New Selected Poems 1957-1994 by Ted Hughes - review by Robert Nye

Robert Nye

New Selected Spells by the Royal Witch Doctor

New Selected Poems 1957-1994


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There is a satire by Vernon Scannell in which he considers a cow busy chewing the cud and wonders what is going on in its head. Can the creature be contemplating the composition of ‘a long poem about Ted Hughes’? The point of Scannell’s little joke is, of course, that for a while in the Sixties and Seventies, under the spell of Hughes’s early work, it was fashionable to write poems about animals which imagine those animals from, as it were, the inside. The most famous model was perhaps ‘Hawk Roosting’, from his Second volume Lupercal (1960):

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.

Inaction, no falsifying dream

Between my hooked head and hooked feet:

Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

Lines not universally admired for their celebration of feathered fascism, but which Hughes himself still favours, judging from their inclusion in his New Selected Poems 1957-1994.) There was then, at all events, something of a School of Ted, which is to say that in those days the man had his

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