Larkin’s image of Crow as a kind of Swiftian creation,
Redundant Energy: Mythical Reworkings
aligned with the low and vulgar, and betraying revolutionary rather than royalist leanings, is close to the bone: in a natty parody he has him shit on Buckingham Palace.36 The poem ‘Lineage’ includes an arbitrary reference to a ‘Guitar’, begat by Violet and begetting Sweat, which breaks confusingly with the apparently Darwinian logic through which eye, fear, wing, bone etc. are begotten. Taken together with the resulting ‘Screaming’ begotten by all this, and with Hughes’s concern that his creation is in danger of seeming too ‘scouse’, a fugitive allusion suggests itself to the Scouse guitar band who begat so much screaming they could not hear themselves play. It has been pointed out that the imagery of Crow has strong parallels with that in Joe Orton’s plays – especially a particular screenplay he wrote for the Beatles.37 This is not to say Hughes necessarily knew Orton’s Beatles screenplay and used it as a cue for Crow; but rather that Hughes’s book is a product of, and in very pronounced ways, the world of Orton/the Beatles, and of the Zeitgeist of the late 1960s, as has been shown. Hughes’s strong fascination with the Beatles is suggested by his need to downplay them: their influence on poetry was ‘marginal’, he says, the real ‘waking up’ on the English poetry scene happening with translations of East European poets such as Herbert and Holub, and the shock of the Beat poets, with the Beatles merely their ‘English amplifiers’.38 Still, it is the Beatles Hughes credits with making the ‘Cultural Church’ fall on its face to the North, after which Hughes no longer had to feel self-conscious about ‘the affected, proletarian familiar abbreviation’ of his first name (LTH 521). It is fair to say the Beatles are somewhere on the margins of Crow, and that Hughes glances their way as he engages in his own ‘scouse’like assault on the Cultural Church, as mischievous in its way as John Lennon’s provocative claim that his group were more popular than Jesus. With Crow, Hughes attempts in poetry what the Beatles had done with Sgt. Pepper, with its pop art cover of historical and cultural personages. Experimental, playful, carnivalesque, making recourse to both ‘low’ popular culture and to alternative world religions, Crow has much in common with the Beatles, though Hughes was evidently anxious not to fall under their shadow. ‘Crow’s First Lesson’, for example, might be read as an implicit rejoinder to the Beatles’ lesson about love in the song ‘All You Need Is Love’ – the ‘Love, love, love’ of the song’s chorus being mimicked in Crow’s thrice-repeated attempt at the word (it isn’t easy for him), which results in the end in man and woman ‘struggling together on the grass’. As well as an assault on the idea of God as Love, the poem is in context a witty Freudian intervention with regard to the hippy idea of free love, facilitated by getting high on grass. Sexual guilt and shame, which Hughes knows are
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
bound up with class, are not so easily dispensed with in Crow. Crow’s beating the ‘hell’ out of the serpent – life, nature, Being – in ‘A Horrible Religious Error’ is a clever play on the poet’s own violent desire to rid his body of these same debilitating historical-religious associations. As Hughes reminds us though, Crow only compounds the problem. Brutal, limited, ‘rough as hell’, Crow is in fact a reworking of the recalcitrant historical material Eagleton had thought he was meant to transcend. Even the cartoon quality of the book – a kind of fantasy escape for Eagleton – has its roots in the comics Hughes’s mother tried to confiscate from her boys, and which his brother would retrieve from the garbage (which, to be fair, Eagleton cannot have known). The late poem ‘Comics’ describes the ‘Wesleyan prudery’ of Hughes’s mother’s background – a prudery in the service of the Calder Valley and its mills (‘all we’ve slaved for’), which led her to distrust Gerald’s ‘godless’ magazines. This family controversy ultimately shapes Crow’s comic clashes with God, but there is little sense of the Trickster working things through – or out – in this book, or of his creator transcending these personal-historical issues. Pace Eagleton, the sequence does indeed take full measure of the recalcitrance of its own personal-historical material. ‘Comics’ also contains a dismissive reference to the ‘Alchemical’ drama of Cave Birds. Gerald’s comics are likened, from his mother’s viewpoint, to ‘the folly-stone of the Alchemists / In a nest of hocus-pocus’. We know Hughes was never comfortable with the cryptic exclusiveness of this book (LTH 633), which he felt was too cold and abstract. Although in some poems that chart a more ‘human progress’ Hughes worked to alleviate the ‘studied formality’ of the bird poems (PC 50), this is no Crow. The implied dismissal of this earlier alchemical project in ‘Comics’, a poem in which Hughes’s actual mother is evoked rather than any green mother or goddess, is telling. Where both Crow and Gaudete revel in failure, farce, bungled situations, Hughes seemingly made a more determined effort in Cave Birds to see through a mythical transformation ritual. Yet even here the falcon of ‘The Risen’ is clearly a bird and not a human being (‘But when will he land on a man’s wrist’), and a goblin appears at the end. Eagleton’s take on Crow is really more apt if applied to Cave Birds. Where in Gaudete the recalcitrant social world returns to cast its oppressive shadow over nature, and where in Crow the same world denies the mythical/scouse bird any transcendence, in Cave Birds it is virtually excluded, its pressure not gauged to anywhere like the same extent. Images of flames, feathers, tongues and crucibles predominate, and while shadows abound, these are shadows cast from the world of Jungian archetypes which the soul-searching is removed to, rather than the
Redundant Energy: Mythical Reworkings
world of Bessemer steel furnaces or ruined mills. (One notable exception is the poem ‘Bride and Groom Lie Hidden for Three Days’, in which a ‘He’ and a ‘She’ construct each other like well-made Frankenstein machines – ‘With all fittings complete and with newly wound coils, all shiningly oiled’ – but this is really a Crow poem, transported across [PC 49].) Another late poem, ‘Mother-Tongue’, which appears in the Collected alongside ‘Comics’, again makes allusion to Cave Birds in a way that modifies the meaning of the earlier sequence. The poem evokes the lost umbilical connection between the poet and his mother, ‘in the cave mouth’ – a memory ‘lost’ beyond ‘the event horizon’. In his unpublished working notes to the Cave Birds sequence, Hughes jotted down in relation to the poem, ‘Your Mother’s Bones Wanted to Speak’, that the protagonist’s daemon had become confused in the court proceedings with his mother. The reference to his mother is crossed through, and a more general reference to another person inserted. This is followed by another reference to his mother, which is once again crossed through.39 The poem was not included in the published collection. Hughes’s ‘diabolical fear of subjectivity’ is again detectable here, which Hughes only overcame in his later confessional poems. While the idea of putting himself on trial, albeit in an intensely cryptic and impersonal way, might well have been prompted by Robin Morgan’s ‘Arraignment’, in which Hughes is accused of the murders of Plath and Assia Wevill40 (the legalistic titles of Cave Birds poems such as ‘The Summoner’, ‘The Plaintiff ’, ‘The Accused’ etc. certainly seem to have in mind Morgan’s accusation-poem), the ‘event horizon’ of Cave Birds, which is complicated by these deaths, extends further back. Hughes evidently believed that Assia Wevill’s suicide had contributed to his mother’s death only two months later.41 Hughes conceived Remains of Elmet, published a year after Cave Birds, as being in memory of his mother’s voice and her tales of the past.42 Remains of Elmet initiates a more biographical focus in Hughes, which results in his later confessional verse. It is in this sense that the sequence can be taken as the material counterpoint and corrective to the mythical books of the 1970s. The writing of this book at this time reveals why the demonic labours of Crow, the rescue attempt of Gaudete, and the guilt-extirpating alchemy of Cave Birds ultimately fail, as Hughes recognized. They fail because they could only ever fail to make good a son’s deep and abiding sense of redundancy, devastation and hopelessness in the wake of a recalcitrant and traumatic family history, sealed now by a mother’s death; a sense that, as ‘Comics’ later confirms, it is ‘all too late’.
The Laureateship and the Miners’ Strike
Sean O’Brien is one of a number of Marxist or Marxist-influenced critics who see Hughes’s preoccupation with nature and myth as an avoidance of ‘the developing social and political reality of the British Isles’ in the poet’s own lifetime: ‘What might be called the argument from eternity will propose that he has set his sights higher, or deeper, on the core of experience, on the wheel of creation as a whole, on time rather than history.’1 As we are seeing, though, Hughes’s relationship to the social reality of his time is more complex than that. In Remains of Elmet, Hughes’s 1979 sequence about the decline of the textile industry in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, his first childhood home, the remaining marks of industry are fully on display, even as they ‘fall into the only future, into earth’ (‘Lumb Chimneys’), into a landscape where only the wildlife now is ‘Crackling with redundant energy’ (‘The Weasels We Smoked out of The Bank’). In the later, revised version of the book, the poem ‘Chinese History of Colden Water’ tells of how a ‘fallen immortal’ woke from a dream of ‘Chapels, chimneys, roofs in the mist’, of how ‘light’ and ‘hills’ and ‘whispers’ then ‘washed’ his eye and ear, leaving only ‘the laughter of foxes’. This might seem, following O’Brien and others, like a ruined historical landscape in the process of being returned to nature and mythical time, cleansed of ‘clog-irons and looms’ (‘Chinese History of Colden Water’); but it is also one that, paradoxically, returns in the major mythical works of the 1970s – most notably in Gaudete, when nature is beset by a sense of affliction, becoming prison-like and ‘bleak as ruins’, and Lumb proves unable to connect with it, to empty his body ‘of all its history’ (G 156–8). It is this alternating current, or play of contraries, which gives Hughes’s verse its charge – from history into nature, from nature back to history. This dialectic has been missed in Marxist readings of Hughes, which have tended to see only one aspect of it.
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
For O’Brien, Hughes’s poems are ‘shadowed by what they exclude’.2 This might be more accurately formulated as overshadowed. History in fact casts a long shadow over Hughesian nature – and most especially in the works that seem furthest removed from it. Hughes’s Laureate collection, Rain-Charm for the Duchy (1992), is a special case in this sense. Here Hughes adopts a public voice, and at a time of great social and political significance. Nowhere in the book though is the contemporary moment in Britain addressed directly. Instead Hughes fixes his gaze on past history, as he explains in the notes to the collection: ‘The British outlook that I describe here, I realize, is now almost entirely limited to those born after the First World War but before the late thirties… who took in the blood of the First World War with their mother’s milk, and who up to their middle age knew Britain only as a country always at war, or inwardly expecting and preparing for war’ (RCD 59). As O’Brien remarks, the notes to these poems, in which Hughes explores his sense of national identity, are ‘more interesting than the verse’.3 But O’Brien misses a trick here as he is drawn into the historical horizon Hughes tells us we should read the poems against. The question O’Brien asks of Hughes’s ‘anti-historical’ poetry generally – ‘what his omissions mean’4 – needs pursuing with specific reference to the developing social and political reality of the time Hughes became Laureate, a reality that, rather curiously given his argument, O’Brien does not consider. For O’Brien, Hughes’s ‘resolute pastness’ finally accords with his ‘rural conservatism (as of poacher turned gamekeeper)’.5 Again this oversimplifies. Only when Hughes’s term as Laureate is grounded firmly within its contemporary social context can the shadowy political dimension of Hughes’s work at this time be revealed in its true complexity and ambivalence. Where history in Crow and Gaudete resists the mythical-utopian frames, it is now parcelled out in silences, exclusions, fragments, and in unpublished or non-Laureate poems, in ways that seriously compromise the Laureate’s notion of his poetic vocation as shaman or tribal healer. In his literary life of Ted Hughes, Neil Roberts quotes an unpublished manuscript fragment by Hughes about accepting the Laureateship. Hughes had written that there was ‘Nowt’ to feel ‘sorry’ about, that ‘The summit’s / Summat’. For Roberts, the snippet is an example of the association in Hughes’s work between Yorkshire dialect, the common people, and masculine independence.6 But the lines are more interesting than that. Why should it occur to Hughes that there might be anything to be sorry about in accepting the Laureateship? And why is the dialect laid on thick here? The character of Yorkshire dialect – a certain bluntness and directness – is a shaping influence on Hughes’s style, but
The Laureateship and the Miners’ Strike
nowhere in his poetry does he speak in broad Yorkshire like this. When men got to the summit in the poem of that title in Remains of Elmet: ‘Light words forsook them. / They filled with heavy silence’. Hughes’s fragment about getting to the summit is also filled with heavy silence – something unspoken here prompts the Laureate to deny the feeling of sorrow that is paradoxically registered by that denial. The weight of this denied sorrow is underscored by the way in which ‘summit’ is enjambed into the offhand ‘summat’, the dialect vowel flattening out the high vowel of the previous line. The fragment comprises a five-word line, two-word line, one-word line: the feeling generated is one of deflation – of a self-consciously unconvincing attempt to buoy oneself up, leaving a heavy silence in its wake. Silence as a poetic quality was important to Hughes. ‘A strange quality of truth is that it is reluctant to use words’, Hughes says. He tells of listening to a survivor of Gallipoli: ‘his hesitating vague words, I don’t know what, just something about his half movements and very dumbness released a world of shocking force and vividness’ (WP 122–3). The poems of the Hungarian poet János Pilinszky, a survivor of Second World War German prison camps, Hughes describes as having ‘escaped, only with great effort, from an intensifying, fixed core of silence’. In his introduction to Pilinszky’s poems, Hughes goes on to remind us that ‘The silence of artistic integrity “after Auschwitz” is a real thing’.7 In Shakespeare, Cordelia’s ‘Nothing’ is for Hughes ‘the natural path towards the heart’s truth, that “matter from the heart” which will finally reject words’ (SGCB 278). Behind all this is Hughes’s father, who conveyed to his young son the horror of war through his silence on the subject. O’Brien’s sense that there are omissions or silences in Hughes’s work needs to be rethought in relation to Hughes’s own comments on the force or integrity of silence in relation to what is said or written. In the case of the Laureate fragment, the verse’s heavy freighting of silence might begin to seem less an avoidance on Hughes’s part than a way of registering an intractable emotional weight, ‘the heart’s truth’. Hughes became Poet Laureate in 1984, deep into the miners’ strike of 1984-5, a time when – for a Yorkshireman whose second childhood home had been in the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield, whose playmates had been the sons and daughters of colliers8 – there was plenty to feel sorry about. The so-called Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire was at this time the front line in the most significant industrial conflict in Britain since the General Strike of 1926. The region was now occupied territory, pit villages under police siege. Miners were summarily arrested for contravening new government laws brought in to prevent effective picketing, and roads out of Yorkshire were blocked by police
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
checkpoints. Soup kitchens had opened, children died picking coal on pit tips, miners died on picket lines, there were suicides. Common people in Yorkshire, witnessing it first-hand, were shocked at the levels of police violence,9 while the BBC was exposed reversing news footage to make it seem it was picketers who initiated the violence at the so-called Battle of Orgreave. Most telling of all, the National Union of Mineworkers found itself branded by Margaret Thatcher ‘the Enemy Within’: the NUM must be defeated just as surely as the Enemy Without had been in the Falklands.10 The sense of open class warfare suggested by language like ‘The Enemy Within’ and ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ was pervasive at the time. Miners’ leader Arthur Scargill referred to the conflict as ‘a social and industrial Battle of Britain’, while a later chronicler of events dubbed the conflict the English Civil War Part II.11 Hughes’s explanation of the point of view he adopts in the Laureate poems – that of the generation ‘who took in the blood of the First World War with their mother’s milk’ – enables Hughes to invoke the idea of national unity, symbolized by the Crown, in the face of an Enemy Without. Confronted by an Enemy Within, the idea of national unity is more difficult to conceive. To say this is not to downplay the formative effect on Hughes of being the son of a First World War infantryman. It is only to point out – as Hughes himself puts it – that the ‘historical horizon’ of the Laureate book is ‘closed’ (RCD 58), sealed off from contemporary history. The repressed historical horizon of the 1980s returns in various ways, though, to haunt Hughes’s Laureateship. It is present in the pregnant silence in his unpublished Laureate fragment, and, more revealingly, it can be seen to infiltrate the ‘closed’ historical horizon of the above-quoted Laureate note. In this note, Hughes describes the sense of ‘paralysing defeat’ after the First World War in the ‘tribal lands of the north’, among ‘the industrial horde’ still enslaved in their nineteenth-century ‘industrial camps’, ‘fighting out of a blinded solidarity with their losses’. Hughes’s description of ‘crushed’ homes and lives, of imagined ‘occupation by the enemy’, of the thought of ‘who would be traitors’ and the threat of ‘ideological police-state tyrannies’ (RCD 58–9), is uncannily reminiscent of the discourse of the miners’ strike – of Enemies Within, solidarity and scabs, the police state, the crushing of homes, lives, communities. How far Hughes might have been conscious of this, or to what extent a political unconscious has insinuated itself into the historical horizon meant to close it off, is not easy to determine. Certain remarks in Hughes’s letters of this period seem to point to a deliberately veiled reference to, or refraction of, contemporary history in this Laureate note, or at the very least a shadowy awareness on Hughes’s part of
The Laureateship and the Miners’ Strike
the contemporary resonance of his descriptions of the North’s tribal lands. In a letter to an old Cambridge friend written in 1989, Hughes explains the title of his poem ‘On the Reservations’, an emphatically non-Laureate poem about the defeated miners included in Wolfwatching (1989) (which we’ll be coming to): the reservations are ‘the now superfluous Northern proletarian millions – released from the slavery of the lives that created them (their heroic labours to stay alive) but with nowhere to go, nothing to do etc., in a land occupied by “the enemy”. That’s how they feel & that’s more or less how they are. Paid by the State / to evaporate’ (LTH 566). Hughes’s description in this letter of a heroic, enslaved proletariat, in a land occupied by ‘the enemy’, clearly chimes with the description in the Rain-Charm for the Duchy note of the post-war sense of defeat in the ‘tribal lands of the North’, and the sense there of ‘imagined occupation by the enemy’. It might be pointed out that the inverted commas around ‘the enemy’ in the above letter attribute this political view to those on the reservations, and so signal that Hughes himself does not necessarily share in ‘how they feel’; but then again, when Hughes adds that this is ‘more or less’ the case, the inverted commas begin to fade. In another letter written around this time Hughes uses virtually the same phrase applied in the same way, this time more directly. It is significant that Hughes is now writing to his brother, who for a while was a gamekeeper in Devon, describing how through his salmon fishing and a mutual friend he has ‘got to know a whole procession of those figures you used to breed your pheasant’s [sic] for’ – ‘a troop of Tory politicians’ and ‘a scatter of Lords’, ‘that whole army of occupation – invisible, pretty well, to the common Englander, except as Park walls and great ornate gates & stormy voices in the House of Parliament’. ‘A very fascinating education (for what?) for me, you can guess’, Hughes adds reflectively (LTH 526). The reference to this landed Tory class as those figures his brother used to breed pheasants for is pointed: Hughes reminds his brother and himself of their class background, and the phrase ‘army of occupation’ here carries no inverted commas. Hughes shares an intimate moment of class solidarity with his brother, to whom he makes a confession: he has now infiltrated this ‘army of occupation’ – but for what? The parenthesized question is telling: both a sense of a political calling, and a feeling of purposelessness in relation to that calling, beset Hughes here. Taken together, these letters reveal Hughes’s vacillating feelings about the occupying ‘enemy’ – should he place inverted commas around the phrase, and rise above the adversarial politics of the period, or commit to this view? On the one hand, the Poet Laureate finds it expedient in his Laureate book to move the issue of the tribal lands of the North
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
