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.

3 comments:

Alias Guenevere said...

That is a very stimulating connection! I personally think that there are many similarities between Morris's and Hughes's vision of nature and animals. See for example H's lyric "The Horses" (1957) -- "And I saw the horses [...] Huge in dense grey [...] with draped manes and tilted hind-hooves, making no sound". Aren't these lines evocative of Morris's Greylocks in News from Nowhere? Thanks Tony Pinkney for inspiring me with your modern ways of studying Morrris.

Tony Pinkney said...

Dear Alias Guenevere (which is surely the finest of all Morrisian web identities), many thanks indeed for your encouraging comments. I'm working on a further blog post on 'The Ethics of Horse-Riding' actually, so you anticipate me very nicely! I hear your new Morris book may now be out, am looking forward to it very much! Best, Tony

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