Wednesday, 7 December 2011
Tearing off Heads: the Animals of Ted Hughes
Lot of fuss being made about the poet Ted Hughes this week, as he finally gets his memorial in Westminster Abbey. As a keen fisherman, Morris might have approved of the piscatorial quote that graces the Hughes memorial slab, but what would a Morrisian approach to Hughes’s poetry look like? I was a keen fan of his early animal poetry myself once, and vividly remember a reading, in Bristol in 1978, at which this dark, charismatic figure deeply impressed my female friends who were present (masochistic Isabella Lintons to his rugged Heathcliff, perhaps).
All those formidable poetic hawks, pike, jaguars, foxes! ‘My manners are tearing off heads’. Nature, then, as a radical alternative to civilisation; but Hughes can alas only conceive Nature as aggressive, predatory, ruthless, which is to say that he projects on to it the rapaciously competitive values of capitalism itself. Far from being any alternative to the system, Hughes’s early vision of Nature is – irony of ironies - just the pure distillation of that vile system’s inner values. So perhaps it’s apt enough that he gets his memorial at its heart in the Abbey after all.