back in time, and so draw a veil across the contemporary in a way that seems a convenient evasion of the recent war and defeat in the coalfields. On the other hand, the passionate descriptions in the Laureate note of the industrial horde, fighting out of a blinded solidarity, link with comments in letters at this time about the contemporary ‘occupation’ of the North to suggest another, undercover Hughes at work, intent on smuggling a political subtext into the officially celebratory Laureate collection. There is one Laureate poem where this repressed or veiled political dimension surfaces – a poem which indicates why, despite his misgivings, Hughes would find himself drawn into in the enemy’s salmon-fishing circle. According to Hughes, ‘The Best Worker in Europe’ is the first poem he wrote after his appointment as Laureate in which he ‘donned’, as he puts it, ‘that particular robe’12 – though the poem was not included in Rain-Charm for the Duchy and remained uncollected in Hughes’s lifetime. It was written early in 1985, when the miners’ strike was nearly a year long, and when it was clear that the miners were heading for defeat. The salmon of the poem is the best worker in Europe because it needs ‘neither subsidy nor pay’, and ‘No Union cries his Yea or Nay’. The fish looks suspiciously like the embodiment of the Tory mantra of enterprise and self-sufficiency, from which everyone supposedly benefits. The poem exposes Hughes’s vexed ideological bearings at this time: free enterprise – the ideology of profit and use – was, if we recall, the enemy in Hughes’s ‘The Environmental Revolution’ article of 1970. It seems, on the evidence of the poem at least, that Hughes has been brought to this contradictory position by contemporary debates about government subsidies, uneconomic pits, and the non-democratic National Union of Mineworkers – which had refused to bow to political pressure to hold a national strike ballot. Hughes might be sorry for the miners, but his old sense of class allegiance – the Tory establishment as an army of occupation – is problematized here by his historical distrust of Marxism, in the shape of the NUM’s uncompromising Marxist leader Arthur Scargill. As the miners’ strike was about to begin, Hughes had referred to himself and his critic friend, Keith Sagar, as ‘simple honest Northerners’ – as distinct, Hughes adds in parenthesis, ‘from bilious, rancourous [sic], envious, crooked ones’ (PC 135). This has to be a reference to the characteristically bilious, rancorous style of oration of Scargill, who was publicly gearing up for another showdown between the miners and the Tory Party. The Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, warned that ‘Mr Scargill does not just hate our free and democratic system and seek to do everything he can to discredit and damage it; he also feels equal hatred and contempt for those miners whose servant he is meant to be
The Laureateship and the Miners’ Strike
but whose tyrant he has become’.13 It is easy to see how, for one of the inter-war generation Hughes describes in his Laureate note, such contemporary vituperative would evoke the spectre of Stalinism, as of course it was intended to do. This spectre is referred to in the published Laureate poem ‘A Masque for Three Voices’, where Marx is ‘devoured’ by Lenin, who in turn opens ‘Stalin’s cage’. It is a moot point whether Hughes saw any connection here with the animal ferocity and devouring of his own early work, which certainly has its roots in the same nineteenth-century discourse of dehumanized labour that produced Marxism. Marx’s utopian ideas had now turned to dystopian social forms of the Cold War, though, which is why the socially inspired anger expressed in Hughes’s nature could never find its social form. But if the implicit dismissal of the NUM in ‘The Best Worker in Europe’ reflects the scare campaign conducted against its Marxist leader in the press, Hughes’s recoil into the welcoming arms of ‘the enemy’ he went salmon fishing with is nevertheless the cause for some soulsearching. Hughes opened quite a can of worms in his first attempt to don the Laureate robe. By excluding the poem from his Laureate collection he puts the lid back on this fraught political pressure point, and keeps the historical horizon of that book closed. This pressure point is the nub of Hughes’s ambivalence in relation to class politics: we see on the one hand in Hughes a positive identification in terms of class (simple Northerner) and a ferocious sense of ‘the enemy’ (exacerbated by the social rancour this simple Northener had once experienced at Cambridge); on the other hand, Hughes remains unable to commit politically to the idea of class struggle because of its association with Marxism and Stalinism. We saw in the previous chapter how Hughes mimics the famous opening of The Communist Manifesto in his ‘The Environmentalist Revolution’ article: one revolution here is replaced with another – though the ‘enemy’ (the profit motive, big business) remains much the same. This substitution in Hughes of the environmentalist cause for class struggle becomes active as the 1984-5 miners’ strike looms. In the same letter in which Hughes dismisses the bilious rancour he could hear emanating from the North, Hughes reports how he has become ‘involved in a local battle, of sorts’, with the Water Authority and the ‘developers’ over sewage discharges into Bideford estuary – a poisonous ‘5 mile sludge pit’ (PC 136–7). As the pitmen prepare go to battle with Thatcher’s laissez-faire government, Hughes – slipping into the same Northern dialect as he does in the unpublished Laureate fragment – goes to battle with local government and businesses and the developers: ‘The local hoteliers, & tourist association, see all hear all & say nowt…’ (PC 135). It might seem to be stretching things
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
a little to claim that Hughes’s local environmental fight is shadowed by the national class struggle simply on the basis of Hughes’s use of the word ‘pit’ and the dialect word ‘nowt’ in the above letter. When we consider this coincidence alongside ‘The Best Worker in Europe’, though – a poem written for the wider environmentalist cause in which Hughes was now active (PC 143) – the idea is less tenuous. Hughes compensates for not being able to show solidarity with his class at this time by fighting his own good fight against the free-market enemy – one in which his Tory salmon-fishing friends were presumably in sympathy, as their interests were at stake. The conceit of the salmon as a worker, itself typical of Hughes’s core vision of an industrially overshadowed nature, is used again in another Laureate poem – one which, unlike ‘The Best Worker in Europe’ with its allusion to the miners’ dispute, did make it into the Laureate collection. In ‘Little Salmon Hymn’, the fish is now a weaver, a ‘simple shuttle’, a banner with a salmon on it – a description that evokes by negation the idea of a trade union banner. The shadows cast by the fish and its banner, then, are not so simple, any more than Hughesian nature is ever simple – or, for that matter, Hughes a ‘simple’ Northerner. The poem is actually very knowing: the conceit recalling a weaving mother’s hardworking confined life in the region that gave birth to Chartism. The fishermen of the poem lift the salmon-banner ‘heavy from the loom’. As always in Hughes, the apparent flight into nature, into environmentalism, is heavy with an emotional freighting – with the memory of looms, mills, industrial labour. In the poem’s structure of feeling, to apply Raymond Williams’s phrase, ‘simple’ nature is the obverse of the ‘heavy’ sense of history with which it is in dialectic. The reason this poem made it into Hughes’s Laureate book when ‘The Best Worker in Europe’ did not has to do with the switch from coal mining – the contemporary reference point of the fish’s ability to produce without ‘subsidy’ or ‘Union’ in the earlier poem – to weaving, the former occupation of Hughes’s mother. The inclusion of the second salmonworker poem in the Laureate book, and the exclusion of the first, occludes the only reference to the contemporary workers’ struggle in the Laureate poems – dismissive as that reference is – while commemorating, by way of compensation again, Hughes’s sense of his mother’s hardworking confined life, and her projected identification with nature. The Laureate is now able to stay true to his class background by reconciling it with his public calling: it turns out Hughes’s boyhood royalism came from his mother,14 and that he had identified her with the Queen Mother, for whom the poem is written, when he was young (PC 153).
The Laureateship and the Miners’ Strike
The omission of ‘The Best Worker in Europe’ from the Laureate collection is mirrored by another omission. This is of some lines from the title poem, originally written for possible inclusion in Hughes’s 1983 book River. These pre-Laureate lines had described the river Torridge as a ‘Poor, bleached leper in her pit’, polluted by the ‘scabby farms’ in her catchment area. ‘I thought it might have been in poor taste’, Hughes explained, having reworked the poem for its royal occasion (PC 142). Hughes refers ostensibly to the environmentalist message voiced by the original lines, but in December of 1984, when the poem appeared in the Daily Express (PC 141), the word ‘scabby’ would have taken on an unintended, but highly charged, connotation when used in relation to the word ‘pit’ – one that certainly would have been in poor taste, and not only in relation to the christening of Prince Harry. Father Christmas wasn’t coming that year, the joke went, because he wouldn’t cross a picket line – the butt of the joke of course being the ‘scab’. Hughes must have seen the complications that would be forced onto his lines by this political context, and he replaced them with an anodyne description of the Torridge as a ‘washed cherub’. In a way that might seem, on the face of it, to confirm those Marxist readings of Hughes’s flight into nature, the new description recalls the description in ‘Chinese History of Colden Water’ of how the marks of industry in the Calder Valley are ‘washed and washed’ from an immortal’s eye and ear. But the new lines also recall the green mother of Cave Birds, in whose escapist ‘holiday city’ the afterlife is not ‘Pronounced poor’, and who ‘washes her child’s face clean’ of blood and tears. In light of Hughes’s committed environmentalism at this time, ‘washed cherub’ suggests the poet’s self-conscious acknowledgement to himself of the whitewashing the lines perform – much like when rundown areas are cleaned up for a visit from a royal personage. In light of these other – in one case at least – overtly self-questioning washings away of memories of poverty and industrial labour in Hughes, this is a whitewashing twice over. As always in Hughes though, the repressed returns. Hughes’s real depth of feeling about what had happening in the coalfields at this time is revealed in ‘On the Reservations’. The poem seems far removed from the more flippant and dismissive ‘The Best Worker in Europe’, which – when read alongside the later poem – seems also in poor taste. The reality of what was at stake in the miners’ strike seems now to have sunk in.15 Obviously this poem too has no place in Rain-Charm for the Duchy, the idea of Indian-like reservations not fitting with the dream of the nation as a single soul, though as a topical poem – something of a rarity in Hughes – it is akin to the occasional verse of that collection. Hughes now confronts head on – albeit under pressure to do
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
so16 – what he evades, suppresses, silences, or glances askance at in fragments, notes and uncollected poems during the miners’ strike. The poem’s conceit points to a profound sympathy with the tribes of the North, and – given that we can safely assume Hughes was knowledgeable about the history of the American Indians – real anger at the treatment of these tribes by the government. Section one of the poem, ‘Sitting Bull on Christmas Morning’, describes ‘the lads’, who are ‘multiplied / In the laboratories / Between Mersey and Humber’. The pun on Labour and the Tories implies a summary dismissal of both the British Left and Right, neither of whom Hughes is able to identify with – though this is less a case of transcending politics than of deeply ambivalent feelings, as we have seen. A bilious Left in the shape of figures like Arthur Scargill, and the Tory ‘enemy’, have between them created a Frankenstein monster of the North. As with nineteenth-century novelists like Mary Shelley or Elizabeth Gaskell, whose images of the industrial working class as a Frankenstein monster are recalled here, Hughes’s sympathetic involvement with the miners in this poem is complicated by other factors. In Gaskell’s novel Mary Barton, the author’s obvious concern for the unemployed workers of the Hungry Forties is joined by a sense of the working class as a violent and misguided monster: ‘The actions of the uneducated seem to me typified in those of Frankenstein, that monster of many human qualities…’17 Similarly, in ‘On the Reservations’, one can sense the invisible inverted commas around the boorish-sounding ‘the lads’. In a 1958 letter to a Cambridge friend – the same friend Hughes would later describe the Northern proletarian reservations to – Hughes had described ‘the mass, the proletariat’ as ‘a great senile toothless hairless white ape, blind, tied etcetera’ (LTH 115–16). Nearer to the time he wrote ‘On the Reservations’, Hughes objected to the portrayal of him in Anne Stevenson’s Plath biography as ‘some crass chauvinistic working class ape lounging with my beer while [Plath] slaves at the sink’ (LTH 523). These two letters, written 28 years apart, seem to expose unequivocally Hughes’s feelings about a crass, ape-like working class, which Hughes is able to pity, but not identify with. It is also worth recalling here, though, Hughes’s description to his brother of the ‘troop of Tory Lords’ he now finds himself invited to go fishing with – ‘troop’ linking with ‘army of occupation’, but also being the collective term for monkeys. The letter to Hughes’s brother about this monkey-like ‘troop of Lords’, and the letter to Anne Stevenson in which Hughes complains about being represented as a ‘working class ape’, were both written in late 1986. Taken together, these letters again reveal a degree of equivocation in Hughes’s thinking about class, and his displaced class position. Unable to identify with either side of the
The Laureateship and the Miners’ Strike
class divide in Britain in this period, Hughes seeks to distance himself from both working-class ape and Tory monkey. This is in keeping with Hughes’s position as Laureate to the Royal Family, which is meant to remain aloof from party politics. The fact that Hughes felt pressured to write ‘On the Reservations’ at this time, however, indicates the distance he felt he needed to maintain as Laureate from the contemporary political struggle was precarious. He was uncertain of his bearings, liable to revert to an old sense of class allegiance, as in the letter to his brother about ‘the enemy’. Class allegiance, however, does not necessarily imply political allegiance. Hughes’s attitude towards the political means through which this ape-like proletariat had, since the nineteenth century, sought to free themselves from their ‘blind, tied’ position – trade unionism, socialism – is signalled by the reference to Stalin in the middle section of ‘On the Reservations’, entitled ‘Nightvoice’. In this section an anonymous ‘She’ dreams of being an ant kept in the ‘garbagecan’ of Stalin’s ‘private office’. The reference is in keeping with what Hughes says in his Laureate note about his mind being ‘foreclosed’ by the World Wars against ‘the evangelism of ideological dialectics’ (RCD 59) (though it is well that the poems, by virtue of their associative method, are not foreclosed to the ideological dialectics to be found in ‘nature’). We have seen how miners’ leader Arthur Scargill was targeted by the media and Tory politicians as a would-be tyrant. One particularly damaging accusation in the smear campaign against the NUM president, which Hughes seems to allude to in the phrase ‘private office’, was that he had diverted union hardship funds to pay for his private property. (The accusation was later disproved.18) In the final section of ‘On the Reservations’, entitled ‘The Ghost Dancer’, a wild, visionary, ‘sulky’ boy singer gropes towards a new spiritual beginning, his ‘soul’ uttering ‘a howl’: ‘“Start afresh, this time unconquerable”’. The imagery of this section – the boy’s ‘Swastika limbs’, his piercings and chains and ‘padlock dance’, his ‘demonic roar’ – clearly evoke the punk movement of the late 1970s. With its prefatory quote from Owl of the Fox Indians – ‘We are not singing sportive songs. It is as if we were weeping, asking for life’ – ‘The Ghost Dancer’ represents punk as ‘aboriginal’ shamanic expression, but also as revolutionary energy (the section makes reference to the Mau Mau Uprising in 1950s Kenya). The invocation of the primitive, politically charged energy of punk is clearly antipathetic to the Jubilee verse/Laureate-book preface ‘Solomon’s Dream’. Hughes’s Jubilee lines were contemporary with the Sex Pistols’ first and only album, Never Mind the Bollocks (1977); with Johnny Rotten’s howl that England was dreaming. The evocation of the spirit of punk in ‘On the Reservations’
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
signals another Hughes now openly at work, split off from and in opposition to the official Laureate. Even so, the miners have to be re-imagined as Red Indians or Mau Mau rebels, rather than Stalin’s worker ants, for this other Hughes to find his voice. The return of this other Ted Hughes means that ‘On the Reservations’ cannot be dismissed as a dutiful but evasive valorization of the ‘unconquerable’ soul at a time of crushing political defeat for the miners. The idea of the defeated miners as reservation Indians in this overtly ‘shamanic’ poem demands closer attention, reaching as it does back to a shared childhood with a brother Hughes worshipped. In an interview of 1995, Hughes tells of how his ‘early memories of being three and four’ are of accompanying his older brother on his hunting expeditions as his ‘retriever’, and of living in his brother’s dream – a world mythologized ‘as North American Indian – Paleolithic.’19 The poem ‘Two’, from Remains of Elmet, refers to the breaking of this dream in a way that anticipates the representation of the broken Indian-miners of ‘On the Reservations’ and the punk-ghost-dancer’s shamanic singing of the final section. In the earlier poem, as ‘Two’ come down ‘from the morning star’ replete with ‘stolen’ game, ‘the war opened’, causing the ‘guide’ to flee and leaving the ‘other’ paralyzed, so that the feather falls from his head, his drum stops, his song dies. In the context of a sequence which is explicitly concerned with the history of industrial slavery and decline in West Yorkshire, the ‘war’ here has to signify class war – which is how Hughes understood his father’s war, which overshadowed the region. Hughes says in the same interview quoted above that his father used to recite long passages of Longfellow’s Hiawatha: ‘That had its effect. I remember I wrote a good deal of comic verse for classroom consumption in Hiawatha meter’.20 The childhood Indian dream-world Hughes shared with his brother links also with the beginnings of poetry. With its taproot in such deeply personal and poetic mythology, ‘On the Reservations’ is no mere act of duty. Contrary to what O’Brien says about Hughes’s seeming lack of interest in the developing social and political reality of his time, the silences, omissions, poetic fragments and letters of Hughes’s Laureate period, as well as the non-Laureate poem ‘On the Reservations’, reveal a poet who is intimately affected by what is happening in the coalfields and tribal lands of the North. When Hughes’s friend Jack Brown, a Labour councillor from Barnsley, wrote to Hughes in a state of depression after the failure of the miners’ strike, and expressing bewilderment at Hughes’s acceptance of the Laureateship,21 Hughes replied that he was ‘very aware’ of the ‘(ghostly) political dimensions’ of the appointment, and that it had occurred to him that ‘in the sub-committee debate about who for
The Laureateship and the Miners’ Strike
Laureate somebody might well have totted up my happy years in Mexborough’ as ‘a possibly useful qualification’, a ‘feint of sympathy for the North’ – Philip Larkin seeming ‘too obvious an unfurling of the banner over the far right’. ‘Party Politics’ though, Hughes tries to explain, are ‘irrelevant’ – the real thing here is the ‘ritualised dream-symbol made real’ of the monarchy, which ‘helps us to stay one’, and Brown is referred to Frazer and to Freud on ‘the psychology of it’ (LTH 530). We need neither a Frazer nor a Freud to understand that the desire for wholeness is predicted on the experience of dividedness, lack, being broken – an experience which is in Hughes ultimately mediated through family history. A father’s war, in which the real enemy was not Germany; a grandfather’s escape from the Great Famine in Ireland; a mother’s hardworking confined life as a girl: this is the history Hughes’s imagination really goes to work on when he writes about nature; these the wounds the shaman wants to heal; the divided nation the Laureate would dream whole. In another note in Rain-Charm for the Duchy, Hughes cites the Sioux shaman Black Elk, ‘who saw “the ring” of his people “broken”… yet his visionary concept of “the ring of the people” embraced, finally, all the different peoples of the earth, not only his own tribesmen’ (RCD 55). Elsewhere at this time, Hughes compares Yeats with Black Elk, linking Yeats’s ‘militant spirituality’ to the ‘tribal disaster’ of the Great Famine in Ireland and mass emigration, ‘subjectively experienced by all who felt themselves to be Irish as the ultimate defeat, the bitter culmination of seven centuries of British policy in Ireland’ (DG 24, 23). This is very close to the way in which Hughes conceives of the sense of defeat in the tribal lands of Northern England. We saw in Chapter 3 how the matter of Ireland was crossed in Hughes’s imagination, as it was in the cultural imagination of the nineteenth century, with the matter of the English working class. For Hughes, Yeats’s ‘shamanic thinking’ was ‘closer to the visions of the Sioux Shaman Black Elk than to anything in the political or even poetic traditions of Western Europe… as a political activist, Yeats’s inspiration remained shamanic: to remake “the ring of the people”, to restore heroic, spiritual unity to his nation’. Hughes contrasts Yeats’s militant shamanism with T. S. Eliot’s apolitical shamanism: ‘The tribal disaster, in his case, was presumably just that convulsive desacralization of the spirit of the West’, and as such Eliot’s tribe is ‘all Western man’, or ‘simply spiritual man’ (DG 24). When Hughes writes of Yeats, Black Elk’s term ‘the ring of the people’ is applied to his tribe; when Black Elk is quoted in Rain-Charm for the Duchy, the term is extended to cover ‘all the different peoples of the earth’. In his Laureate collection, Hughes seeks to move beyond a Yeatsian sense of tribal allegiance by aspiring to a more
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
Eliot-like, holistic position. But the move is undercut from within by unresolved class issues. On these terms, when Hughes reaches the ‘summit’ and dons the robe of the Eliot-like shaman-Laureate, the militant Yeatsian shaman-drum – despite the over-compensating tribal accent – falls from his grasp. It may be vulgarly Marxist to ask if Hughes betrayed his class when he became Poet Laureate – his case is more complex than might be supposed. Nevertheless, it is a question Hughes himself prompts in his unpublished Laureate fragment. It is also a question he implicitly answers. Reflecting on a Laureate mini-tour of readings, Hughes felt that ‘enraged’ journalists were ‘demanding his head on a platter’ (PC 147). This seems not a little exaggerated. We might recall here the ‘enraged’ jaguar in its prison-dark, mine-like world of cages and drills, who reappears briefly in ‘On the Reservations’ as the ‘Jaguar mask’ of the punk ghost-dancer; or Crow, threatened with the guillotine for getting above himself; or the retired colonel’s head, offered up as symbol of the downfall of the British Empire – an empire which is puffed up in smoke in the final section of ‘On the Reservations’. When we remember these, and the numerous other beheadings in Hughes, the Laureate’s feelings begin to look very much like a projection.
