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Ted Hughes: Essays and Non-fictional Writing

Note:

In the 1950, and especially during the 1960s, Ted Hughes frequently wrote reviews and short essays for various publications and for the BBC. And a good number of these has subsequently been collected in Winter Pollen. Topics range from reviews of newly published books on such issues as Shamanism, Sufism or ›Primitive‹ Literatures to personal recollections of childhood, Children's Writing, Environmental Protection or works of other authors and artists which he found fascinating.  

This page lists some details of three important essay collections and non-fictional publications Poetry in the Making, Winter Pollen, Shakespeare & the Goddess of Complete Being, and on other important but uncollected essayist and non-fictional writings.

 

Uncollected Essays & Non-Fiction

»The Rock«
In The Listener, 70, 19 Sept. 1963, 421—3.
Re-published in slightly different form in Writers on Themselves, 1964.

A fascinating piece. Hughes looks back at his childhood in Mytholmroyd in the Calder Valley.

 

»Myth and Education«
[Usually referred to as »Myth and Education« (I), to differentiate it from the later essay by the same name, collected in Winter Pollen.]
In Children's Literature in Education I, March 1970, 55—70.

Though never seen, the essay seems to have been re-published in a collection of essays from Children's Literature in Education. Please contact me if you have further details.

This is the transcript of a talk Hughes gave on Education, Literature, and Imagination. In the course of this, Hughes talks about his children's book The Iron Man. The later »Myth and Education« Essay uses some of the argument as its basis.

 

»The Interpretation of Parables«
In Signal Approaches to Children's Books, No. 69, Sept. 1992, 147-52.

First published in slightly different form in Times Educational Supplement, 20 March 1992, 21—2. The TES does also reprint »How the Polar Bear Became«.

Hughes talks about his Creation Tales, Imagination and much more. The Essay was prompted by criticism (summed up in the TES version), of Hughes's Polar Bear story (How the Whale Became) as being "racist".

 

»Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Ariel«  
Thumbscrew, No 2, Spring 1995, 2—11.

 

Major Essay Collections 

Poetry in the Making.
Faber & Faber, 1967

One of Hughes's earliest essay collections, Poetry in the Making, sprang from his work for the BBC in the 1960s. In a series of radio talks Hughes set out his approach to writing and reading poetry and stories, introducing the work of other authors along the way. Clearly, Hughes aims at encouraging young listeners to think for themselves and write their own poems, stories and even novels. The book is dedicated to two of his teachers who fostered his own writing. The talks tell much about Hughes's approach to writing, which is supported by the fact that some of them have been extensively used by critics. The talks collected in Poetry in the Making have the following topics:

  • »Capturing Animals« – Hughes talks about his own approach to writing poetry, which he likens to capturing animals and keeping them alive. The talk also offers biographical information about his passion for hunting, fishing and stalking animals as a boy.
  • »Wind and Weather« – Hughes talks about writing about weather and its extremes.
  • »Writing about People«
  • »Learning to think« – Hughes talks about thinking and concentrating, excercises and other ways of approaching the topic of one's writing.
  • »Writing about Landscape«
  • »Writing a Novel: Beginning«
  • »Writing a Novel: Going On«
  • »Meet my Folks« – Hughes talks about his collection of poems by the same name (Meet my Folks). The chapter also ties in with what he mentioned in previous chapters on Writing about People.
  • »Words and Experience« – A talk about imagination, the power of words and actual experience. How closely can words match actual experience? How can we possess our own experience? etc. This talk, I believe, was not part of the original "Listening and Writing" Series but must have been important to Hughes so he chose to include it in the collection.

Winter Pollen. Occasional Prose.
Edited by William Scammell.
London: Faber & Faber, 1994.
New York: Picador, 1995.

Winter Pollen is a collection of reviews, essays and articles most of which were originally published in newspapers, magazines and journals. Some of them are very hard to get hold of, while others have been revised or added to. Winter Pollen gives a glimpse of the scope of themes and topics that most concerned Hughes while offering key information on his work.