Class and the Classics: Hughes and Harrison
When, late in his career, Ted Hughes found renewed impetus in producing versions of the classics, he must have known that comparisons would inevitably be drawn with Tony Harrison’s landmark work in the same field. More than that, in his choice of plays – The Oresteia and Phèdre in particular – as well as of theatres, Hughes was knowingly entering Harrison’s slipstream. As has been remarked, it is no accident that Hughes’s version of The Oresteia was put on at the National Theatre, which had staged Harrison’s acclaimed version of the same trilogy, directed by Peter Hall, in 1981.1 When Hughes approached the National Theatre after a commission with the Northcott Theatre in Exeter fell through,2 he was in effect stepping up to go head-to-head with Harrison. The director of Hughes’s version, Katie Mitchell, remarked that comparisons between Hughes’s and Harrison’s versions would be inevitable – though she didn’t know if they would mean very much, Hughes being a ‘very different’ writer to Harrison.3 This assumed difference seemed underscored by Hughes’s version being performed in the more intimate Cottesloe Theatre, while Hall’s ‘monumental’ production of Harrison’s version was housed in the much larger Olivier auditorium.4 Still, it appears the National encouraged the comparisons, running Hughes’s Oresteia in the same repertoire as a rerun of Harrison’s The Mysteries.5 This may be more a matter of a theatre’s publicity than of one poet engaging with another; but then, Hughes did go on to offer his Alcestis to Northern Broadsides, a company set up in response to Harrison’s example with the express purpose of performing Shakespearean and classical works in northern accents, and which was still ‘strictly associated’ with Harrison’s versions of the classics when Hughes made his approach.6 When Hughes’s Phèdre was performed at the Almeida Theatre it starred Diana Rigg in the title role – a decision that was ‘somewhat unusual’, as Rigg had played the same part in the National Theatre Company’s 1975
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
production of Harrison’s Phaedra Britannica.7 Again, this is no mere coincidence – Hughes had been invited to write for the famous actress a new version of the role she had already played.8 Once again here, Hughes is knowingly coming after Harrison. The comparisons duly came, and were duly predictable. For those in the Hughes camp, Hughes’s versions of the classics are less public, less civic and more mythically resonant than Harrison’s – Hughes ‘digs beneath the civic and polis resonances of Greek tragedy to the underlying myths’.9 Hughes is not the ‘self-declared “outsider” for whom the appropriation of the classical constituted a defiant political gesture’: his interest in the classics is ‘much wider’, his engagement being with ‘the collective mythic imagination’.10 The implicit verdict here is that Hughes’s renditions have more depth and breadth than Harrison’s, Hughes’s ‘anthropological classicism’ even placing him outside of any ‘competition’ with other poet-translators.11 Or else it is Plath that Hughes is really engaged with – with matters ‘personal rather than political’.12 (We shall return to the meaning of Plath’s presence in these late texts in the next chapter.) For those in the Harrison camp, on the other hand, Hughes’s apolitical version of The Oresteia is anything but: when it comes to a chorus passage in Agamemnon, for instance, where the ‘iconoclastic, anti-monarchist Harrison makes the most of this “antifanfare” for the king: the royalist, male-sympathising Hughes plays down anything that might reflect badly on the sovereign’.13 One camp’s mythically resonant Hughes proves the other’s reactionary. On both sides of the fence, the prevailing assumption that Hughes and Harrison are very different poets – royalist/republican, mythic-personal/political – goes unquestioned. This is, however, a grossly over-simplistic view – one that has prevented critics from seeing what is actually at stake in the versions of the classics Hughes produces in response to Harrison. This not a matter of a royalist poet versus a republican; nor is it a case of mythically deep poet answering the surface-working political poet’s sense of social division with an emphasis on some all-embracing collective unconscious. Hughes and Harrison are in fact crossed in ways that align them much more closely than has been recognized. In the same essay by Oliver Taplin in which Harrison’s anti-monarchist Oresteia is championed over the Poet Laureate’s supposedly pussyfooting version, Hughes is found wanting for not knowing Greek, and for using an unscholarly old Penguin translation. ‘Of course there is nothing inherently superior about a translation which is made directly from the original language’, Taplin assures us, before going on to find Louis MacNeice’s 1936 Agamemnon – which like Harrison’s was done from the original, we are reminded – to
Class and the Classics: Hughes and Harrison
be ‘again immeasurably better than Hughes’s’.14 It does not seem to occur to Taplin that his championing of the author of The School of Eloquence on these terms is somewhat ironic. Harrison, if he’d read it, can only have baulked at Taplin’s dismissal of Hughes on the grounds of his lack of Greek. We might recall Harrison’s mention in his poem ‘Them and [uz]’ of ‘Cockney Keats’,15 who was ridiculed for knowing Homer from Chapman. Hughes implicitly evokes Keats in his Preface to Tales from Ovid, when he puts emphasis (twice) on the ‘intensity’ of passion that results in Ovidian metamorphosis.16 The negatively capable Keats had rendered irrelevant his educational incapacity by conceiving of the essence of his versions of the classics as consisting in precisely such intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate (such as caustic reminders of one’s lack of Greek). The year after Tales from Ovid was published, Hughes wrote enthusiastically to Andrew Motion, applauding the presentation of a ‘social/political’ Keats in Motion’s new biography, and reflecting on his own experience ‘of having come into southern England (age 18 when I first heard & met a boy from a public school, & first met King’s English spoken live)’. Motion’s account of ‘what put the screws on Keats’ seemed to Hughes ‘familiar, exact & profound’, Hughes adding that those same screws were still being ‘twisted’ (LTH 702). Both Hughes and Harrison find in Keats a reflection of their own experience of having the screws put on them with regard to their class, dialect and education. On these terms the two poets seem not so very different. Taplin also describes the stylistic differences between Hughes’s and Harrison’s versions of Aeschylus, once again to Hughes’s detriment. Responding to a review of Hughes’s Oresteia that had compared Hughes’s version favourably to Harrison’s ‘quaint and numbing (if sometimes brilliant) Anglo-Saxonism’, Taplin counters that Hughes’s diction and metric, in comparison with the ‘tense vigour’ of Harrison’s rhyming stichomythias, are ‘homogeneous throughout’.17 While Hughes’s version is leaner and clearer than Harrison’s blustering, AngloSaxonized version, neither our Hughes man nor our Harrison man seems aware of the catch involved in trying to differentiate these poets in this way. Hughes was Anglo-Saxonizing the classics long before Harrison, as the following lines illustrate: And now Athene, daughter of Zeus, descended to change matters: Reined back all blasts from their running and bound them in stillness.18
The lines are from Hughes’s rendition of a passage in Homer’s Odyssey, commissioned for a BBC radio programme in 1960. While the passage is not strictly in Anglo-Saxon metre, Hughes’s use of strong stress and heavily consonantal
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
diction evokes the same alliterative line put to bold use in Harrison’s Oresteia. Taplin also prefers Harrison’s ‘unpunctuated… cascade of metaphors and images’ to Hughes’s ‘staccato phrases and heavy stopping’.19 Again Hughes comes before Harrison in this respect, having experimented with just such an unpunctuated cascade of metaphor and image in his version of Seneca’s Oedipus, which was performed by the National Theatre Company in 1968. When Hughes opened Harrison’s Oresteia, the echoes of his own stylistic experiments in translating the classics would have struck him forceably. For Harrison, as for Hughes, the AngloSaxon alliterative meter resonates with ‘the consonantal play at the heart of the Yorkshire idiom’, and from it Harrison produces his ‘Yorkshire Aeschylus’.20 For the Poet Laureate, Harrison’s Yorkshire version of The Oresteia must have been redolent of another, younger Ted Hughes: working-class, antagonized by King’s English and Cambridge, his dialect aggressively grafted onto an old alliterative metre. Being Yorkshiremen, both poets remained determinably tight-lipped about these close similarities, though Hughes certainly came to recognize an implicit shared understanding of their common ground, as we shall see. In reflections on his work at this time, Hughes gives a pronounced Harrison-like slant to issues of class, dialect, history and versification. An important example is Hughes’s long essay ‘Myths, Metres, Rhythms’, dated 1993, which appears in Winter Pollen. Hughes in effect here politicizes both his prosody and his mythology. He begins by stating that mythologies are ‘dodgy things’ – dodgy because, while in primitive societies they are ‘perhaps’ predicated on a ‘shared group understanding’, this ‘obviously’ is not the case in modern multicultural societies (WP 310–11). This doesn’t bode well for the idea of Hughes as a poet of the collective mythic imagination. We live in a world of sub-groups, Hughes explains, each with its own ‘solidarity system and mythology’. From inside the point of view of the sub-group, the general lingua franca can seem ‘shallow, arbitrary, empty, degraded and degrading’, while, vice versa, the world of the sub-group can seem from the outside ‘parochial, old-fashioned, limited and limiting’ (WP 311–12). Failures of communication are inevitable. Hughes goes on to relate an anecdote about a poem of his about a wren, which a US urban poet found incomprehensible, and another about a letter he received asking for an explanation of his poem ‘In the Likeness of a Grasshopper’, before coming to his real subject – some early lines of his, from the poem ‘The Horses’, which a British critic (Roy Fuller) had found ‘unsayable’ (WP 320). Hughes’s critic is analogous to Harrison’s English teacher at Leeds Grammar School, who wouldn’t let him read poetry aloud, Harrison recalls, because of his common south-Leeds accent. Harrison remarks that his northern classics were part of a
Class and the Classics: Hughes and Harrison
‘long slow-burning revenge’ on this teacher.21 As with Harrison, what Hughes is really exercised by in his essay on metre and myth is less the lamentable modern absence of any shared understanding of wrens and grasshoppers than the sub-groups and solidarity systems of class. Hughes now launches into a long and involved defence of the ‘rude’, ‘uncouth’, Anglo-Saxon line in English poetry, suppressed by King’s English and the courtly iambic tradition instituted by the Norman Conquest. Hughes maps its resurgence in the likes of Wyatt, Smart, Blake and Hopkins – and by extension his own ‘unsayable’ lines (he stops short of Harrison). ‘If there is a Civil War within English poetry’ – and it is clear for Hughes there is – then it is fought, he says, between the ‘disciplined squares of the “King’s English”’, and the ‘resurgent “sprung rhythms” of the tribes’ (WP 367–8). (Elsewhere Hughes imagines Fuller with an ‘officer’s moustache’ [LTH 454].) Goddesses aside – the old Celtic Goddess is of course with the sprung rhythm camp (WP 369) – this is all very Tony Harrison, as has been noted.22 In a letter of 1994, Hughes explained his need to write his ‘Myths, Metres, Rhythms’ essay arose out of an ‘accumulated realisation of just how deaf ’ (emphasis in the original) to his verse readers seemed, ‘especially speakers of “received English”’. He tells of how, before he had published anything, a ‘rather refined girl’ had dismissed his poetry: ‘it’s all grs and -gles and hurts my throat’, she had complained (LTH 662). Hughes’s letter is more than a little suggestive of Harrison’s ‘Them & [uz]’, in which Harrison recalls the feeling of his mouth being ‘stuffed with glottals, great / lumps to hawk up and spit out’, in response to his teacher’s insistence on Received Pronunciation for poetry reading. It is as if, with Harrison in mind, Hughes in these late letters and prose writings is looking to bring into sharper focus the same class politics that were always inherent in his verse. Hughes’s Harrison-like talk in ‘Myths, Metres, Rhythms’ of ‘the class which inherited and constantly reasserted the Military Occupation’s governing role’, with its ‘speech code of superior status’, and of the Old English tradition’s ‘army of guerillas’ and surviving ‘regional dialects of common speech’ (WP 154), is also redolent of the Laureate note (published a year before), in which Hughes describes the sense of ‘occupation by the enemy’ in the post-First World War ‘tribal lands of the north’ (RCD 58–9). It also links with Hughes’s comments about the miners on their ‘reservations’ after the 1984–5 miners’ strike, ‘in a land occupied by “the enemy”’ (LTH 566). A more emphatically class-conscious Ted Hughes – a kind of usurping brother, whose voice was relegated by the Poet Laureate to footnotes, sorry fragments, and to the fraught non-Laureate poem ‘On the Reservations’ – finds his voice again in the ‘Myths, Metres, Rhythms’ essay, with a little help from Harrison.
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
In this light, the idea that Hughes’s more pared-down, declarative Oresteia represents something very different to Harrison’s ‘quaint and numbing’ AngloSaxonized version seems less than promising. Just as Harrison would surely bristle at any dismissive reference to another working-class Yorkshire poet’s lack of Greek, the Hughes of ‘Myths, Metres, Rhythms’ would clearly have his hackles raised by any belittling reference to a resurgent Anglo-Saxon meter as ‘quaint’. (Though the poet of the defiled goddess in Shakespeare would surely note the unintended pun on ‘quaint’.) Hughes isn’t underlining his difference from Harrison in his versions of the same classics; rather, he is drawn towards him in solidarity. And for good reason. Lambasted for being the ‘Tory Laureate’, his royal verses ridiculed, and finding himself moving within the army of occupation’s salmon-fishing circles, as he had confided to his brother – ‘A very fascinating education (for what?)’ (LTH 526) – Hughes must have felt he had lost his way in the 1980s. In the 1990s, he looks to right himself through the example of Harrison. The idea of his ‘unsayable’ verse as embattled in a class sense; the notion of RP as the enemy; the approach to Northern Broadsides with his Alcestis; writing for the same actress as Harrison, the same plays – Hughes’s new lease of creative life at this time, which he put down to the release of writing Birthday Letters (LTH 720), has not only to do with finally confronting Plath’s ghost. Undoubtedly important as the writing of that volume was for Hughes, and much as Plath is a key presence in Hughes’s versions of the classics (though as I argue in the following chapter, not in quite the ways that have been supposed), it is Harrison who bolsters Hughes’s sense of the political dimensions of his poetry at this time, and who paves the way into the classics for Hughes. Clarity and simplicity are what distinguish Hughes’s Oresteia when it is compared with Harrison’s. For Hughes to return to his old alliterative style was never really an option after Harrison’s acclaimed alliterative version, but with Wolfwatching, and then with Birthday Letters, Hughes’s versification was evolving in other ways. These late volumes see Hughes extending the looser, declarative, diary-note style originally tried out in the Moortown Diary poems. It is a simple, workaday, and above all, clear style that Hughes employs in his translations. ‘Be simple and clear’, Athene twice directs those who are to speak in the court she convenes in Hughes’s version of Part Three of The Oresteia, The Eumenides (O 166, 167). In the second instance this direction is addressed to Orestes himself: ‘Tell me first’, Athene commands, ‘your country, / Your breeding, your history’ (O 168). The equivalent line in the Harrison version reads: ‘Tell me your country, your bloodkin, what’s happened’.23 What the
Class and the Classics: Hughes and Harrison
Hughes version states more simply and clearly is that class (‘breeding’ rather than ‘bloodkin’) and personal ‘history’, as well as nationality, are of the first importance in the proceedings. The personal history that critics and reviewers have inevitably looked for, and found, in Hughes’s version of the play – indeed in all his classical renditions – has to do with Plath. The suspicion arises that in dealing with Plath through the format of Greek tragedy or Ovidian metamorphosis, in which everything seems to hinge on the working of superhuman forces, Hughes is performing a kind of clean-up job, as one reviewer put it in reference to Hughes’s Alcestis,24 shifting all blame for things onto the gods. This is to fundamentally misunderstand the ways in which Hughes uses the framework of Greek tragedy to pursue a modern, post-Marxist and post-Freudian exploration of inexorable forces (one which is certainly influenced by Plath). It has even been proposed that ‘the whole tragic configuration of The Oresteia aligns with the Hughes/Plath tragedy’.25 Among the carnage of The Oresteia, we might recall, no husband kills his wife, however inadvertently. In fact the matter of Plath is dealt with in a supplementary poem to the play, ‘The Hidden Orestes’, in which Hughes features as Electra’s husband, ‘a befogged buffoon’, who ‘will never get clear’ what is going on with his wife. (Plath’s poem ‘Electra on Azalea Path’ is set by her father’s grave, and she referred to the speaker of ‘Daddy’ as ‘a girl with an Electra complex’.26) The poem does not, as has been assumed, provide the key to the meaning of the drama: whatever the sequence of plays gets clear, the poem stands outside it as a remainder, a loose end of unresolved issues, uncleanupable on the main stage. Hughes’s primary interest in a trilogy where a father has returned from a momentous war, and where a son kills his mother, and then must confront the issue of his guilt, lies elsewhere. Hughes’s father’s war – which Hughes viewed as a nightmare expression of England’s ‘social oppressions’, in which the real enemy was not Germany (WP 70) – casts a long shadow in Hughes. In ‘For the Duration’, in Wolfwatching – the volume which immediately precedes Hughes’s late diversion into the classics – Hughes asks why he felt ‘ashamed’ about asking his father about his war: ‘What was my shame? Why couldn’t I have borne / To hear telling what you underwent?’ Hughes also felt guilty about his mother. He believed the death of Assia Wevill brought on his mother’s death,27 which can only have compounded the a priori guilt of a son who, despite her coming to live with him in Devon, felt he could never deliver his mother from her early experience of a hardworking confined life after she poured her dreams into him. Hughes does not presume to map his personal history onto Aeschylus; rather, it flickers suggestively around
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
the edges of the unfolding trilogy, which provides Hughes with an analogue for touching on, and seeking understanding of, residual feelings of shame or guilt that originate ultimately in the troubled histories of his parents. In a letter of 1981, Hughes wrote of feeling, on re-reading his work, that he always seemed to be fighting: ‘Strangest of all’, he reflects, ‘it is the same feeling I used to get reading my father’s letters – there was something about them so vehement, so much in over-drive, that I often couldn’t read them’. This notion of his father’s and mother’s temperaments, ‘lying side by side in me in some antagonistic arrangement’, Hughes says, has occurred to him lately ‘as a way of explaining things’ (PC 105). When at the end of Hughes’s Oresteia, Athene pleads with the Chorus of Furies pursuing Orestes to let their ‘rage pass into understanding’ (O 184), there is a sense of Hughes finally taking full measure of the fury and violence that so memorably mark his work. The trilogy explores a son’s inherited family burden, which is also the burden of history – of war, industrial slavery. Hughes thought his Oresteia was the best thing he’d written.28 If the work is a clean-up job, it is not one in which blame is shifted onto the gods. ‘Clean-up job’ is a useful phrase, as this is an idea that Hughes’s text actually foregrounds. As we have seen, the desire expressed in Hughes to wash away a history that hurts, as in the poem ‘Chinese History of Colden Water’, and to find release in a healing nature, is matched by an equal sense of the impossibility of this, as everywhere in Hughes nature reflects back the social world it is projected from. The poem ‘A Green Mother’ represents nature as a holiday from the social world, an imaginary place where nothing is ‘Pronounced poor’, and where children’s faces are wiped clean of blood and tears. This same desire to be cleansed of history is explored in the three parts of Hughes’s Oresteia. Though there is much overlap between the separate parts, a distinct emphasis on that very Hughesian word ‘labour’ is discernible in Agamemnon. Nature has always laboured in Hughes: the labouring of the tide falls back from its productions; a heron labours clear of the glare from a steel furnace; the huge labour of leaf in the Calder Valley is simply thrown away. In Agamemnon, Menelaus and Agamemnon are like nesting eagles whose ‘labours’ are ‘lost’ (O 5); Greece and Troy ‘labour / At the killing’ (O 6); women ‘labour at a grief that is already / The first labour of slaves’ (O 20); the Chorus’s heart ‘labours and staggers’ (O 47). Related images include Agamemnon, the ‘great hero’, having ‘made just this much slag’, while having ‘cashed in’ the men of the house of Atreus (O 25), and the prayers of Troy being ‘dumped into the pit’ (O 40). Along with the pervasive talk of slaves, rabble, ‘civil infection’ (O 41) and corrupting wealth (O 38, 40, 46), the ‘weight’ of ‘masters’ and ‘revolutionary chickens’ (O 82–3), the imagery of this
Class and the Classics: Hughes and Harrison
section in particular bespeaks a structure of feeling forged in the Calder Valley and the South Yorkshire coalfields. At the same time, Hughes’s early notion that writing poetry is like fishing, waiting attentively for something to come up of its own accord from the depths of the unconscious, has, it seems, given way to a more active sense of consciously working those depths: ‘An image has to be looked for – consciously – ’, Hughes says in a late letter, ‘and then mined to the limit’ (LTH 720). Mining here displaces fishing as the image of Hughes’s creative labour; what was always implicitly more industrial in character than natural is now explicitly so. This emphasis on labour, slag and pits in Hughes’s Agamemnon spills over into Choephori – the last shreds of the house of Atreus are ‘Benighted in this darkest pit of our fate’ (O 110), judgement comes, ‘with difficulty, labour, pain’ (O 113) – but an emphasis on washing or cleansing now takes prominence: ‘What prayers can wash that howl? / Or wash this accursed royal house’ (O 91); ‘All the pure streams flowing from heaven’ can never ‘wash’ bloodied hands (O 92); the ‘sea of tears’ that ‘washes’ Troy is ‘bottomless’ (O 96); ‘Wash the signature of blood’, the gods are pleaded with, from this house’s cursed ‘deeds’ (O 128); Agamemnon was stabbed, we’re reminded, ‘As he stripped to wash off the blood of his enemies’ (O 143); ‘we have a ritual / To wash your hands clean’, the same Chorus tells Orestes at the end; and – in an echo of the ends of both ‘Chinese History of Colden Water’ and ‘A Green Mother’ – the Chorus reiterates: ‘Apollo will wash your eyes clear of these visions’ (O 142). But this is by no means made to feel certain by Hughes. The concern with cleansing remains prominent in the final part, The Eumenides, especially in Orestes’s anxious insistence that he has been ritually cleansed of his mother’s blood (O 159, 161–2, 168). The more Orestes tries to assure himself and everyone else of this, the less convincing he is made to sound – and not least because of all the screaming, which has sounded throughout the trilogy, and which now reaches a crescendo as Orestes flees the pursuing Furies: Clytemnestra ‘is screaming’ to Orestes ‘from under the earth’ (O 152); ‘The chamber of screams is your rest-place’, Apollo tells the Furies (O 155); Orestes is only now ‘A mouth for screams’, the Furies tell him (O 162); the Furies won’t weep ‘When the great scream of everything that lives / Is screamed in Attica’ (O 186); while at the end Athene promises the subdued Furies will give to men and women what they have ‘earned’, ‘Songs to some, / Screams to others’ (O 191). A scream had started that other ritual trial book, Cave Birds, in which the Green Mother’s promise to wipe all tears and blood away is implicitly rejected as an escape from the issue of poverty. ‘Justice lives in poverty’, we are told by the
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
Chorus in the first part of Hughes’s trilogy (O 38). As they grow in frequency in the final part of Hughes’s version of The Oresteia, screams sound as a furious challenge to the notion of Orestes’s cleansing. Of course, the Furies finally submit to Athene; ‘rage’ passes to ‘understanding’ (a word repeated by Hughes’s Athene four times [O 184–5]), which might make this look, on the face of it, like a clean-up job of sorts. Yet Hughes’s Furies seem to melt a little too easily in response to Athene’s ‘gentle’ words – even if they do secure their ‘rights’ first (O 188). It has been pointed out that while Hughes’s version stays respectfully close to the original – so much so that it is in this sense the most ‘conservative’ of his versions of the classics – he at one point gives extra lines to the Furies as they protest to Apollo on Clytemnestra’s behalf (O 175). These extra lines serve to strengthen the Furies’ case.29 The added weight Hughes gives the Furies’ claim on Orestes makes the accommodation reached at the end of Hughes’s Oresteia seem more fragile. The Chorus’s wish at the end – that ‘civil war’ be over, that Athens be given ‘a single mind, a whole mind’ (O 192) – recalls the Laureate’s dream of the nation as a whole. But to see this as a kind of crowning emphasis on the idea of wholeness – psychological, national – in Hughes’s work would be to sell Hughes short both as a dramatist and as a thinker. The drive towards wholeness in Hughes was always profoundly dialectical: the idea of the symbolic importance of the monarchy matched by all those beheadings (including the fantasy of the Laureate’s own head being demanded by journalists [PC 147]). The idea of an ‘usurping brother’s “murder” of the Crown’, so central to Hughes’s notion of Shakespeare’s Tragic Equation (PC 197), is of course really an insight into Hughes – politically as well as psychologically. At the end of Hughes’s Oresteia, Athene pleads passionately with the Furies not to bring ‘civil war’ to Athens, the ‘dream of the enemy’ (O 187). Hughes’s Phèdre – a version written in the shadow of Harrison’s colonial India version – is also much taken up with notions of ‘the enemy’: Phèdre herself is ‘occupied by an enemy’ (P 38), while her husband Theseus has returned from a ‘pit’ (P 47, 48) to wonder if his son is in ‘collusion with an enemy’ (P 49). While the Methodist Puritanism Hughes felt had colonized his mother is Hughes’s core concern in this play, we know that this type of language is charged with class associations for Hughes, and links with his sense of the North as colonized by ‘the enemy’ – as in Hughes’s reference to the defeated miners on their reservations. In this context,30 Hughes’s blunt rendition of the Furies’ response to Athene’s plea – that they ‘cannot live on words’ (O 187) – becomes more than a comment on the eking and deferring nature of language. It resonates with the pressing social question of the time
Class and the Classics: Hughes and Harrison
concerning the Northern reservations, which had seen the final rundown of the coal industry by John Major’s Tory government in the early 1990s in a time of economic recession: what are the redundant Northern tribes now to live on? A shadow is cast over the end of Hughes’s version not by what it excludes, but by the questions it raises – questions that are not without their implications for the shaman Laureate. ‘This garb is ridiculous on me – / This prophet’s robe’, Hughes’s Cassandra says, now she finds herself caught in ‘a twist of history’. To the Chorus she is a nightingale, ‘squealing / And choking on her own history’ (O 61, 62). The latter image recalls Hughes’s description in a letter of this time of his conjuring a nightingale out of ‘the squeals of dry brakes’ in a shunting yard (LTH 730). The similarities between these late nightingale references reveal myth and nature giving way to social materiality as Hughes pursues the idea of classical Necessity. The prophetess Cassandra, who now feels ridiculously robed, is a character Hughes would have had a special interest in. Hughes referred to the Laureateship as a robe he had donned when introducing his first Laureate poem, ‘The Best Worker in Europe’31 – a poem which reveals, in its dismissive references to unions and subsidies, how the donning of that robe is also twisted with history, occurring as it does deep into the miners’ strike of 1984–5. That was then though: this is now. The Laureate gets a similarly rough handling in Phèdre, when Phèdre rounds on ‘Sycophants’ who bend ‘their supple speeches to the failings / Of erratic monarchs’ (P 65). Here a female-sympathizing Hughes plays up what might seem a bad reflection on both the monarchy and the sycophantic speeches of its appointed poet. Cassandra’s phrase ‘twist of history’ is interesting. The phrase it evokes is of course ‘twist of fate’, which is used later by Hughes in a speech of the Furies in The Eumenides (O 163). History as fate; fate as history – the determining power of the gods in Greek tragedy answers to Hughes’s newly clarified sense of the determining power of history. This late rejection of fate as a matter of myth, astrology and the occult is announced right at the start of Hughes’s Oresteia, when the Watchman declares that it is time for him to be released, that he’s had enough of staring into the darkness, ‘For what never emerges’, and at the constellations (O 3). A form that was always emphatically civic, with its choruses, its kings and rulers, its unrounded characters speaking publicly through masks, turns out – as Harrison had resoundingly shown – to be eminently suitable to a post-Marxist sense of being embroiled in history. By the same token, Greek tragedy is a less likely form for the exploration of the ‘personal’ conceived of as being somehow outside of the political. Terry Eagleton has argued
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
that the continuing relevance of tragedy lies in the violently demystifying passage it stages: ‘It may be, as modernity suspects, that common-or-garden consciousness is now so ineluctably false consciousness that only such a violent passage through hell will return it, purged and demystified, to true cognition’.32 It is difficult to imagine Hughes disagreeing with this. The idea of anagnorisis in Hughes’s Oresteia is, simply, that the personal always was historical – and in Hughes’s personal history, history is writ large. But while the hurt of history, passed down from one generation to the next, might finally be understood, we sense that for Hughes it is never quite healed over. Far from being very different poets, then, in his late versions of the classics Hughes reorientates himself in light of Harrison’s political theatre. Class, war, colonialism, history as Necessity – the principal themes of Hughes’s classics are not so different to those of Harrison’s. It is again no accident that Hughes’s major non-Euripidean improvisation in his Alcestis – Hercules’s drunken recapitulation of his labours – mirrors in inverted form the reprisal of the fragment of the Alcestis of Phrynichos, ‘as if it were nothing but a rowdy drinking song’,33 in Harrison’s The Labourers of Herakles. Harrison’s play was performed in the shadow of the Bosnian war, on the building site for the New Theatre of the European Centre of Delphi in 1995, and was published in 1996. Hughes had begun his version of the Alcestis in 1993. The same year Hughes did a poetry reading with Harrison, staying late at the bar afterwards with his fellow poet and the Northern Broadsides actor and director Barry Rutter (PC 236). (Rutter would go on to play Herakles in Harrison’s 1995 production, and direct Hughes’s Alcestis for Northern Broadsides in 2000.) Hughes shelved his Alcestis to make way for commissioned work, eventually returning to it in 1998, when the ‘more developed interlude about Hercules’ was added (PC 265) – after, that is, Harrison’s The Labourers of Herakles of 1995/6. The new Hercules interlude, which reads like a cross between Harrison (‘Act the sixth. The shite hawks!’ [A 53]) and Crow (‘To bounce the brains out through their eye-sockets’ [A 53]), injects fresh vigour and raucousness into a version that had apparently been languishing. The interlude reads like a rollicking account of Hughes’s own labours, but one that contains a vein of searching self-parody. Like Crow, Hercules is a ‘guzzler and devourer’, a ‘dangerous buffoon’ (A 49). His various labours read like a checklist of Hughesian preoccupations: ‘The monster of the bog’ (A 50) alludes to Heaney’s bog poems and Ireland; the hydra, a ‘factory of venom’ belching ‘poison gas’ (A 51, 50), is a version of Hughes’s natural-industrial monsters; ‘the Erymanthian boar’ (A 52) is the Shakespeare book, which Hughes in the end found laborious; the diversion of rivers to clean up the excrement of the
Class and the Classics: Hughes and Harrison
Augean stables – ‘A brown fan opened into the seas’ (A 53) – reflects in reverse form Hughes’s environmentalist campaigning to clean up rivers; while ‘the Minotaur’s very own daddy… A monument of marble muscle’ (A 54) refers of course to the Plath of ‘Daddy’. The merry reprisal of Hercules’s/Hughes’s labours culminates in a vision, during which Hercules is disturbed by ‘the bleating of the dead / In the valley of death’, with its millions of ghosts: ‘Who am I looking for?’ he asks, falteringly (A 55). Critics have assumed it is Plath, as Hughes himself presumably did in tackling this play. But the imagery at this point is suggestive of Hughes’s Calder Valley, made deathly by the First World War and the Industrial Revolution. In his The Labourers of Herakles, Harrison directs his audience’s attention towards the contemporary war in Bosnia, and asks them to consider their implication in the exploitation of cheap labour in that region: ‘Who wove this caustic khaki that seals his maleness in? / The mother of the mortared mosque’s dismembered muezzin’.34 In his labours of Hercules interlude, Hughes looks back to a war with millions of ghosts, and a valley that won’t release his mother’s spirit from her weaving. As Hercules – the hero who will rescue Alcestis’s wife from Death – now dimly remembers killing his own wife, his servant Iolaus tries to persuade him it was Prometheus’s vulture he in fact killed in order to free the Titan (who had in turn only freed mankind, God points out, ‘To grope his way down into the mine shaft, into the bank vault’ [A 58]). The self-reference here is to Prometheus on his Crag of 1973, where Prometheus finally comes to see the vulture which tears at his insides as, among other things, simply a ‘lump of his mother’ (Poem 20). In the late play, the vulture tears out of Prometheus ‘lumps that make no sense’ (A 59). Hughes wrote Prometheus on his Crag after he’d abandoned Crow, after the death of Assia Wevill and their daughter Shura – and Hughes’s mother. Hughes’s guilt in relation to his mother – though it makes no rational sense – extends back beyond the deaths which serve for Hughes’s critics as a final point of reference for these plays, and which have the interpretative benefit of making Hughes’s feelings of guilt more obviously explicable in personal terms. Hughes’s Hercules interlude complicates considerably a play about a wife brought back from the dead by dimly acknowledging another wife figure and, more distantly, a symbolic mother in hellish flames – as she was in ‘Hell’ in the mining town of Mexborough (LTH 699) – not brought back from the dead. It reveals the layers of guilt – at the bottom of which is the historical – that have always necessitated Hughes’s labours, and that continue here to open one onto the other, even as in selecting this play Hughes must have been seeking closure. Little wonder Hercules keeps asking for another drink.
Hughes and Plath: England versus America
I mentioned in the previous chapter that Sylvia Plath is an important presence in Hughes’s versions of the classics. In Hughes’s Phèdre, Plath’s poem ‘Fever 103⁰’ is evoked when the suicidal Phèdre, as Oenone reminds her, has not slept for ‘Three whole days and three whole nights’ (P 9). Depicted as ‘Insane with an incestuous passion’ (P 80), Hughes’s Phèdre might seem to confirm the worst suspicions of Hughes’s motives for returning to Plath in these late translations, and in Birthday Letters: namely, that Hughes here exculpates himself from all blame by blaming everything on Plath’s father fixation, played out here in Phèdre’s incestuous son-in-law fixation. (Hughes was, of course, Plath’s dead father’s son-in-law, and he figures in Plath’s ‘Daddy’ as a model of her father.) For anyone looking to read Hughes’s late discourse with Plath as a blame game, Phèdre’s admission at the end of Hughes’s play that she was ‘the monster in this riddle’ (P 80) can only appear crude in the extreme. But what is going on here is less crude than self-consciously overwrought, and in a manner more redolent of the Plath of ‘Fever 103⁰’ or ‘Lady Lazarus’ or ‘Daddy’ than anything in Hughes. In a perceptive essay on the ‘metatheatrical’ aspects of Hughes’s classical versions, Sarah Annes Brown remarks on the characters’ anachronistic awareness of their literary reputations.1 This insight, pursued a little further, has an obvious bearing on Hughes and Plath’s notoriety. Hughes’s proprietorship of Plath’s body of work is marked not only by a traumatized instinct to protect his family, but also his dead wife’s literary reputation. His prose writings on Plath, seen in proper perspective, are an attempt – however wrongheaded – to rescue Plath from the critical construction of her as brilliant but unhinged, as a priestess cultivating her hysteria,2 denied the fullness of self-possession necessary to write truly great poetry, to govern her tongue properly.3 While we might take issue with the terms in which
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
Hughes celebrates Plath’s achievement – especially with the Jungian narrative of individuation Hughes sets Plath’s poems in (WP 181) – no one held Plath in higher esteem than Hughes. Hughes counters what he must have seen as the negative or reductive tendencies of Plathology by pursuing a resolutely positive reading of Ariel as representing ‘a classic case of the alchemical individuation of the self ’ (WP 181). But Hughes’s notion of Plath’s poetry as ‘a deeply secluded mythic and symbolic inner theatre’, a ‘hermetically sealed’ Jungian business (WP 179), involves downplaying not only Plath’s preferred Freudian take on the self – Hughes makes less than lukewarm reference to Plath’s ‘routine reconstruction from a psychoanalytical point of view’ of her suicide attempts (WP 180) – but also the external social and cultural factors and pressures to which the Ariel poems respond. While one can understand that Hughes’s positive Jungian spin on Plath was driven by an anxiety to protect Plath’s reputation, by separating Plath from the social and historical contexts in which her poems are produced Hughes in the end plays into the hands of the idea of Plath as self-obsessed. Hughes’s late take on Plath represents a considerable adjustment. The idea of Plath’s poetry as a work of triumphant Jungian individuation has now gone. The Ariel poems, Hughes reflects in a late letter, ‘were not so much triumphant ritual – as double-tongued, triumph & doom’ (LTH 721). In ‘9 Willow Street’, from Birthday Letters, Hughes recalls that while he was trying to locate ‘Jung’s nigredo’, Plath was ‘In a paralysis of terror-flutters’ he ‘hardly understood’. Here Hughes’s Jungian pursuits are beside the point. Plath’s more deterministic Freudianism – which was always less promising in terms of the idea of individuation, of finding one’s true voice or real self – is fully restored in Birthday Letters, with that book’s emphasis on Oedipal pre-settings. The sequence also opens out significantly onto the social world: Hughes and Plath’s marriage and creative life is now viewed in terms of a meeting of different histories, cultures; of England and America. The deterministic vision of Birthday Letters is in fact wholly determined by Plath, to whom Hughes now concedes. Hughes’s ‘narrative fallibility’ in Birthday Letters,4 the way the poems ‘actually dramatise his imaginative failure’, has been noted.5 These poems, together with Hughes’s versions of the classics, in fact show nothing less than a complete capitulation to Plath – to her vision of Necessity, her version of things, even her poetic form. What we think of as Hughesian metaphysics – the mythical methodology, the esoteric or astrological meanings – are unfixed in these late works. While Hughes cast a horoscope to fix on the right publication date for Birthday Letters,6 within the sequence itself such mystical preoccupations receive short shrift. In ‘St. Botolph’s’, Hughes figures his interest in astrology as fickle and
Hughes and Plath: England versus America
amateurish: while a Chaucer might have taken a more serious interest in what the stars say, it is Plath’s ‘American legs’ that impress themselves on Hughes here with all force of the ‘Unalterable’. Necessity, in deference to Plath, is relocated at the level of human, rather than planetary, influences. Jupiter and the moon might well have been conjunct opposed to Venus, as the poem notes – but ‘so what?’ Hughes remembers reflecting. Whatever the planetary conjunctions, it is actually Hughes’s friend that ‘engineered’ Hughes and Plath’s first meeting. In ‘Horoscope’, Plath has ‘no need to calculate’ her horoscope – she only has to look into ‘the nearest face of a metaphor’ to see her ‘whole Fate’ in her family relations. In her late poem ‘Sheep in Fog’, Plath had responded to Hughes’s astrological pretensions by relocating the ‘fixed stars’ that govern lives in the dark Freudian waters of family relations.7 Where his prose commentaries on Plath had cast her in a mythical-Jungian drama, in Birthday Letters Hughes’s ‘Incomprehension’ is such that ‘All the mythologies’ seem ‘inaccessible’ (‘Moonwalk’). ‘What play / Were we in?’ Hughes asks in ‘Setebos’, as the mythical scenery and thread become hopelessly confused. While traces of the hermetically sealed, asocial, mythical operation Hughes had previously ascribed to Plath might still be discernible in Birthday Letters, which after all was written over many years, the predominant sense of the sequence is of the displacement of Hughes’s former take on Plath by Plath’s own Freudian-historical version of things. By the same token, Hughes’s English reserve – the Eliotian impersonality of his work of the 1950s, 60s and 70s – gives way to American confessionalism. The significance of this should not be underestimated. Hughes had begun to write in a confessional mode in the family portraits of Wolfwatching (1989). As Diane Middlebrook observes of ‘Dust As We Are’, a poem about Hughes’s post-war father from that volume, ‘For an Englishman to abandon his irony in public takes courage indeed’.8 For a Yorkshireman, even more so. It’s been observed that Birthday Letters is more confessional than anything Plath wrote.9 All this might conceivably be seen, by anyone determined enough, as a roundabout way on Hughes’s part of getting himself off the hook – one designed to disarm criticism by re-emphasizing Plath’s own version of things, in which Hughes had figured helplessly as a model made by Plath to act out her psycho-sexual needs. But this would be to ignore the seachange Birthday Letters represents for Hughes. As his adoption of the confessional form in Wolfwatching had previously indicated, Hughes now follows Plath’s lead. When Phèdre refers to herself in Hughes’s version of that play as a monster, Hughes evokes the hysterical monster of Plathology only to implicitly posit another, quite different Plath, employing
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