The American edition has an additional essay on Sylvia Plath.

Here is a list from the Table of Contents with some additional notes:

  • »Context« (From London Magazine, Vol. I No. 2, 1962).
  • »Fantastic Happenings and Gory Adventures« (Orig. draft of article from Meet and Write Book 2, ed. by Sandy and Alan Brownjohn, 1987).
  • »The Burnt Fox« (previously unpublished short story, 1993) .
  • »Poetry in the Making: Three Extracts« (From Poetry in the Making, 1967): »Capturing Animals«»Learning to Think«»Words and Experience«
  • »A Word about Writing in Schools« (From Pushkin Prizes Schools Prize Brochure, 1989).
  • »Concealed Energies« (From Children as Writers 2, 1975).
  • »Strong Feelings« (Review of C.M. Bowra, Primitive Song (1962) from the Listener, 3 May 1962).
  • »Quitting« (Review of Philip O'Connor, Vagrancy (1963), from the New Statesman, 6 September 1963).
  • »Asgard for Addicts« (Review of L.O.G. Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North (1964), from the Listener, 19 March 1964).
  • »Unfinished Business« (From New York Times Book Review, April 1964).
  • »Dr Dung« (Review of M. Rokeach, The Three Christs of Ypsilanti (1964), from the New Statesman, 4 September 1964).
  • »Opposing Selves« (Review of The Letters of A. Pushkin, ed. and transl. by J. T. Shaw (1964), from the Listener, 1 October 1964).
  • »Superstitions« (Review of L. MacNeice, Astrology (1964), and of Lethbridge, Ghost and Divining Rod (1963), from the Listener, 2 October 1964).
  • »Regenerations« (From the Listener, 29 October 1964).
  • »Revelations: The Genius of Isaac Bashevis Singer« (From the New York Review of Books, 22 April 1965).
  • »Music of Humanity« (Review of The Faber Book of Ballads, ed. by Matthew Hodgart (1965), from the Guardian, 14 May 1965).
  • »National Ghost« (Review of Men Who March Away: Poems of the First World War, ed by I. M. Parsons (1965), from the Listener, 5 August 1965).
  • »Tricksters and Tar Babies« (Review of J. Greenway, Literature Among the Primitives (1964) and The Primitive Reader (1965), from New York Review of Books, 9 December 1965).
  • »Heavenly Visions« (Review of Selected Letters of Dylan Thomas, ed. By C. Fitzgibbon (1966), from the New Statesman, 25 November 1966).
  • »The Hanged Man and the Dragonfly« (Introduction to The Collected Prints of Leonard Baskin, 1984).
  • »The Great Theme: Notes on Shakespeare« (Introduction to A Choice of Shakespeare's Verse, 1971).
  • »Orghast: Talking without Words« (From Vogue, December 1971).
  • »The Environmental Revolution« (Review of M. Nicholson, The Environmental Revolution (1970), from Your Environment I, Summer 1970).
  • »Emily Dickinson« (Introduction to A Choice of Emily Dickinson's Verse, 1968).
  • »Sylvia Plath: Ariel« (From Poetry Book Society Bulletin, No. 44, February 1965).
  • »Publishing Sylvia Plath« (From the Observer, 21 November 1971).
  • »Collecting Sylvia Plath«
  • »Sylvia Plath and Her Journals«
  • »Sylvia Plath: The Evolution of ›Sheep in Fog‹« (previously unpublished)
  • »Sylvia Plath's Collected Poems and The Bell Jar« (only in American Edition)
  • »Keith Douglas« (Introduction to Selected Poems: Keith Douglas, 1964).
  • »Postscript 1: Douglas and Owen. Letter to the editor«, 2 February 1988.
  • »Postscript 2: ›Adams‹ and ›The Sea Bird‹, Letter to the editor«, 8 May 1988.
  • »Vasko Popa« (Introduction to Vasko Popa: Collected Poems, 1969; 1978; 1989).
  • »János Pilinszky« (Introduction to János Pilinszky: Selected Poems, 1976; 1989).
  • »Laura Riding« (From E. Faas, The Unaccommodated Universe, 1980).
  • »Crow on the Beach« (From 45 Contemporary Poems: The Creative Process, ed. Alberta T. Turner, 1985).
  • »Inner Music« (Introduction to LAMDA's Anthology of Verse and Prose, vol. 12, 1988).
  • »Keats on the Difference between the Dreamer and the Poet« (Reply to a Correspondent, c. 1986).
  • »Poetry and Violence: Two questions posed by Ekbert Faas« (An expansion of part of the argument from Faas' interview of 1971. 1992). (previously unpublished)
  • »The Poetic Self: A Centenary Tribute to T. S. Eliot« (From A Dancer to God, 1992).    
  • »Shakespeare and Occult Neoplatonism« (1993).
  • »Myths, Metres, Rhythms« (1993). (previously unpublished)
  • »The Snake in the Oak« (on Coleridge, also in A Choice of Coleridge's Work, 1996). (previously unpublished)