the word ‘monster’ with the French sense of monstrare, to show, demonstrate. ‘This has allowed me / Time to show you’, Phèdre explains to her husband Theseus after her admission of monstrosity (P 81). (Unlike Greek, Hughes did know French.) The play on the monstrous as a showing forth is repeated from earlier on, when Phèdre tells Hippolytus that she would ‘have come the whole way beside you’ into the Minotaur’s labyrinth, into ‘the heart of the monster’s riddle’, so that she might ‘guide’ him back: in saying this she has ‘said enough to show you the truth’ (P 32–3). The cultural construction of Plath as a monstrous ‘woman in frenzy’ (P 33) – a posthumous public image fostered in part by Plath’s own knowingly theatrical and parodic construction of herself in the Ariel poems – is counterpointed here with a sense of Plath as a guide, someone who shows the way, and who is able lead Hughes out of the labyrinth. It is in this dual guise that Plath figures in Hughes’s late versions of the classics. The priestess cultivating her hysteria is dramatized as a monstrous literary construction, while at the same time another Plath speaks more intimately to Hughes, demonstrating what lies at the heart of things. It is worth noting that while Hughes was working on Birthday Letters, and before he wrote Phèdre, he had been reading – in another about-turn for Hughes, given his extreme aversion to literary criticism which goes back to his burnt fox dream at Cambridge – an anthology of modern criticism, in which his interest was particularly taken by the George Lukács essay, ‘The Ideology of Modernism’ (PC 250). Here Hughes will have met with the usual Marxist emphasis on man as a ‘social animal’, whose personality is ‘determined’ by his interactions with his social environment.10 Lukács’s critique of the representation in writers like Beckett and Kafka of man as a solitary being, ‘without personal history’ – a modern development which makes man ‘incapable of meaningful relationships’11 – presumably found an appreciative reader in Hughes, who had insisted that the Trickster world of Crow was not to be confused with the meaningless and nihilistic universe of writers like Beckett. Hughes’s ascription of Crow’s ‘self-sufficient meaning’ to his ‘biological optimism’ (WP 239) is quite different from Lukács’s insistence that man’s meaning lies in his sociality; still, Hughes’s interest in Lukács’s essay can only have to do with the Marxist critic’s critique of modernity. In particular, at a time when Hughes is writing about Plath and her image, Hughes’s attention must have been caught by Lukács’s notion of ‘the poetic necessity of the pathological’ as a response to ‘the prosaic quality of life under capitalism’. For Lukács, ‘Neurotic aberration’ has to be seen as an ‘escape from life’s dreary routine’, even a ‘moral protest against capitalism’.12 Reading this while thinking of Plath brings to mind the honey-drudgers of the Bee poems,
Hughes and Plath: England versus America
for instance, in relation to which the speaker feels her ‘strangeness’ (‘Stings’);13 more generally, one thinks of the critique in Ariel of the construction of women’s lives through film, advertising, media. The Plath of Birthday Letters is accordingly turned out by ‘Financiers and committees and consultants’: Hughes senses her ‘horror’ in the ‘straightjacket’ of a blue flannel suit which approximates her idea of social propriety (‘The Blue Flannel Suit’). The ‘pathological’ is here an effect of capitalism, as in Lukács; the personal seen in social perspective, as Plath’s poems always demanded it should be. When in Hughes’s Oresteia, Cassandra says she will show ‘How far back / The track of blood and guilt / began’, she is talking history. Plath is again evoked: in an echo of the end of Plath’s ‘Stings’ – where the queen bee flies over what killed her, ‘More terrible than she ever was’ – Cassandra refers to herself as ‘More terrible than my own murdered body’ (O 57). As Heather Clark points out, Plath played on this image of herself in Ariel in part as a response to Hughes’s own encouragements to Plath ‘to release her violent energy’.14 In his own version of Plathian camp – a kind of lie that tells the truth – in these late classical versions Hughes rehearses again Plath’s own parodic self-dramatizations, and the Plath mythology that arises from them, attending closely this time to Plath’s own meanings and abandoning his previous Jungian narrative of Plath’s self-realization. Jo Gill notes the ‘images of performance and display’ in Birthday Letters, which recall similar images in Plath poems such as ‘Lesbos’ and ‘Lady Lazarus’.15 The ‘monstrous reality’ that is ‘pushing to be born’ (O 57) through Cassandra again plays on the dual image of Plath in these plays. The publicly constructed monster – the ‘gypsy’ of ‘Daddy’, ‘Some hysterical actress’, ‘A brain-damaged girl, hallucinating’ (O 62) – who is also a mockery of Hughes’s previous take on Plath’s ‘hallucinatory evocations’ and ‘clairvoyant precision’ (WP 162, 161), is deconstructed by another Plath, who demonstrates the truths such lies tell. To call someone hysterical, brain-damaged, pathological, is to negate the very history or sociality which Plath’s poetry, as it acts out such ascriptions, challenges us to see them in relation to. Hughes’s Cassandra/Plath rejects the sense of mystery attached to her, wanting to focus instead on the history that has brought her to this place. ‘No more mystery’, she says (O 57): her talk is of war, slaves, mass graves. In so far as Plath speaks through Cassandra, it is to admonish Hughes’s idea of the self as a mysterious Jungian alchemy, and replace it with a corrective emphasis on the self as a ‘twist of history’ (O 62). Cassandra/Plath isn’t the only one with baggage. The ‘royal house’ of the Poet Laureate, we are implicitly reminded by her, is also ‘full of demons’ (O 57). When Hughes’s Orestes comes to kill his mother in Choephori, the second part of the
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
trilogy, his words curiously echo those of the girl with the Electra complex in Plath’s ‘Daddy’. ‘Mother, I am going to kill you now’, Orestes says (O 133), just as Plath’s speaker had announced: ‘Daddy, I have had to kill you’.16 The echo aligns Hughes’s relation with his dead mother and Plath’s relation with her dead father. The implication is that Hughes is – both here and, as we shall see, in Birthday Letters – coming to view his own parental relations in light of Plath’s exploration of hers. Clark has shown that ‘Daddy’ itself was written in response to Hughes’s poem ‘Out’, and has detailed the ways Plath’s poem echoes Hughes’s. Both poems, Clark concludes, ‘assert their speakers’ independence from a silenced or silencing father and bankrupt state elders who demand filial loyalty and sacrifice’, though Plath ‘one-ups’ Hughes by adopting a ‘stronger, louder, more self-consciously vulgar (and perhaps American)’ voice.17 This is nicely observed. An echo not picked up by Clark is Plath’s reworking in ‘Daddy’ of Hughes’s description in ‘Out’ of ‘the cenotaphs on my mother’s breasts’, an oppressive weight which Plath lifts from Hughes’s mother and transfers to her ‘Marble heavy’ father. In Hughes’s poem, the burden of his father’s past is transmitted also through ‘the woe-dark’ under his ‘mother’s eye’. The way Hughes’s Orestes echoes the Plath of ‘Daddy’ suggests it is primarily Hughes’s mother, rather than his father, who is the heavier burden in terms of his sense of guilt. Hughes felt he had as good as killed his mother, whose death he believed was caused by Assia and Shura Wevill’s deaths. We have seen how he felt impossibly burdened by his mother’s pouring her dreams into him, and how his interest in everything occult and shamanic and folklore-ish is linked to his clairvoyant mother, whom he associated with everything Celtic.18 Hughesian nature, conceived of in terms of the very industrial labour critics have mistaken it as an escape from, is structured by his mother’s desire, as Hughes understood it – by her ‘Bronte-esque [sic] dreams of spectacular freedom’ (LTH 699). Much as Plath felt the need to deliver herself from her sense of the oppressive psychological burden of her dead father in ‘Daddy’, so Hughes’s need to deliver his mother through his writing is, by the same token, a need to deliver himself of her dream-investment in him. In letters written in the last decade of his life, Hughes dwells at length on his family history and childhood, and it is at this time we learn about his mother’s hardworking life, and how her younger son became the bearer of her dreams of freedom. Edith Hughes’s central importance to understanding where Hughes is coming from has been obscured for too long by everyone’s preoccupation with the Hughes-Plath relationship, both personal and literary. There is no need to downplay the undoubted importance of Plath in Hughes’s work in order to make room for the prior, and more
Hughes and Plath: England versus America
fundamental, importance of a Brontë-esque mother: Hughes is a big enough poet to encompass both. Only Diane Middlebrook so far has come close to recognizing just how profound and enduring Hughes’s otherworldly mother’s hold was on her younger son’s imagination. Middlebrook comments revealingly on how, in letters to his older brother Gerald over the years, Hughes monitors his mother’s appearance, ‘commenting on her pallors and her sunburns, her weight gains and her weight losses, her symptoms, her moods, her operations, her home remedies, her medical treatments’. Hughes also ‘speculates freely about psychosomatic features of her indispositions’. This obsessive preoccupation with his mother, which Middlebrook finds is remarkably ‘direct and intimate and voluble’ in the letters to Gerald, is for Middlebrook what lies behind the hags and ogresses of Hughes’s fantasy world. Such ‘arrestingly uninhibited use of the split-off “bad mother”’ was licensed, Middlebrook suggests, by Hughes’s reading in anthropology and psychology.19 And, we might add, by Plath. If Hughes played Heathcliff at Cambridge, it was less to Plath’s Cathy than to the ‘furious Brontë figment’ described in the poem ‘Edith’. The poem ‘Wuthering Heights’, in Birthday Letters, makes this clear. Plath’s ‘transatlantic elation’ at climbing into Brontë country is counterpointed by Hughes’s own thoughts of hard lives – of ‘The incomings, / The outgoings’, the ‘worn-out remains / Of failed efforts, failed hopes’, of ‘Iron beliefs’ and ‘iron necessities’ and ‘Iron bondage’. Necessity here is a purely economic condition. ‘Being cornered’ is what ‘Kept folk here’, Hughes sees, an insight brought into sharp definition by Plath’s presence: in contrast, the American Plath has all the ‘liberties’ and ‘life’. The difficult relationship between Plath and Hughes’s mother is hinted at when Emily Brontë is imagined staring like a ‘prisoner’ at Plath. Though she later lived at Hughes’s Devon home, Hughes always imagined his Emily Brontë mother as imprisoned in the Calder Valley, under the ‘deadfall’ weight of the Methodism of the region (‘Mount Zion’). In ‘Wuthering Heights’, ‘Deadfall slabs’ are described as flaking from the roofs as Plath, Hughes, and Hughes’s Uncle Walter climb into Brontë country. Hughes’s sense in the poem of the contrast between Emily Brontë’s and Sylvia Plath’s lives is really a sense of the contrast between his working-class English mother’s and his middleclass American wife’s lives. Though Plath in a letter home to her mother announced she was ‘a veritable convert to the Brontë clan’, and enthused about her husband’s ‘wuthering-heights home’,20 her own ‘Wuthering Heights’ suggests a more withering experience. Under the gaze of ‘grandmotherly’ sheep, the speaker of Plath’s poem feels her heat funnel away; as the grass beats its head ‘distractedly’, the sense is that the speaker too feels – or rather is made
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
to feel – ‘too delicate / For a life in such company’.21 Plath’s feeling of being threatened and diminished in the ‘company’ of Hughes’s Wuthering Heights clan is recognized in Hughes’s poem, where Wuthering Heights is described as ‘Withering into perspective’ after Plath’s initial ‘transatlantic elation’. In Hughes’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, the family tensions suggested in Plath’s poem are placed in broader historical perspective. The clash of personalities is revealed as a culture clash, a twist of history. This idea brings a whole new dimension into play in Birthday Letters, or rather a dimension that has hitherto gone unnoticed. Everyone has seen that this book puts everything down to Plath’s father fixation; no one has noticed, though, how this story is shadowed in turn by Hughes’s mother fixation, as Hughes himself now comes to understand it through entering Plath’s gaze. ‘I saw the world through your eyes’, Hughes says to Plath in ‘The Owl’; making his world ‘perform’ for Plath, his own ‘dumb, ecstatic boyhood / Of fifteen years before’ awakes. If, according to her analyst, Plath was ‘never / More than a step’ from a ‘Paradise’ located in childhood (‘Child’s Park’), neither too, Hughes implicitly recognizes, was he. The alchemical ‘defloration / And rebirth out of the sun’ this poem ascribes to Plath actually recalls Hughes’s Cave Birds sequence more than it does any of Plath’s poems. What is ‘mixed up together’ and ‘somehow the same’ in this poem is in fact two paradises. Hughes’s own negotiation of the psychological import of his boyhood paradise shadows Plath’s exploration of hers. Hughes’s first paradise was living in his brother’s mythologized Paleolithic-hunter dreamtime above Mytholmroyd; his second was at Manor Farm at Old Denaby, near Mexborough. This second paradise in particular is darkened in Hughes’s imagination by the sense that for his mother, at the same time, Mexborough was ‘Hell’ (LTH 699). In ‘Child’s Park’, Plath’s paradise is at the same time an ‘Inferno’. In a kind of shadow play, ‘Child’s Park’ evokes Cave Birds – that most guilt-ridden of Hughes’s books, with its obscure imagery of flames and clinker, mummy grains and mummy bandaging, afterbirths and deliveries – in order to implicitly posit it as a rebirth myth analogous to Plath’s ordeal in ‘Daddy’. If Hughes got mixed up in Plath’s father complex, then ‘Error’ confesses to an analogous error on Hughes’s part. In moving to Devon, Hughes brought Plath into his ‘dreamland’, a ‘Never-never land’ where, as he explains in a late letter, he unwittingly tried to regain paradise by moving to the Tarka Country he associated with the absent Gerald, who had worked as a gamekeeper there (LTH 725). (As a boy Hughes had kept close in spirit to his absent brother by reading Tarka the Otter.) Plath is as much a victim here of Hughes’s family
Hughes and Plath: England versus America
complex as he is of hers, the move leaving her ‘soul-naked and stricken’, stripped of her ‘American royalty’, just as her experience of Hughes’s Yorkshire, of ‘The fallen-in grave of its history’, had stripped her of ‘The sparkle of America’ (‘Stubbing Wharfe’). The mixture of guilt and grim satisfaction in these descriptions surely links with the hinted-at tension between Plath and Edith Hughes in Hughes’s ‘Wuthering Heights’. But if Plath is stripped of her American sparkle in England, then Hughes is at the same time stripped by Plath of his visionary pretensions. In poems such as ‘Stubbing Wharfe’ and ‘Error’, Plath acts as a foil to the never-never lands of Hughes’s paradises. When in ‘Stubbing Wharfe’, Hughes envisages his ‘vision house’ up the valley, for Plath this ‘fouled nest of the Industrial Revolution’ is ‘horrible’, nothing but ‘Solid blackness’. If Plath’s eyes are elsewhere – on the Atlantic coast of her American childhood, with its ‘thunderous beaches / And ice-cream summits’ – then Hughes remains equally attached to his own mythologized childhood, which Plath resists. This is no simple blame game: the family mythologizing, set against conflicting historical and cultural backgrounds, cuts both ways. In poem after poem in Birthday Letters, Plath serves to demystify Hughes’s sense of a mystical, mythical England. In ‘The Beach’, Hughes wants to show Plath ‘an altogether other England’ from the ‘filthy’ and ‘poor’ and blackpainted place she saw around her – an ‘Avalon’ for which he has the ‘wavelength’. Hughes’s visionary England, though, is ‘Unperforming’ on the day. (Note again the Plathian emphasis on performance, theatricality.) The poem ends on Plath’s wavelength: the beach they visit, with its ‘black oil-balls’ and ‘obscure spewage’, is ‘the reverse of dazzling Nauset’. It is also the reverse of the ‘Avalon’ Hughes had wanted to show Plath. Hughes’s ocean falls ‘Dream-face down’; staring back up at him, ‘in the suds’, is ‘The other face, the real’. The image is profoundly revealing. Hughes’s characteristic English aversion to a sparkling, wealthy America he associated with Plath is clear enough in Birthday Letters; a crucial effect of Plath’s presence in England for Hughes, though, is to bring his own culture and history to the fore, to strip away the escapist mythical dreaming. The ‘real’ face of England – and of Ted Hughes – stares back at him from the mirror Plath’s presence holds up. It is an England that has ‘never recovered’ from its ‘foxholes’, its ‘trenches’. The image of trenches as foxholes in this poem retrospectively activates a latent meaning of ‘The Thought-Fox’. The fox, which in that poem had entered ‘the dark hole of the head’, is now linked with Hughes’s father’s war. We saw in Chapter 1 how the thought-fox was linked on a subterranean level with the bloodied and burnt human fox of Hughes’s Cambridge dream, which enters his room as if from the trenches, and with Lawrence’s
Ted Hughes, Class and Violence
story ‘The Fox’, which features a fox-man who has returned from the war. In ‘The Beach’, Hughes’s attempt to transport Plath away from English history and into myth and nature – a move which Plath refuses – only returns Hughes to his father’s war. The real face of Hughesian nature and myth – the personalhistorical wavelength on which such a seemingly ahistorical poem as ‘The Thought-Fox’ is transmitted – is brought out with the help of Plath. That Hughes ends the poem staring down at himself in the suds is suggestive. All those images of cleansing in Hughes – of green mothers washing their children’s faces of blood and tears, of immortals having their vision and hearing cleansed of mills and chimneys, of Orestes’s anxious ritual cleansing of his guilt – are bathetically reversed here. Plath had seen in the waters off beautiful Nauset disturbing reflections of her own cultural and historical inheritance embodied in her father, who she seemed to remember hailing Hitler in the privacy of his home.22 At the end of ‘The Beach’, Hughes is brought by Plath to view his own personal-historical reflection in the dirty sea water, his ‘real’, demythologized self, who has never really recovered from the past – from the depressing burden of his family’s history, which is also England’s history, and which no ritual cleansing or mythical sublimation, it seems, can wash away. In ‘Perfect Light’, the trauma of Hughes’s family history is once again mixed up with Plath’s. As Hughes contemplates a photograph of Plath and the children – a picture of ‘Innocence’ – he sees the hill on which they sit is a ‘moated fort hill’. Imagery from Hughes’s Wolfwatching poem about his post-war father, ‘For the Duration’, is requisitioned to evoke the sense of foreboding that the sequence elsewhere attaches to Plath’s father. In ‘For the Duration’, ‘No man’s land’ is still ‘crying and burning’ inside the family house, and Hughes’s father is still climbing out of the trench as if he ‘might still not manage to reach us’. In ‘Perfect Light’, Plath’s next moment approaches ‘like an infantryman / Returning slowly out of no-man’s-land’ – though in the ‘perfect light’ of the photograph the next moment ‘never reached’ her. The overlapping of Hughes’s memories of his father with memories of Plath and his own children makes for a complex effect. One sense is of the trauma of Plath’s approaching suicide being analogous to the trauma suffered by Hughes’s father, and its knock-on effect on the family. The sense is also of family histories impinging on such innocent moments from two directions – and not only from Plath’s, as has been assumed in relation to this collection. More often though in Birthday Letters, it is Hughes’s mother who shadows Plath. In ‘Caryatids (I)’, Plath’s early poem is described as ‘a deadfall – set’. Hughes associated this image primarily with his mother, who figures both
Hughes and Plath: England versus America
literally and symbolically in the story ‘The Deadfall’. In ‘Fever’, when Plath is ill, ‘mother, / As a familiar voice, woke in me’, Hughes says (as with ‘Perfect Light’, again here this poem evokes ‘For the Duration’ in its description of Plath’s crying – as if the most ‘impossible’ and ‘horrible’ thing had happened, and ‘was going on / Still happening’). In ‘Minotaur’, the tabletop Plath smashes is made from Hughes’s mother’s ‘heirloom sideboard – Mapped with the scars’ of his ‘whole life’. As Clark notes, in Birthday Letters Plath embodies ‘the exotic allure of the Other’, and in several poems she is compared to an African or Native American.23 The descriptions of the ‘Apache’ or ‘Navaho’ underneath Plath’s ‘glamorous, fashionable bang’ in ‘18 Rugby Street’, and of the ‘desert Indian’s’ face of ‘The City’ (from the overspill volume Howls & Whispers, also published in 1998), make Plath virtually indistinguishable from Hughes’s dead mother as she appears in the late poems ‘Anniversary’ and ‘Black Hair’, with her ‘feathers of flame’ and ‘Red Indian’ nose and hair and ‘olive and other-worldly’ skin (so much so that Clark mistakes ‘Black Hair’ for a poem about Plath.24) In ‘Black Hair’, Hughes is aware his memory of his mother is unreliable – he remembers her hair as black even though he knows it was brown. The significance of the similarly Red Indian features of both his mother and his former wife, as constructed in his unreliable memory, cannot have been lost on Hughes. Just as Otto Plath slides into Hughes in the ‘double image’ of ‘Black Coat’, so Edith Hughes is the Other who shadows Plath’s otherness for Hughes. In Wolfwatching, a confessional engagement with family history had already come to replace the displacements of the personal into myth and nature that we find in Hughes’s earlier work. In Birthday Letters, and in related poems of the period, Hughes responds to Plath very much on her terms. He abandons his earlier Jungian treatment of Plath, extending instead her Freudian take on her marriage in ‘Daddy’ with a parallel exploration of the Oedipal entanglements, twisted with history, she was in turn caught up in through Hughes. The Plath and Hughes who emerge from this ‘intertangling’ and ‘disentangling’ of loves and lives are puppets, actors in a larger drama, Frankenstein creations in ‘An unmysterious laboratory of amours’ (‘18 Rugby Street’). Hughes now comes to see his former ‘high minded principal’ that ‘you never talk about yourself in this way – in poetry’ as ‘simply wrong – for my own psychological & physical health’ (LTH 720). Far from Hughes ‘creatively correcting’ Plath in Birthday Letters, as Clark has it in her otherwise discriminating study,25 in Hughes’s late works Plath corrects Hughes the alchemist, the mythologist. When Hughes’s Cassandra says, ‘No more mystery’, Hughes is conceding that Plath was right all along.
Afterword This book has presented a Marxist reading of Ted Hughes that is principally concerned to correct previous Marxist readings of Hughes. Hughes’s supposed escape from history into myth and nature doesn’t end there: the fundamental poetic event in Hughes is precisely the return of history within nature, deferring Complete Being, riving the mythical frames. History is what won’t wash away in Hughes, a traumatic kernel that cannot be alchemized. In later life Hughes came to a clear understanding of this. The late, confessional Hughes deconstructs the would-be mythologizer, revealing how the dreamfighter has over-reached himself. Though feminist critics must remain suspicious of any poet of the Goddess of Complete Being, the Hughes of this book is the poet of a mother of incomplete being, whose Brontë-esque dreams of freedom from a hardworking life Hughes took on himself. The overt impetus in Hughes to patch things up with nature, the Goddess, is – as he came to recognize – underwritten by a profoundly felt personal history. This is Hughes’s late confession; his concession to Plath; the epiphany that his body of work, taken as a whole, achieves. There would be in the end no closure in Hughes; no shamanic healing; no transcendence. Hughes thought of Birthday Letters as a disburdening, rather than a working-through, while the late versions of the classics allow only for understanding. If Marxist critics have been too quick to dismiss Hughes’s flight into nature – as if nature in Hughes were merely the antithesis of the social, and not its reflection – the opposite tendency in eco-critical readings of Hughes to welcome it is problematic for the same reason. Structured by a mother’s desire, a desire that is in turn structured by social and historical experience, Hughes’s investment in nature is a socially symbolic act. In both Marxist and green versions of Hughes this dialectical relation of history and nature tends to be lost, what is most distinctive about the poems – the striking vision of a mechanized, labouring nature, the challenging violence – occluded. There is nothing organic about Hughes’s most memorable animals. The danger in celebrating Hughes as a poet of nature, life, of biocentric rather than egocentric vision, is that he begins to slide back towards the poet of the universal, the elemental, the mindless, which is where this book took Hughes up. Hughes objected to his primitivist
label for a good reason. Nature in Hughes bears the full burden of the history through which it was forged – both in terms of personal history, and in terms of the larger history Hughes understood his family history was part of. Hughes’s Darwinism was always a social Darwinism, aggressively reappropriated, and in which we are not mistaken in hearing cries from the dawn of the English working class.
Notes Introduction 1 ‘Everybody knows that Ted Hughes’s subject is violence.’ C. J. Rawson, ‘Ted Hughes: A Reappraisal’, Essays in Criticism 15 (1965), p. 77. 2 D. D. Bradley, cited in Elaine Feinstein, Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001), p. 26. 3 Feinstein, p. 26. 4 Roy Fuller, ‘Views’, The Listener vol. 85 (11 March 1971), p. 297. 5 Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 (London: Faber & Faber, 1980), p. 154. 6 Rawson, p. 77. 7 C. B. Cox, ‘The Violence of Ted Hughes’, John O’London’s (13 July 1961), p. 68; David Holbrook, ‘The Cult of Hughes and Gunn’, Poetry Review (Summer 1963), p. 169; Rawson, p. 91. 8 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology Part One, ed. C. J. Arthur (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1970), pp. 62–3. 9 Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (London: Vintage, 2000), pp. 142-4. 10 See for example the chapters on Hughes in Sean O’Brien, The Deregulated Muse: Essays on Contemporary British & Irish Poetry (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1998), and Stan Smith, Inviolable Voice: History and Twentieth-Century Poetry (Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, 1982). 11 I take the phrase from Fredric Jameson’s The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (London: Methuen, 1981). For Jameson, the task of the Marxist critic is ‘the unmasking of cultural artefacts as socially symbolic acts’, p. 20. 12 Tom Paulin, Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 252–75. 13 John Lucas, Modern English Poetry: From Hardy to Hughes (London: Batsford, 1986), p. 194. Lucas makes no mention of class in Hughes. 14 Paulin, p. 254. 15 Seamus Heaney, Interview with John Haffenden, Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation with John Haffenden (London: Faber & Faber, 1981), pp. 73–4. 16 ‘Ted Hughes and Crow’, Interview with Ted Hughes by Ekbert Faas, London Magazine vol. 10, no. 10 (January 1971), p. 11.
136 Notes 17 Ibid., p. 20. 18 ‘Ted Hughes: The Art of Poetry LXXI’, interview with Dreu Heinz, Paris Review 134 (Spring 1995), p. 68. 19 Ibid., p. 70. 20 Tony Harrison, The School of Eloquence and other poems (London: Rex Collins, 1978), p. 20. 21 Cited in Keith Sagar, The Laughter of Foxes: A Study of Ted Hughes (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000), p. xxviii. 22 Cited in Ann Skea, Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest (Armidale, NSW: University of New England Press, 1994), p. 200. 23 Hughes referred to Blake as ‘my Blake’, Feinstein, p. 103. 24 ‘Ted Hughes: The Art of Poetry LXXI’, p. 59 25 Ted Hughes, ‘The Rock’, The Listener 70 (19 September 1963), pp. 421–3. 26 Tim Kendall, Modern English War Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 216. 27 Ibid., pp. 200. 28 Feinstein, p. 11. 29 Ibid., p. 7. 30 Terry Eagleton, Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontës (London: Macmillan, 1975), p. 3. 31 Hughes’s mother’s maiden name was Farrar. 32 Paulin, p. 254. 33 Letter to Jack Brown, 5 January 1988, British Library, MS 88613. 34 Gerald Hughes, Ted and I: A Brother’s Memoir (London: The Robson Press, 2012), p. 138. 35 Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Penguin, 1977), pp. 156–8, 235, 212–15. 36 ‘Ted Hughes: The Art of Poetry LXXI’, p. 77. 37 Ted Hughes, letter to the author, 4 March 1998. 38 ‘Ted Hughes and Crow’, p. 8. 39 Neil Roberts, Ted Hughes: A Literary Life (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), p. 22. 40 Gerald Hughes, p. 19. 41 Ibid., p. 72. 42 Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 1940-1985, ed. Anthony Thwaite (London: Faber & Faber, 1992), p. 341. 43 Sylvia Plath, Collected Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 1981), p. 224. 44 ‘Ted Hughes and Crow’, p. 199. 45 D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow (London: Penguin, 2007), p. 459. 46 Gerald Hughes, p. 34.
47 Feinstein, p. 14. 48 D. H. Lawrence, ‘The Fox’, The Complete Short Novels (London: Penguin, 1990), pp. 142, 143. 49 ‘Ted Hughes and Crow’, p. 12. 50 Feinstein, p. 31. 51 Ibid., pp. 31, 26. 52 Ibid., p. 23. 53 Raymond Williams, Writing in Society (London: Verso, 1991), p. 185. 54 Alan Sinfield, Literature, Politics, and Culture in Postwar Britain (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), pp. 55, 244. 55 ‘Ted Hughes and Crow’, p. 10. 56 Roberts, pp. 24–5. 57 Williams, p. 214. 58 See David Lodge’s chapter ‘Crow and the Cartoons’, in his Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Literature (London: Routledge, 1981). 59 Williams, p. 189.
Chapter 1 1 Cited in Sarah Bradford, Queen Elizabeth II: Her Life in Our Times (London: Viking, 2012), p. 81. 2 Neil Roberts, ‘Class, war and the Laureateship’, in Terry Gifford ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ted Hughes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 150. 3 Alistair Davies and Peter Saunders, ‘Literature, Politics and Society’, in Alan Sinfield ed., Society and Literature 1945-1970 (London: Methuen, 1983), p. 20. 4 Thom Gunn, Fighting Terms (London: Faber, 1954), p. 28. 5 Neil Roberts, Ted Hughes: A Literary Life (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 22. 6 Hughes, cited in Roberts, p. 150. 7 Paul Bentley, The Poetry of Ted Hughes: Language, Illusion & Beyond (London: Longman, 1998), p. 15. 8 Thom Gunn, Interview with John Haffenden, in Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation with John Haffenden (London: Faber, 1981), p. 54. 9 Gunn described himself as ‘quite a self-enclosed middle-class boy’, while his father, editor of the Evening Standard, was considered a ‘safe man’; Alan Bold, Thom Gunn & Ted Hughes (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1976), pp. 8, 7. 10 David Holbrook, ‘The Cult of Hughes and Gunn’, Poetry Review 54 (Summer 1963), p. 180. 11 Bold, p. 28.
138 Notes 12 Stan Smith, Inviolable Voice: History and Twentieth-Century Poetry (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1982), pp. 152, 167. 13 Jacqueline Rose, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (London: Virago, 1991), p. 156. 14 ‘Ted Hughes and Crow’, Interview with Ted Hughes by Ekbert Faas, London Magazine, vol. 10, no. 10 (January 1971), p. 8. 15 Ibid., p. 8. 16 Slavoj Žižek, Violence (London: Profile, 2008), p. 2. 17 Ibid., p. 45. 18 Ibid., p. 174. 19 Blurb on back cover of Žižek, Violence. 20 Holbrook, p. 175. 21 C. B. Cox, ‘The Violence of Ted Hughes’, John O’London’s (13 July 1961), p. 68. 22 Holbrook, p. 169. 23 C. J. Rawson, ‘Ted Hughes: A Reappraisal’, Essays in Criticism 15 (1965), p. 91. 24 Žižek, p. 174. 25 Extract from Douglas Jerrold’s Weekly Newspaper, 15 January 1848, in Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights: A Casebook, ed. Miriam Allot, revised edition (Basingstoke and London: MacMillan, 1970), p. 43. 26 Extract from American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, June 1848, in Allot, p. 49. 27 Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 152. 28 Hughes referred to Blake as ‘my Blake’; Elaine Feinstein, Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001), p. 103. 29 Arnold Kettle, An Introduction to the English Novel I 2nd edn (London: Hutchinson, 1967), pp. 130-45. 30 Neil Roberts, A Lucid Dreamer: The Life of Peter Redgrove (London: Cape, 2012), p. 97. 31 Julia Kristeva, The Severed Head: Capital Visions, trans. Jody Gladding (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), p. 77. 32 Ibid., p. 82. 33 John Carey, review of Ted Hughes, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, Sunday Times, 5 April 1992. Cited in Jonathan Bate, ‘Hughes on Shakespeare’, in Gifford ed., p. 146. 34 Kristeva, p. 76. 35 Ibid., pp. 92-3. 36 ‘Ted Hughes and Crow’, p. 8. 37 Tom Paulin, Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 256–7. 38 Ibid., p. 256. 39 Ted Hughes, ‘Address Given at the Memorial Service at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, at 12 Noon on Thursday, 1 December, 1977’, in Brocard Sewell ed., Henry Williamson: The Man, The Writings (Padstow, Cornwall: Tabb House, 1980), p. 163.
40 Ibid., p. 164. 41 Ibid., pp. 161, 163. 42 Paulin, p. 258. 43 Hughes, ‘Address’, pp. 162–3. 44 Smith, p. 158. 45 John Braine, Room at the Top (London: Arrow, 2002), pp. 84, 125. 46 ‘Ted Hughes and Crow’, p. 8. 47 Ibid., p. 11. 48 Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (London: Harper, 2008), p. 190. 49 Alan Sillitoe, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (London: Harper, 2007), p. 10. 50 John Osborne, Look Back in Anger (London: Faber & Faber, 1957), p. 100. 51 Stan Barstow, A Kind of Loving (Cardigan: Parthian, 2010), p. 29. 52 Dominic Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles (London: Abacus, 2006), pp. 356–60. 53 Gerald Hughes, Ted and I: A Brother’s Memoir (London: The Robson Press, 2012), p. 132. 54 Sandbrook, p. 121. 55 I am grateful to Pauline Couper for pointing out that a coil is something in a car engine. 56 Sandbrook, p. 121. 57 Gerald Hughes, p. 133. 58 D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow (London: Penguin, 2007), p. 420. 59 D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (London: Penguin, 2006), p. 284. 60 ‘Ted Hughes and Crow’, p. 11. 61 Sandbrook, p. 290. 62 Gerald Hughes, p. 133. 63 Alan Sinfield, Literature, Politics, and Culture in Postwar Britain (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), p. 153. 64 Sean O’Brien, The Deregulated Muse: Essays on Contemporary British & Irish Poetry (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1998), p. 37. 65 Sinfield, p. 153. 66 Charles Dickens, Hard Times (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 67. 67 Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 388, 170. See Chris Baldick’s In Frankenstein’s Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-century Writing (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987) on the political applications of the Frankenstein myth in this period. 68 E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London: Penguin, 1980), p. 915. 69 Charles Dickens, Bleak House (London: Penguin, 1971), p. 49. 70 H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (London: Penguin, 2005), p. 44.
Chapter 2 1 Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (St Albans: Paladin, 1975), pp. 18–21. 2 Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 (London: Faber & Faber, 1980), p. 154. 3 Philip Larkin, ‘Prison for Strikers’, The Complete Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 2012), p. 311. 4 Terry Eagleton, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture (London: Verso, 1995), pp. 4, 5, 6. 5 Ibid., p. 8. 6 Ibid., p. 9. 7 Chris Baldick, In Frankenstein’s Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-century Writing (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), pp. 85, 100. 8 Eagleton, p. 3. 9 Elaine Feinstein, Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001), p. 31. 10 Eagleton, p. 9. 11 Referring to the Aldermaston Ban the Bomb march of 1960, Hughes said his Blake would have demanded bloody rebellion. Feinstein, p. 103. 12 Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal and Other Writings (London: Penguin, 2009), pp. 232–3. 13 Ibid., p. 233. 14 Seamus Heaney, Door into the Dark (London: Faber & Faber, 1969), p. 24. 15 E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London: Penguin, 1980), pp. 612–16. 16 Hughes’s brother Gerald supplies a photograph of a ‘nostalgic return’ to the Crookhill pond which was the ‘inspiration’ for ‘Pike’ in his Ted and I: A Brother’s Memoir (London: The Robson Press, 2012). 17 Heaney, Preoccupations, pp. 150–1. 18 Ibid., p. 151. 19 John Haffenden, Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation with John Haffenden (London: Faber, 1981), pp. 73–4. 20 Neil Corcoran, Seamus Heaney (London: Faber, 1986), p. 45. 21 Neil Rhodes, ‘Bridegrooms to the Goddess: Hughes, Heaney and the Elizabethans’, in Mark Thornton Burnett and Ramona Wray (eds), Shakespeare and Ireland: History, Politics, Culture (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), pp. 152–72; Raphäel Ingelbien, ‘Mapping the Misreadings: Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, and Nationhood’, Contemporary Literature XL, 4 (1999), pp. 627–58. 22 Heaney, Preoccupations, p. 56.
23 Seamus Heaney, ‘The Tollund Man’, Wintering Out (London: Faber & Faber, 1972), p. 47. 24 Corcoran, p. 33. 25 Ciaran Carson, ‘Escaped from the Massacre?’, The Honest Ulsterman 50, Winter 1975, pp. 183–6, cited in Corcoran, p. 185. 26 Haffenden, p. 74. 27 Heaney, Preoccupations, p. 154. 28 Seamus Heaney, North (London: Faber & Faber, 1975), p. 43. 29 Heaney, Wintering Out, p. 16. 30 Seamus Heaney, Seeing Things (London: Faber & Faber, 1991), p. 13. 31 Ingelbien, p. 630. 32 D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (London: Penguin, 2006), p. 128. 33 Ingelbien, p. 638. 34 Ibid., p. 641. 35 Heaney, Preoccupations, p. 57. 36 Corcoran, p. 113. 37 Dominic Sandbrook, State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain 1970-1974 (London: Penguin, 2011), pp. 243-52. 38 Heaney, Preoccupations, p. 57.
Chapter 3 1 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto ed. Gareth Stedman Jones (London: Penguin, 2002), p. 219. 2 Ibid., pp. 220, 222. 3 Ibid., pp. 218, 225. 4 Ted Hughes, ‘The Rock’, The Listener 70 (September 19 1963), p. 423. 5 Terry Gifford and Neil Roberts, Ted Hughes: A Critical Study (London: Faber, 1981), p. 116. 6 Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005), p. 1. 7 Gifford and Roberts, p. 116. 8 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 101. 9 ‘Ted Hughes: The Art of Poetry LXXI’, interview with Drue Heinz, Paris Review 134, Spring 1995, p. 75. 10 Samuel Beckett, Happy Days (London: Faber, 2010), p. 25. 11 Shelley, pp. 97, 116. 12 Neil Roberts, Ted Hughes: A Literary Life (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 81.
142 Notes 13 ‘Ted Hughes and Gaudete’, interview with Ekbert Faas, in Fass, Ted Hughes: The Unaccommodated Universe (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1980), p. 214. 14 John Wyndham, The Midwich Cuckoos (London: Penguin, 2008), pp. 84, 82. 15 John Wyndham, The Kraken Wakes (London: Penguin, 2008), p. 165. 16 Wyndham, The Midwich Cuckoos, p. 200. 17 Barry Langford, Introduction to John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids (London: Penguin, 1999), p. viii. 18 A. Alvarez ed., The New Poetry rev. edn (London: Penguin, 1966), p. 21. 19 Langford, p. xv. 20 Jameson, pp. 197-8. 21 David Lodge, Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews on NineteenthCentury Literature (London: Routledge, 1981), p. 171. 22 Jameson, pp. xi, 193–4. 23 Dominic Sandbrook, State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain 1970-1974 (London: Penguin, 2011), p. 180. 24 Ibid., p. 195. 25 Ibid., p. 213. 26 D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (London: Penguin, 2006), p. 153. 27 D. H. Lawrence, A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, in Lawrence, p. 328. 28 Sandbrook gives a very lively and readable account of what seemed like ‘the last days of Pompeii’, pp. 576–612. 29 Jameson, p. xiii. 30 Ibid., p. xiv. 31 Terry Eagleton, ‘Myth and History in Recent Poetry’, in Michael Schmidt and Grevel Lindop (eds), British Poetry Since 1960: A Critical Survey (Oxford: Carcanet, 1972), p. 238. 32 Ibid., p. 239. 33 Versions of this reading appear in Stan Smith, Inviolable Voice: History and Twentieth-Century Poetry (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1982), pp. 150–69; John Lucas, Modern English Poetry: From Hardy to Hughes (London: Batsford, 1986), pp. 193-7; Tom Paulin, Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 252–75; and Sean O’Brien, The Deregulated Muse: Essays on Contemporary British & Irish Poetry (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1998), pp. 34–40. 34 Gifford and Roberts, p. 116. 35 Derwent May, addendum to Eric Griffiths, ‘Blasted with ecstasy’, review of Ted Hughes, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, The Times (9 April 1992). 36 Philip Larkin, The Complete Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 2012), p. 319. 37 Neil Roberts, Narrative and Voice in Postwar Poetry (London: Longman, 1999), p. 39. 38 ‘Ted Hughes: The Art of Poetry LXXI’, p. 87.
39 Exeter University EUL MS 58/B/21. 40 Robin Morgan, Monster (New York: Random House, 1972), pp. 78–9. 41 Diane Middlebrook, Her Husband: Hughes and Plath – A Marriage (London: Little, Brown, 2004), p. 234. 42 Ibid., p. 255.