 

Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being.
London: Faber & Faber, 1992.
New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992
(corrected and expanded edition).
The English paperback edition (1993) follows the corrected, expanded American text.

In Shakespeare and the Goddess, Ted Hughes set out to investigate a single theme/conflict which he found in Shakespeare's »mature plays«. Each of these plays, he says, presents a variation of this single theme, which he traces back to the two long poems »Venus and Adonis« and »Lucrece« and from there, via Greek mythology, back to Sumerian myth. He links this theme/conflict to the social and religious pressures of Shakespeare's time, and he illustrates, how the theme provides a mirror image of this conflict.

The book grew out of a life-long fascination with Shakespeare. As with other writers, Hughes was interested in what makes Shakespeare's work "tick", what animates his characters and how it comes about that these old pieces still manage to move and disturb us. Compiling a selection of most powerful poetic snippets from Shakespeare in the early 1970s, Ted Hughes found that some of the most moving parts of the works hung together as if connected by a fundamental, single idea. That they were animated by this idea, which simultaneously gave them their tragic drive. In Shakespeare and the Goddess, he calls this two sided idea ›The Tragic Equation‹. For an introduction to Hughes's view of Shakespeare, see the Shakespeare essays in Winter Pollen.

Shakespeare and the Goddess is a most fascinating book that, apart from being one of the most daring and controversial books about Shakespeare, tells much about Hughes's work.

Here is a contents listing :

INTRODUCTION

PART I: The Immature Phase of the Tragic Equation

CHAPTER 1: Conception and Gestation of the Equation's Tragic Myth: the Sonnets, Venus and Adonis, Lucrece

  • Shakespeare turns to poetry
  • The Sonnets as the matrix of Venus and Adonis
  • Venus and Adonis as theology
  • The Sonnets and Shakespeare's love
  • The Dark Lady and the Goddess
  • Venus and Adonis: the Tragic Equation's moment of conception
  • Venus and Adonis and the Hippolytus of Euripides
  • Historical background of the Tragic Equation
  • Lucrece as a metaphysical poem
  • The contrapuntal symmetry of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece
  • Shakespeare's vision as prophecy
  • Venus and Adonis as a shamanic initiation dream

CHAPTER 2: Birth, Childhood and Adolescence of the Tragic Equation: As You Like It, All's Well that Ends Well, A Lover's Complaint, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida

  • Shakespeare takes up the spiritual quest
  • As You Like It: Jaques
  • Two kinds of ritual drama
  • As You Like It: the ritual pattern
  • Autobiography in All's Well that Ends Well
  • All's Well: the ritual pattern
  • All's Well: entry of the Mythic Equation
  • The three sources of All's Well that Ends Well
  • Shakespeare's double language and the verbal device
  • The evolutionary history of the verbal device
  • The double language as translation
  • The double language in All's Well that Ends Well
  • Shakespeare's hieroglyphic system
  • The verbal device and Tragic Equation as brain maps
  • A Lover's Complaint: the heroine's guilty secret
  • Measure for Measure: the Mythic Equation comes to consciousness
  • Troilus and Cressida: the Mythic Equation becomes the Tragic Equation
  • Troilus and Cressida: the new factor and the different madness
  • The Trojan War: the incubation of the Tragic Equation
  • The secret nature of Diomed
  • The Boar's track into the battle
  • The Hunt staged as the death of Hector
  • The Trojan War as two warped mirrors
  • Troilus and Cressida as the first Tragedy of Divine Love

PART II: The Evolution of the Tragic Equation through the Seven Tragedies

INTRODUCTION

  • The dominance of the mythic plane
  • The constant factors of the Shakespearean moment
  • Variants
  • The tragic madness

CHAPTER 3: The Tragic Equation Matures and Mutates: Othello, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear

  • At wit's end
  • Othello: the Iago factor
  • Othello: the Tragic Equation in the body
  • Hamlet: the Tragic Equation in the mind
  • Macbeth: X-ray of the Shakespearean moment
  • King Lear: a triple Tragic Equation
  • King Lear as a reactivation of its mythic sources
  • Lear, the Fool, Mad Tom and Cordelia
  • The silence of Cordelia

CHAPTER 4: The Tragic Equation Makes Its Soul: Timon of Athens, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra

  • Subterranean transition
  • Timon of Athens: the Tragic Equation without the Female
  • Coriolanus: the Female survives the Tragic Equation
  • The tragic hero as the Rival Brother
  • Antony and Cleopatra as a bridging work
  • Antony and Cleopatra: the new factors
  • Antony and Cleopatra as a tragedy
  • Antony and Cleopatra as a theophany

PART III: The Transformation of the Tragic Equation in the Last Plays

INTRODUCTION

  • The impossible thing
  • Root meanings of the Equation
  • The magician's task

CHAPTER 5: The Tragic Hero Brought to Judgement: Cymbeline, Pericles, The Winter's Tale

  • The mutant emerges
  • Cymbeline: the tragic hero reborn
  • Pericles and the Gnostic myth of Sophia
  • The Tragic Equation in court
  • The Winter's Tale: the cry and the silence
  • The Winter's Tale: Leontes as the tragic error
  • The Winter's Tale: the Tragic Equation becomes a theophany
  • The pattern of the Gnostic Coda in The Winter's Tale
  • Hermione's plea as the voice of Heaven and Earth

CHAPTER 6: The Dismantling of the Tragic Equation: The Tempest

  • The beginning in the end
  • The Tempest as a Gnostic coda
  • The Storm
  • The evolution of the Storm up to Macbeth
  • The two selves of the Flower
  • The Storm changes planes: Macbeth's vision
  • The Storm passes to the Female
  • The Storm and the Flower
  • The Tragic Equation in The Tempest
  • Prospero's tripartite brother
  • The Tempest and Dido
  • Miranda as Dido reborn
  • The Gnostic pattern in The Tempest
  • Ulysses and the mythic background of The Tempest
  • Circe
  • The Tempest: a precarious moment in the alchemy
  • Ariel and the Harpy
  • The Masque in The Tempest: the defeat of Venus
  • The Masque as the nativity of a god
  • The Masque as the twin birth of Tragedy and Transcendence
  • The triumph of the lame hunter
  • The Tempest as a keyboard for playing the Complete Works
  • Caliban's genetic make-up
  • Prospero dismantles the Tragic Equation
  • Ariel's ancestry
  • The evolution of Shakespeare's poetry: the Boar, the Storm and the Flower
  • The Equation in five early plays
  • Caliban's blackness

POSTSCRIPT: The Boar with a Flower in its Mouth

APPENDICES

I. The Tragic Equation in Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsmen
II. The Perpetuum Mobile
III. The Equation in The Merchant of Venice

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