Chapter 4 1 Sean O’Brien, The Deregulated Muse: Essays on Contemporary British and Irish Poetry (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1998), p. 37. 2 Ibid., p. 37. 3 Ibid., p. 38. 4 Ibid., pp. 40, 37. 5 Ibid., p. 40. 6 Neil Roberts, Ted Hughes: A Literary Life (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 14. 7 Ted Hughes, Introduction to János Pilinszky, The Desert of Love: Selected Poems trans. János Csokits and Ted Hughes (London: Anvil, 1989), pp. 9, 10. 8 Elaine Feinstein, Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001), p. 13. 9 For first-hand accounts see for example Peter Gibbon and David Steyne (eds), Thurcroft: A Village and the Miners’ Strike: An Oral History (Nottingham: Spokesman, 1986) and Jeremy Deller, The English Civil War Part II: Personal accounts of the miners’ strike (London: Artangel, 2002). 10 For a sobering account of the ways the Tory government and its media allies waged ‘war’ against the NUM, and of the reasons behind the government’s campaign, see Seamus Milne, The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners (London: Verso, 2004). 11 Kate Shaw, Mining the Meaning: Cultural Representations of the 1984-5 UK Miners’ Strike (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2012), p. 97; Deller, The English Civil War Part II. 12 Ted Hughes, The Spoken Word – Ted Hughes: Poems and Short Stories, British Library/BBC CD, 2008. 13 Cited in Milne, p. 24. 14 Diane Middlebrook, Her Husband: Hughes and Plath – A Marriage (London: Little, Brown, 2004), p. 265. 15 Margaret Thatcher was later forced to admit that the post-strike review procedure did not save a single coal mine, Shaw, p. 194. 16 In a letter to Joanny Moulin of 6 April 1994, Hughes explains that the poem was written in response to requests to him to write something about the miners’ strike
144 Notes and the run-down of the coal industry. I am grateful to Terry Gifford for supplying me with a copy of this letter. 17 Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 170. 18 See Milne, pp. 37–72. 19 Ted Hughes, ‘The Art of Poetry LXXI’ (interview), The Paris Review 134 (Spring 1995), p. 59. 20 Ibid., p. 59. 21 Christopher Reid, note to Hughes’s letter to Jack Brown, 5 February 1987, Letters of Ted Hughes p. 531.
Chapter 5 1 Oliver Taplin, ‘Contemporary poetry and the Classics’, in T. P. Wiseman ed. Classics in Progress: Essays on ancient Greece and Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 4; Hallie Marshall, ‘The Hughes Version: Commercial Considerations and Dramatic Imagination’, in Roger Rees ed. Ted Hughes and the Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 268–70. 2 Marshall, p. 268. 3 Cited in Marshall, p. 269. 4 Marshall, p. 268. 5 Ibid., pp. 269–70. 6 Ibid., pp. 271–2. 7 Ibid., p. 266. 8 Keith Sagar, ‘Ted Hughes and the classics’, in Rees ed., p. 22. 9 Lorna Hardwick, ‘Can (modern) poets do classical drama? The Case of Ted Hughes’, in Rees ed., p. 59. 10 Vanda Zajko, ‘Hughes and the classics’, in Terry Gifford ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ted Hughes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 107. 11 Hardwick, p. 60. 12 Ibid., p. 60. 13 Taplin, p. 5. 14 Ibid., pp. 3, 9. 15 Tony Harrison, The School of Eloquence and other poems (London: Rex Collins, 1978), p. 20. 16 Ted Hughes, Tales from Ovid (London: Faber & Faber, 1997), p. x. 17 Michael Silk, Times Literary Supplement, 17 December 1999, cited in Taplin, p. 4; Taplin p. 4.
18 Ted Hughes, Selected Translations ed. Daniel Weissbort (London: Faber & Faber, 2006), p. 15. 19 Taplin, p. 5. 20 Tony Harrison, Introduction, Plays 4: The Oresteia, The Common Chorus Parts One & Two (London: Faber & Faber, 2002), pp. 9, 24. 21 Ibid., p. 22. 22 Neil Roberts, ‘Class, war and the Laureateship’, in Terry Gifford ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ted Hughes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 154. 23 Harrison, Plays 4, p. 160. 24 Daniel Mandelsohn, ‘Not an Ideal Husband’, New York Review of Books (11 May 2000), cited in Zajko, p. 116. 25 Michael Silk, in Rees ed., p. 258. 26 Sylvia Plath, Collected Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 1981), p. 293. 27 Diane Middlebrook, Her Husband: Hughes and Plath – A Marriage (London: Little, Brown, 2004), p. 234. 28 Sagar, p. 21. 29 Neil Roberts, Ted Hughes: A Literary Life (London: Macmillan, 2006), pp. 180, 192-3. 30 I am grateful to Stuart Hirschberg for prompting me to think of Hughes’s Oresteia in this context at the ‘From Cambridge to Collected’ International Ted Hughes conference, Pembroke College Cambridge, 15-18 September 2010. 31 Ted Hughes, The Spoken Word – Ted Hughes: Poems and Short Stories, British Library/BBC CD, 2008. 32 Terry Eagleton, Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), p. 34. 33 Tony Harrison, Plays 3: Poetry or Bust, The Kaisers of Carnuntum, The Labourers of Herakles (London: Faber & Faber, 1996), p. 131. 34 Ibid., p. 147.
Chapter 6 1 Sarah Annes Brown, ‘Classics reanimated: Ted Hughes and reflexive translation’, in Ted Hughes and the Classics, ed. Roger Rees (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 288. 2 Stephen Spender, cited in Jacqueline Rose, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (London: Virago, 1991), p. 17. Rose deals with this kind of thing in some style, pp. 11–28. 3 Seamus Heaney, The Government of the Tongue (London: Faber & Faber, 1991), p. 168. 4 Tracy Brain, The Other Sylvia Plath (Harlow: Longman, 2001), p. 181. 5 Neil Roberts, Ted Hughes: A Literary Life (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 208.
146 Notes 6 Diane Middlebrook, Her Husband: Hughes and Plath – A Marriage (London: Little, Brown, 2004), p. 280. 7 Sylvia Plath, Collected Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 1981), p. 262. 8 Middlebrook, p. 273. 9 Heather Clark, The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 13, 185. 10 George Lukács, ‘The Ideology of Modernism’, in 20th Century Literary Criticism, ed. David Lodge (Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1972), pp. 476, 481. 11 Ibid., pp. 477, 479. 12 Ibid., p. 482. 13 Plath, p. 214. 14 Clark, p. 132. 15 Jo Gill, ‘Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath’, in The Cambridge Companion to Ted Hughes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 59. 16 Plath, p. 222. 17 Clark, pp. 150–1. 18 Middlebrook, pp. 64–5. 19 Ibid., pp. 65–6. 20 Sylvia Plath, Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963, ed. Aurelia Schober Plath (London: Faber, 1976), pp. 268, 270. 21 Plath, Collected Poems, pp. 167–8. 22 Sylvia Plath, The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962, ed. Karen V. Kukil (London: Faber & Faber, 2000), p. 430. 23 Clark, p. 98. 24 Ibid., p. 98. 25 Ibid., p. 223.
Bibliography Primary works by Ted Hughes referred to in the text The Hawk in the Rain London: Faber & Faber, 1957. Lupercal London: Faber & Faber, 1960. The Earth-Owl and Other Moon-People London: Faber & Faber, 1963. Poetry in the Making London: Faber & Faber, 1967. Wodwo London: Faber & Faber, 1967. Seneca’s Oedipus London: Faber & Faber, 1969. Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow London: Faber & Faber, 1970, 1972. Moon Whales and Other Moon Poems New York: Viking, 1976. Gaudete London: Faber & Faber, 1977. Cave Birds: An Alchemical Cave Drama London: Faber & Faber, 1978. Moortown London: Faber & Faber, 1979. Remains of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence London: Faber & Faber, 1979. River London: Faber & Faber, 1983. Moortown Diary London: Faber & Faber, 1989. Wolfwatching London: Faber & Faber, 1989. A Dancer to God: Tributes to T. S. Eliot London: Faber & Faber, 1992. Rain-Charm for the Duchy and other Laureate Poems London: Faber & Faber, 1992. Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being London: Faber & Faber, 1992. Three Books (Cave Birds, Remains of Elmet, River) London: Faber & Faber, 1993. Elmet London: Faber & Faber, 1994. Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose ed. William Scammell, London: Faber & Faber, 1994. Difficulties of a Bridegroom: Collected Short Stories London: Faber & Faber, 1995. The Dreamfighter and Other Creation Tales London: Faber & Faber, 1995. Tales from Ovid London: Faber & Faber, 1997. Birthday Letters London: Faber & Faber, 1998. Howls and Whispers Devon: Gehenna Press, 1998. Phèdre London: Faber & Faber, 1998. Alcestis London: Faber & Faber, 1999. The Oresteia London: Faber & Faber, 1999. Collected Poems ed. Paul Keegan, London: Faber & Faber, 2003. Collected Poems for Children London: Faber & Faber, 2005. Selected Translations ed. Daniel Weissbort, London: Faber & Faber, 2006. Letters of Ted Hughes ed. Christopher Reid, London: Faber & Faber, 2007.
148 Bibliography Poet and Critic: The Letters of Ted Hughes & Keith Sagar ed. Keith Sagar, London: British Library, 2012.
Other works by Ted Hughes referred to in the text
Interviews ‘Ted Hughes and Crow’, interview with Ekbert Faas, London Magazine vol.10, no.10, January 1971. ‘Ted Hughes and Gaudete’, interview with Ekbert Faas, in Fass, Ted Hughes: The Unaccommodated Universe Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1980. ‘Ted Hughes: The Art of Poetry LXXI’, interview with Drue Heinz, Paris Review 134, Spring 1995.
Recordings The Spoken Word – Ted Hughes: Poems and Short Stories British Library/BBC CD, 2008.
Articles and book chapters ‘The Rock’, The Listener 70, 19 September 1963. ‘Address Given at the Memorial Service at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, at 12 Noon on Thursday, 1 December, 1977’, in Brocard Sewell ed., Henry Williamson: The Man, The Writings Padstow, Cornwall: Tabb House, 1980. Introduction to János Pilinszky, The Desert of Love: Selected Poems trans. János Csokits and Ted Hughes, London: Anvil, 1989.
Archives and unpublished letters Notes to Cave Birds, Exeter University EUL MS 58/B/21. Letter to Jack Brown, 5 January 1988, British Library MS 88613. Letter to Joanny Moulin, 6 April 1994. Letter to Paul Bentley, 4 March 1998.
Other works cited Allot, Miriam ed., Wuthering Heights: A Casebook rev. edn, Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1970. Alvarez, A. ed., The New Poetry rev. edn, London: Penguin, 1966. Baldick, Chris, In Frankenstein’s Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-century Writing Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987. Barstow, Stan, A Kind of Loving Cardigan: Parthian, 2010. Barthes, Roland, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers, London: Vintage, 2000. Bate, Jonathan, ‘Hughes on Shakespeare’, in Gifford ed., 2011. Beckett, Samuel, Happy Days London: Faber & Faber, 2010. Bentley, Paul, The Poetry of Ted Hughes: Language, Illusion & Beyond Harlow: Longman, 1998. Bold, Alan, Thom Gunn & Ted Hughes Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1976. Bradford, Sarah, Queen Elizabeth II: Her Life in Our Times London: Viking, 2012. Brain, Tracy, The Other Sylvia Plath Harlow: Longman, 2001. Braine, John, Room at the Top London: Arrow, 2002. Brontë, Emily, Wuthering Heights, ed. Pauline Nestor, London: Penguin, 2003. Brown, Sarah Annes, ‘Classics reanimated: Ted Hughes and reflexive translation’, in Rees ed., 2009. Carey, John, review of Ted Hughes, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, Sunday Times 5 April 1992. Carson, Ciaran, ‘Escaped from the Masscare?’ The Honest Ulsterman 50, Winter 1975. Clark, Heather, The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Corcoran, Neil, Seamus Heaney London: Faber & Faber, 1986. Cox, C. B., ‘The Violence of Ted Hughes’, John O’London’s, 13 July 1961. Davies, Alistair and Saunders, Peter, ‘Literature, Politics, and Society’, in Society and Literature 1945-1970, ed. Alan Sinfield, London: Methuen, 1983. Deller, Jeremy, The English Civil War Part II: Personal Accounts of the Miners’ Strike London: Artangel, 2002. Dickens, Charles, Bleak House, ed. Norman Page, London: Faber & Faber, 1971. —Hard Times, ed. Kate Flint, London: Penguin, 2003. Eagleton, Terry, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture London: Verso, 1995. —‘Myth and History in Recent Poetry’, in British Poetry Since 1960: A Critical Survey, (eds) Michael Schmidt and Grevel Lindop, Oxford: Carcanet, 1972. —Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontës London: Macmillan, 1975. —Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic Oxford: Blackwell, 2003. Feinstein, Elaine, Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001. Fuller, Roy, ‘Views’, The Listener vol. 85, 11 March 1971. Gaskell, Elizabeth, Mary Barton, ed. Macdonald Daly, London: Penguin, 2003.
150 Bibliography Gibbon, Peter and Steyne, David (eds), Thurcroft: A Village and the Miners’ Strike: An Oral History Nottingham: Spokesman, 1986. Gifford, Terry ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ted Hughes Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Gifford, Terry and Roberts, Neil, Ted Hughes: A Critical Study London: Faber & Faber, 1981. Gill, Jo, ‘Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath’, in Gifford ed., 2011. Gunn, Thom, Fighting Terms London: Faber & Faber, 1954. —The Sense of Movement London: Faber & Faber, 1957. —Interview with John Haffenden, in Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation with John Haffenden, ed. John Haffenden, London: Faber & Faber, 1981. Hardwick, Lorna, ‘Can (modern) poets do classical drama? The case of Ted Hughes’, in Rees ed., 2009. Harrison, Tony, Phaedra Britannica, in Dramatic Verse 1973-1985 Newcastleupon-Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1985. —Plays 3: Poetry or Bust, The Kaisers of Carnuntum, The Labourers of Herakles London: Faber & Faber, 1996. —Plays 4: The Oresteia, The Common Chorus Parts One & Two London: Faber & Faber, 2002. —The School of Eloquence and other poems London: Rex Collins, 1978. Heaney, Seamus, Door into the Dark London: Faber & Faber, 1969. —The Government of the Tongue: The T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures and Other Critical Writings London: Faber & Faber, 1991. —North London: Faber & Faber, 1975. —Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 London: Faber & Faber, 1980. —Seeing Things London: Faber & Faber, 1991. —Wintering Out London: Faber & Faber, 1972. —Interview with John Haffenden, in Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation with John Haffended, ed. John Haffenden, London: Faber & Faber, 1981. Holbrook, David, ‘The Cult of Hughes and Gunn’, Poetry Review Summer 1963. Hughes, Gerald, Ted and I: A Brother’s Memoir London: The Robson Press, 2012. Ingelbien, Räphael, ‘Mapping the Misreadings: Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, and Nationhood’, Contemporary Literature XL, 4, 1999. Jameson, Fredric, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions London: Verso, 2005. —The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act London: Methuen, 1981. Kendall, Tim, Modern English War Poetry Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Kettle, Arnold, An introduction to the English Novel I 2nd edn, London: Hutchinson, 1967. Kristeva, Julia, The Severed Head: Capital Visions trans. Jody Gladding, New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.
Lacan, Jacques, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan, London: Penguin, 1977. Langford, Barry, Introduction to Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids, 1999. Larkin, Philip, The Complete Poems, ed. Archie Burnett, London: Faber & Faber, 2012. —Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 1940-1985 ed. Anthony Thwaite, London: Faber & Faber, 1992. Lawrence, D. H. ‘The Fox’, in The Complete Short Novels, (eds) Keith Sagar and Melissa Partridge, London: Penguin, 1990. —Lady Chatterley’s Lover, ed. Michael Squires, London: Penguin, 2006. —The Rainbow, ed. Mark Kinkead-Weekes, London: Penguin, 2007. Lodge, David, Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Literature London: Routledge, 1981. Lucas, John, Modern English Poetry: From Hardy to Hughes London: Batsford, 1986. Lukács, George, ‘The Ideology of Modernism’, in 20th Century Literary Criticism, ed. David Lodge, Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1972. Mandelsohn, Daniel, ‘Not an Ideal Husband’, New York Review of Books, 11 May 2000. Marshall, Hallie, ‘The Hughes Version: Commercial Considerations and Dramatic Imagination’, in Rees ed., 2009. Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich, The Communist Manifesto, ed. Gareth Stedman Jones, London: Penguin, 2002. —The German Ideology Part One, ed. C. J. Arthur, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1970. May, Derwent, addendum to Eric Griffiths, ‘Blasted with ecstasy’, review of Ted Hughes, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, The Times 9 April 1992. Middlebrook, Diane, Her Husband: Hughes and Plath – A Marriage London: Little, Brown, 2004. Milne, Seamus, The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners London: Verso, 2004. Morgan, Robin, Monster New York: Random House, 1972. O’Brien, Sean, The Deregulated Muse: Essays on Contemporary British & Irish Poetry Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1998. Osborne, John, Look Back in Anger London: Faber & Faber, 1957. Paulin, Tom, Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992. Plath, Sylvia, Collected Poems, ed. Ted Hughes, London: Faber & Faber, 1981. —The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962, ed. Karen V. Kukil, London: Faber & Faber, 2000. —Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963, ed. Aurelia Schober Plath, London: Faber & Faber, 1976. Rawson, C. J., ‘Ted Hughes: A Reappraisal’, Essays in Criticism 15, 1965. Rees, Roger ed., Ted Hughes and the Classics Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Rhodes, Neil, ‘Bridegrooms to the Goddess: Hughes, Heaney and the Elizabethans’, in Shakespeare and Ireland: History, Politics, Culture, (eds) Mark Thornton Burnett and Ramona Wray, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997.
152 Bibliography Roberts, Neil, ‘Class, war and the Laureateship’, in Gifford ed., 2011. —A Lucid Dreamer: The Life of Peter Redgrove London: Cape, 2012. —Narrative and Voice in Postwar Poetry London: Longman, 1999. —Ted Hughes: A Literary Life Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Rose, Jacqueline, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath London: Virago, 1991. Sagar, Keith, The Laughter of Foxes: A Study of Ted Hughes Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000. —‘Ted Hughes and the classics’, in Rees ed., 2009. Sandbrook, Dominic, Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles London: Abacus, 2006. —State of Emergency: The Way Were Were: Britain 1970-1974 London: Penguin, 2011. Shaw, Katy, Mining the Meaning: Cultural Representations of the 1984-5 UK Miners’ Strike Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2012. Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein, ed. Maurice Hindle, London: Penguin, 2003. Sillitoe, Alan, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner London: Harper, 2007. —Saturday Night and Sunday Morning London: Harper, 2008. Silk, Michael, review of Ted Hughes, The Oresteia, Times Literary Supplement, 17 December 1999. Sinfield, Alan, Literature, Politics, and Culture in Postwar Britain Oxford: Blackwell, 1989. Skea, Ann, Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest Armidale, NSW: University of New England Press, 1994. Smith, Stan, Inviolable Voice: History and Twentieth-Century Poetry Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1982. Swift, Jonathan, A Modest Proposal and Other Writings, ed. Carole Fabricant, London: Penguin, 2009. Taplin, Oliver, ‘Contemporary poetry and the classics’, in Classics in Progress: Essays on ancient Greece and Rome, ed. T. P. Wiseman, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Thompson, E. P., The Making of the English Working Class London: Penguin, 1980. Wells, H. G., The Time Machine, ed. Patrick Parrinder, London: Penguin, 2005. Williams, Raymond, The Country and the City St. Albans: Paladin, 1975. —Writing in Society London: Verso, 1991. Wyndham, John, The Day of the Triffids London: Penguin, 1999. —The Kraken Wakes London: Penguin, 2008. —The Midwich Cuckoos London: Penguin, 2008. Zajko, Vanda, ‘Hughes and the classics’, in Gifford ed., 2011. Žižek, Slavoj, Violence London: Profile, 2008.
Index Aeschylus 109, 113 Alvarez A. 81 Angry Young Men 6, 29, 46–9 Auden, W. H. 5, 68 Auschwitz 95 Austen, Jane 62 Bakhtin, Mikhail 82 Barstow, Stan 47–8 Barthes, Roland 3 Baskin, Leonard 6 Beat poets 89 Beatles, The 28, 29, 54, 89 ‘All You Need Is Love’ 89 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 89 Beckett, Samuel 79, 124 Happy Days 79–80 Beethoven, Ludwig van 28, 29, 54 Berry, Chuck 54 Blackboard Jungle (film) 54 Black Elk 105 Blake, William 8, 12, 21, 40, 43, 54 contraries 30, 62 dark Satanic mills 55 Experience 13, 14–15 Innocence 14–15 ‘Tyger, The’ 18, 49, 55 Bosnian War 118, 119 Braine, John: Room at the Top 20, 46–7, 52 Brittan, Leon 98–9 Brontë, Emily 59, 127 Wuthering Heights 1, 8, 39–40, 59, 63, 64, 128 Brown, Jack 12, 104–5 Brown, Sarah Annes 121 Calder Valley 10, 11–12, 26, 63, 76–7, 85, 90, 93, 101, 114, 115, 119, 127 Cambridge 10, 16–19, 21–4, 27, 28, 29, 32, 39, 41, 46–7, 50, 63, 102, 110, 124, 127 Cambridge English 27–8
‘social rancour’ at 5, 16, 47, 99 carnivalesque, the 77–8, 82–3, 88, 89 Chartism/Chartist riots 11, 50, 57, 100 Chaucer, Geoffrey 123 Churchill, Winston 31 civil war 11, 19–20, 33, 116 as class war 9, 96 English Civil War 11, 12, 28, 61, 96 as imaginative preoccupation in Hughes 2, 111 Clare, John 61 Clark, Heather 125, 126, 131 class 4–5, 6, 16–17, 24, 25, 27–8, 29, 32, 34–5, 40, 42, 46, 51, 52, 90, 97, 98, 99, 100, 102–3, 106, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 116, 118 see also violence caricature/stereotypes 6, 49 class enmity/war/struggle/conflict 5, 9–10, 22, 29, 35, 43, 47, 76, 80, 96, 99–100, 104 colonial class 52 consciousness 39, 65, 80, 111 English middle-class culture 5, 37, 68, 83–4 English working class 4–5, 36, 105, 134 and Frankenstein’s monster image 57, 63, 67, 70–1, 102 industrial working class 49, 57, 63, 71, 102 and nineteenth-century novelistic tradition 55–9, 88 Cold War 75, 82, 99 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor: ‘Frost at Midnight’ 18–19, 22 Communism 75–6, 83, 86 confessional form/poetry/ confessionalism 7, 20, 50, 79, 81, 91, 123, 133 Confessions of a Window Cleaner (film) 77 Cromwell, Oliver 19, 70
154 Index Darwin, Charles 56 On the Origin of Species 1 Darwinism 14, 56, 134 Defoe, Daniel 11 Dickens, Charles 54, 55–7, 59 Bleak House 58 Hard Times 55, 56 Donne, John 32, 36, 45 Eagleton, Terry 11, 62–3, 87, 90, 117–18 Eliot, George 61 Eliot, T. S. 5, 32, 41, 105–6 ‘Gerontion’ 57–8 Waste Land, The 50 Elizabeth II, Queen 72 coronation of 31, 46 Engels, Friedrich: The Communist Manifesto 75–6, 80, 82–3, 99 environmentalism/conservationism 2, 75, 81, 83–4, 85, 99–100, 101, 119 Ethiopia famine (1982) 58 fascism/fascist politics 37, 44, 52 Feinstein, Elaine 10 First World War 9–10, 19, 21, 29, 50, 56, 85, 94, 96, 104, 105, 111, 113, 119 Frazer, James 105 Freud, Sigmund 3, 105 French Revolution 42, 43 Fuller, Roy 110–11 Gaskell, Elizabeth 54 Mary Barton 57, 59, 102 General Strike (1926) 95 Gill, Jo 125 gothic 58–9, 64 Graves, Robert: White Goddess 2, 13, 61–2 Great Depression 58 Gunn, Thom 5–6, 45 Fighting Terms 32, 36 ‘Mirror for Poets, A’ 32, 33, 36 ‘On the Move’ 36 Sense of Movement, The 36 ‘Tamer and Hawk’ 32–3 Haley, Bill (and the Comets) ‘Rock Around the Clock’ 54 ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ 54
Hall, Peter 107 Hardy, Thomas 61 Harrison, Tony 7, 107–13 Labourers of Herakles, The 118, 119 Mysteries, The 107 Oresteia, The 107–8, 109–10, 112 Phaedra Britannica 107–8 School of Eloquence, The 109 ‘Them & [uz]’ 7, 109, 111 V. 7 Heaney, Seamus 5, 7, 67–8 ‘Anahorish’ 69 ‘Bog Queen’ 70–1, 72–3 ‘Casting and Gathering’ 69 on Hughes 2, 5, 61, 67 ‘Kinship’ 69 as ‘the Laureate of Violence’ 69 North 7, 69, 70, 72–3 ‘Requiem for the Croppies’ 67 ‘Tollund Man, The’ 69 ‘Viking Dublin: Trial Pieces’ 70 ‘Whatever You Say Say Nothing’ 73 Heath, Ted 86 Herbert, Zbigniew 89 Hill, Geoffrey 68 Hitler, Adolf 37, 130 Holt, Billy 13 Holub, Miroslav 89 Homer 109 Odyssey 109 Hopkins, Gerard Manley 32, 111 sprung rhythm 35, 111 ‘Windhover, The’ 35 Hughes, Edith (Hughes’s mother) 10, 12–13, 15–16, 20–2, 26, 30, 51, 79, 82, 90, 91, 114, 116, 126–7, 129, 130–1 as ‘Brontë-esque’ figure/‘Brontë figment’ 10, 11, 12, 16, 20, 25, 39, 50, 67–8, 126, 133 death of 80, 91, 113, 119, 126 and ghosts 21, 25 hardworking life 10, 22, 39, 50, 77, 100, 113, 126–7, 133 as Red Indian 10, 11, 21–2, 26, 50, 131 Hughes, Gerald (Hughes’s brother) 8, 10, 15, 25, 26, 53, 90, 127 driving lessons with 50–1
Index and mythologized Paleolithic/Indian dream world/childhood 8, 11, 13, 18, 25, 44, 50, 104, 128 Hughes, Ted and Anglo-Saxon/Middle English alliterative tradition 5, 33, 35, 36, 61, 68, 109–10, 111, 112 beheadings/severed heads in 19, 31, 41–3, 44, 45–6, 106, 116 ‘diabolical fear of subjectivity’ 21, 79, 91 and dialect 5, 6, 7, 36, 41–2, 43, 46, 68, 94–5, 109, 110, 111 on England’s policy on Ireland 34, 71–2, 105 see also Ireland fox dream/dream fox 17–19, 21–4, 27, 86, 124, 129 and the Goddess 2, 3, 9, 11, 14, 15–16, 30, 35, 42, 62, 67, 68, 69–70, 77, 80, 82, 84, 111, 133 guilt 13, 119, 126, 128, 129 Heathcliff image 1, 8, 10, 27, 39, 63, 64, 127 as Irish/Irishness/Ireland as spiritual home 62, 63, 65 see also Ireland Laureateship/Poet Laureate 4–6, 7, 9, 12, 71, 73, 94–5, 96, 97–8, 99, 103, 104–6, 108, 110, 111, 112, 116, 117, 125 leopard dream 19, 21, 24 Marxist readings of 3, 4, 36 myth/mythology/mythical frameworks 2, 10, 21, 30, 76, 82, 87, 93, 94, 104, 108, 110, 117, 122–3, 130, 131, 133 occupying army/‘the enemy’, notions of 9, 16, 19, 44, 47, 83, 86, 96–8, 99–100, 102, 102–3, 105, 111, 112, 113, 116 primitivism/primitivist label 4, 14, 27, 38, 47–8, 81, 88, 133–4 as shaman/shamanic calling 11, 12, 13, 17, 21, 27, 75, 94, 105, 117 and social and humanitarian values 34, 37–9, 58, 71–2, 76, 88 ‘Ted’ Hughes/‘proletarian familiar abbreviation’ of first name 7, 29, 54, 64, 89 works, drama Alcestis 107, 112, 113, 118–19
155 Odyssey: Book V, lines 350–450 109–10 Oresteia, The 107, 108–9, 112–18, 125–6 Phèdre 107–8, 116, 117, 121, 123–4 Seneca’s Oedipus 110 Wound, The 66 works, fiction ‘Deadfall, The’ 25–7, 131 ‘Dreamfighter, The’ 13, 25 ‘Rain Horse, The’ 19–21 works, non-fiction Letters of Ted Hughes 28–9 Poetry in the Making 4 ‘Rock, The’ 8, 62 Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being 67, 88, 118 Winter Pollen 19, 22, 34, 68, 110 ‘Burnt Fox, The’ 19, 22, 25 ‘Context’ 30 ‘Environmental Revolution, The’ 75–6, 80, 98, 99 ‘Myth and Education’ 55 ‘Myths, Metres, Rhythms’ 68, 110–12 works, poetry ‘9 Willow Street’ 122 ‘18 Rugby Street’ 131 ‘Accused, The’ 91 ‘Ancient Briton Lay Under His Rock, The’ 25, 26 ‘Angel, The’ 76 ‘Anniversary’ 10, 13, 21–2, 131 ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ 50, 76 ‘Beach, The’ 129–30 ‘Best Worker in Europe, The’ 98–9, 100–1, 117 ‘Billet-Doux’ 32 Birthday Letters 7, 112, 121, 122–3, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 133 ‘Black Coat’ 131 ‘Black Hair’ 10, 131 ‘Blue Flannel Suit, The’ 125 ‘Bride and Groom Lie Hidden for Three Days’ 91 ‘Caryatids (I)’ 130 Cave Birds 7, 13, 76, 77, 83, 90–1, 101, 115, 128
156 Index ‘Child’s Park’ 128 ‘Chinese History of Colden Water’ 76, 83, 93, 101, 114, 115 ‘City, The’ 131 ‘Crag Jack’s Apostasy’ 63–4, 65 Collected Poems 1, 21, 67–8, 91 ‘Comics’ 25, 90, 91 Crow 1, 5, 6, 7, 13, 28, 41, 76, 77–8, 79, 82, 87–90, 91, 94, 119, 124 ‘Crow and the Birds’ 87–8 ‘Crow Improvises’ 78 ‘Crow’s Battle Fury’ 78 ‘Crow’s First Lesson’ 24, 41, 89–90 ‘Crow’s Song of Himself ’ 88 ‘Decay of Vanity, The’ 32 ‘Dove Breeder, The’ 32–3 ‘Dream of Horses, A’ 20 ‘Dust As We Are’ 48, 123 ‘Earth-Owl, The’ 49 ‘Edith’ 11, 12, 20, 21, 67–8, 127 ‘Egg-Head’ 32 Elmet 11–12, 76, 83 ‘Error’ 128–9 ‘Esther’s Tomcat’ 41 ‘Familiar’ 63–4, 72 ‘February’ 41 ‘Fever’ 131 ‘For the Duration’ 113, 130, 131 ‘Four March Watercolours’ 55 ‘Foxhunt’ 85–6 ‘From Where I Sit Writing My Letter’ 44 Gaudete 7, 13, 45, 65, 76, 77–80, 82, 83, 84–7, 90, 91, 93, 94 ‘Ghost Crabs’ 56–7, 58, 81 ‘Glimpse’ 41, 42 ‘Great Irish Pike, The’ 71–3 ‘Green Mother, A’ 83–4, 101, 114, 115 Hawk in the Rain, The 11, 20, 32, 45 ‘Hawk in the Rain, The’ 6, 20, 33–6, 41, 46 ‘Hawk Roosting’ 37, 39, 40, 41, 45–6, 48, 52, 53 ‘Heptonstall Cemetery’ 77 ‘Hidden Orestes, The’ 113 ‘Horoscope’ 123 ‘Horrible Religious Error, A’ 88, 90 ‘Horses, The’ 20, 22, 110
Howls & Whispers 131 ‘Incompatibilities’ 32 ‘Jaguar, The’ 20, 49–54, 106 ‘Leaf Mould’ 12–13, 20, 26 ‘Light Falls Through Itself ’ 84 ‘Lineage’ 88–9 ‘Little Salmon Hymn’ 100 ‘Lumb Chimneys’ 77, 85, 93 Lupercal 20, 41, 47–8, 57, 63, 65 ‘Man Seeking Experience Enquires His Way of a Drop of Water, The’ 32 ‘Martyrdom of Bishop Farrar, The’ 11, 32 ‘Masque for Three Voices, A’ 99 ‘Mayday on Holderness’ 48 ‘Minotaur’ 131 ‘Moon Man-Hunt, A’ 27 ‘Moonwalk’ 123 Moon Whales and Other Moon Poems 81 Moortown Diary 85, 112 ‘Mother-Tongue’ 91 ‘Mount Zion’ 25, 26, 127 New Selected Poems 22 ‘Nowt to be sorry at’ (unpublished verse fragment) 94–5, 96, 99 ‘Old Oats’ 15 ‘On the Reservations’ 13, 14, 54, 71, 97, 101–4, 106, 111 ‘Ophelia’ 55 ‘Otter, An’ 48 ‘Out’ 126 ‘Owl, The’ 128 ‘Perfect Light’ 130, 131 ‘Pike’ 3, 20, 24, 48, 57, 65–8, 69, 70–1, 72–3, 80 ‘Pike, The’ 21, 67–8 ‘Plaintiff, The’ 91 Prometheus on his Crag 119 Rain-Charm for the Duchy 6, 56, 94, 96–8, 99, 100–1, 104–5 Remains of Elmet 10, 11–12, 25, 57–8, 76–7, 84–5, 87, 91, 93, 95, 104 ‘Retired Colonel, The’ 41, 44–5, 106 ‘Revenge Fable’ 41, 42 ‘Risen, The’ 90 River 55–6, 101
Index ‘Second Glance at a Jaguar’ 51, 52 ‘September’ 32, 45–6 ‘Setebos’ 123 ‘Snowdrop’ 24 ‘Soliloquy of a Misanthrope’ 32 ‘Solomon’s Dream’ 103 ‘St. Botolph’s’ 122–3 ‘Stubbing Wharfe’ 129 ‘Summoner, The’ 91 Tales from Ovid 109 ‘Thistles’ 20, 69, 70 ‘Thought-Fox, The’ 17–18, 21–5, 26–7, 80, 86, 129–30 Three Books (Cave Birds, Remains of Elmet, River) 11 ‘Thrushes’ 24, ‘Two’ 10, 104 ‘Two Phases’ 32 ‘Us He Devours’ 57–9 ‘Warriors of the North, The’ 70 ‘Weasels We Smoked out of The Bank, The’ 77, 93 ‘When Men Got to the Summit’ 95 ‘Wind’ 64, 65 Wodwo 19, 48, 56, 57 Wolfwatching 57, 97, 112, 113, 123, 130, 131 ‘Wuthering Heights’ 127–8, 129 ‘Your Mother’s Bones Wanted to Speak’ 91 Hughes, Olwyn (Hughes’s sister) 10 Hughes, William (Hughes’s father) 9–10, 11, 19, 29, 77, 114, 123, 126, 129–30 Ingelbien, Raphaël 69–70 Ireland 34, 37, 62–5, 70–3, 77, 82, 105 Great Hunger/Famine, the 63, 72, 105 hunger strikers 71–2 IRA 70 Irish Nationalism/uprisings as Frankenstein’s monster 63, 67, 70–1 ‘nature’ in 62–3, 65 as spiritual entity 65, 84 Troubles, the 69, 70 Jaguar (car) 51–2 Jameson, Fredric 135n. 11, 78, 82, 86–7
Jung, C. G. 122 archetypes 90 individuation 122 Kafka, Franz 1, 24 Keats, John 62, 109 negative capability 17 Kendall, Tim 10 Kettle, Arnold 40 Kristeva, Julia 42–3 Lacan, Jacques 16 Lacanian real 24 Lacanian imaginary 24 Larkin, Philip 5, 19, 68, 88–9, 105 ‘Going, Going’ 62, 83 ‘MCMXIV’ 62 Lawrence, D. H. 22, 28, 54, 55–7, 65, 69, 78 ‘Fox, The’ 22–3, 80, 129–30 Lady Chatterley’s Lover 51, 55, 56–7, 85 Rainbow, The 21, 23–5, 51, 55 Leavis, F. R. 27–8, 29–30, 61 Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth: The Song of Hiawatha 104 Lukács, George: ‘The Ideology of Modernism’ 124 Luddites 67 violence 57 MacNeice, Louis: Agamemnon 108–9 Major, John 117 Marvell, Andrew 19, 32 Marx, Karl 3 Capital 11 Communist Manifesto, The 75–6, 80, 82–3, 99 Marxism 39, 98–9 Mau-Mau rising 31, 35, 52, 54, 103, 104 metaphysical poetry/style 28, 32 Methodism/Methodist Puritanism 9, 11, 116, 127 Mexborough 10, 12, 13–15, 21, 29, 56, 82, 105, 119, 128 Middlebrook, Diane 123, 127 miners’ strike of 1972 86 of 1974 86 of 1984–5 9, 14, 35, 71, 86, 95–6, 99, 111, 117 Mitchell, Katie 107
158 Index More, Thomas: Utopia 78 Morgan, Robin: ‘Arraignment’ 91 Motion, Andrew 109 Movement, the 5, 28, 47, 81 Muldoon, Paul 7 Mytholmroyd 8–9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 25, 82, 128 National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) 96, 98, 99, 103 Northern Broadsides 107, 112 O’Brien, Sean 93–4, 95, 104 Old Denaby 13–15, 20, 128 Orton, Joe 89 Osborne, John: Look Back in Anger 48 Owen, Wilfred 10, 32 pastoral, the 61–2, 64 Paulin, Tom 4–5, 12, 36, 43–5 Pilinszky, János 95 Plath, Sylvia 1, 7, 21, 50, 65, 79, 91, 102, 108, 112, 113, 121–31 passim, 133 see also confessional form/ poetry/confessionalism Ariel 122, 124, 125 Bee poems 125 ‘Daddy’ 1, 20, 41, 79, 113, 119, 121, 125, 126, 128, 131 ‘Electra on Azalea Path’ 113 ‘Fever 103°’ 121 ‘Lady Lazarus’ 121, 125 ‘Lesbos’ 125 Plathology 122, 123 ‘Sheep in Fog’ 123 ‘Stings’ 125 ‘Wuthering Heights’ 127–8 pop art 89 pop music 29 Presley, Elvis 53 ‘Jailhouse Rock’ 53 ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ 54 punk 103–4 race 53 Redgrove, Peter 41 Rigg, Diana 107–8 Roberts, Neil 94 Rock Around the Clock (film) 54
rock ’n’ roll 53–4 Rotten, Johnny 103 Rutter, Barry 118 Sagar, Keith 98 Sandbrook, Dominic 51, 83 Scargill, Arthur 96, 98–9, 103 sci-fi 78, 81 Second World War 13, 95 Seneca: Oedipus 110 Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks 103 Shakespeare, William 42, 45, 61, 68, 112, 116 Henry V 67 Venus and Adonis 67 Shelley, Mary 54 Frankenstein 59, 67, 78–9, 80, 81, 88, 102 Sillitoe, Alan 6, 29, 47–8, 54 Smart, Christopher 111 Smith, Stan 36, 46 Spitting Image 28, 29 Stalin, Joseph 103, 104 Stalinism 82, 99 Stevenson, Anne 102 Suez Crisis 34 Swift, Jonathan 65–7 ‘Modest Proposal, A’ 66–7, 71, 80 Taplin, Oliver 108–10 Teddy Boys 54 Tennyson, Lord Alfred 1 nature ‘red in tooth and claw’ 1, 63, 65 Thatcher, Margaret 4, 72, 96, 99 Thomas, Dylan 32 Thompson, E. P.: The Making of the English Working Class 57 Trickster 79, 82, 124 Village of the Damned (film) 80 violence 33, 41, 42, 46, 52, 54, 56, 57, 64, 70, 71, 73, 133 class 34–5, 37, 114 see also class colonial 34–5, 37 corrective 2 and division/disunity/discord 33, 34, 64 invisible 34, 37–9, 76 pathological 1
Index poetry of 36 police 96 post-Marxist thinking about 37–9, 76 as a social question/social meaning of 2, 3, 5, 38, 39 Wells, H. G. 54 Time Machine, The 58–9 Wevill, Assia 63, 91, 113, 119, 126 Williams, Raymond 27–8, 30, 100 Country and the City, The 61 Williamson, Henry 43–4 Tarka the Otter 14, 43, 128
Wordsworth, William 54, 62 Prelude, The 8 Wyatt, Thomas 111 Wyndham, John 80–1 Kraken Wakes, The 81 Midwich Cuckoos, The 80–1 Yeats, W. B. 43, 65, 105–6 ‘Circus Animals’ Desertion, The’ 13 ‘Hawk, The’ 33 ‘Second Coming, The’ 33 Žižek, Slavoj 38–9