Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes Under the North Star was published last year.


Weary of the cries God spoke to the Soul of Adam Saying: ‘Give me your body.’ And He Took Adam’s body and nailed it To a stake, saying: ‘This great beast Shall destroy your peace no more.’

Then God fortified with buttresses His house’s walls, and so devised a prison For the contorted body Of the beast. Outside, the Soul, in a shroud, Glorified the Majesty...

Poem: ‘On the Reservations’

Ted Hughes, 2 June 1988

for Jack Brown

I Sitting Bull On Christmas Morning

Who put this pit-head wheel, Smashed but carefully folded In some sooty fields, into his stocking? And this lifetime nightshift – a snarl Of sprung celluloid? Here’s his tin flattened, His helmet. And the actual sun closed Into what looks like a bible of coal That falls to bits as he lifts it. Very strange. Packed in mossy...

Poem: ‘Glimpse’

Ted Hughes, 4 February 1988

When I peered down Onto Greenland’s appalling features Sheeted with snow-glare Under a hole of blaze in the violet

(I had slid open the shutter Of the jet’s port-hole – I wanted to escape The film about a daughter’s rebellion)

I mourned a little For my father. I thought of the pierced seal Down there under the ice Far from its breathing hole

Straining as he finally...

The Tourist Guide, with his Group, in the ring of horizons, Looked down onto Hebden. ‘You will notice How the walls are black.’                             ‘Wash the black walls!’ Came the madman’s yell. Birdlike, wordless.


Poem: ‘Manchester Skytrain’

Ted Hughes, 6 March 1986

The nightmare is that last straight into the camera – Dice among dice, jounced in a jouncing cup. Never any nearer, bouncing in a huddle, on the spot. Struggling all together, glued in a clot.

The first dead cert I ever backed was Word From The Owner’s Mouth. Week before There was my jockey – ‘a day in the life of’ – Starred in Picture Post. Who? Somewhere


Poem: ‘Sacrifice’

Ted Hughes, 24 January 1985

Little One Too Many – Born at the bottom of the heap. The baby daughter’s doll. She trailed after the others, lugging him.

Little One Too Many grew up With a strangely wrinkled brow – fold on fold Like the Tragic Mask. Cary Grant was his living double.

They said: when he was little he’d drop And kick and writhe, and kick and cry: ‘I’ll break my leg,...

Two Poems

Ted Hughes, 15 November 1984


Night after night he’d sat there, Eighty-four, still telling the tale. With his huge thirst for anaesthetics. ‘Time I were dead,’ I’d heard. ‘I want to die.’

That’s altered.               We lean to a cliff rail Founded in tremblings. Beneath us, two thousand five hundred Miles...

Poem: ‘Daffodils’

Ted Hughes, 1 March 1984

I’d bought a bit of wild ground. In March it surprised me. Suddenly I saw what I owned. A cauldron of daffodils, boiling gently.

It was a gilding of the Deeds – treasure trove! Daffodils just came. And they kept on coming –

‘Blown foam,’ I wrote. ‘Vessels of light!’ They ran under every gust On the earth-surge, ‘their six-bladed screws Churning...

Poem: ‘The Gulkana’

Ted Hughes, 19 May 1983

The Gulkana – where it meets the Copper – Swung out of the black spruce forest, on a pebbly bend, And disappeared into it, Hazed with forest fires that had burned for weeks.

Strange word: ‘Gulkana’. What did it mean? A pre-Columbian glyph. A pale, blue line, scrawled with a childish hand Through our crumpled map. It was water More than water, rocks that were more than...

Poem: ‘A Sparrow-Hawk’

Ted Hughes, 17 March 1983

Slips from the eye-corner – overtaking Your first thought.

Through your mulling gaze over haphazard earth The sun’s cooled carbon wing Whets the eyebeam.

Those eyes in their helmet Still wired direct To the nuclear core – they alone

Laser the lark-shaped hole In the lark’s song.

We find the earth-tied spurs, among soft ashes. And maybe we find him

Materialised by...

Poem: ‘The Great Irish Pike’

Ted Hughes, 2 December 1982

The pike has been condemned. The Virgin, dipping her lily in the lough, decreed it. This is no precinct for anything fishy That revives the underhang of the Dragon.

He fell asleep in Job. He woke in The Book of Vermin.

And in the Courts of Beauty-care and Cosmetics His picture is pinned up – as the criminal norm. No trial for those eyes. No appeal For that mouth. And flesh of such...

Poem: ‘Remembering Teheran’

Ted Hughes, 19 August 1982

How it hung In the electrical loom Of the Himalayas – I remember The spectre of the rose.

All day the flag on the military camp flowed South.

In The Shah’s Motel The Manageress – a thunder head Atossa – wept on her bed Or struck awe. Tragic Persian Quaked her bosoms – precarious balloons of water. But still nothing worked.

Everything hung on a prayer, in the...

Poem: ‘Sing the Rat’

Ted Hughes, 18 February 1982

Sing the hole’s plume, the rafter’s cockade Who melts from the eye-corner, the soft squealer Pointed at both ends, who chews through lead

Sing the scholarly meek face Of the penniless rat Who studies all night To inherit the house

Sing the riff-raff of the roof-space, who dance till dawn Sluts in silk, sharpers with sleek moustaches Dancing the cog-roll, the belly-bounce, the...

Poem: ‘That Morning’

Ted Hughes, 3 December 1981

We came where the salmon were so many So steady, so spaced, so far-aimed On their inner map, England could add

Only the sooty twilight of South Yorkshire Hung with the drumming drift of Lancasters Till the world had seemed capsizing slowly.

Solemn to stand there in the pollen light Waist-deep in wild salmon swaying massed As from the hand of God. There the body

Separated, golden and...

Poem: ‘An October Salmon’

Ted Hughes, 16 April 1981

He’s lying in poor water, a yard or so depth of poor safety. Maybe only two feet under the no-protection of an outleaning small oak, Half under a tangle of brambles.

After his two thousand miles, he rests, Breathing in that lap of easy current In his graveyard pool.

About six pounds weight, Four years old at most, and hardly a winter at sea – But already a veteran, Already a...

Poem: ‘Nymet’

Ted Hughes, 4 December 1980

No map or Latin ever

Netted one deity from this river. TAW meant simply ‘water’. What became of her Who poured these pools from her ewer?

Who wove her names for her people Into a shimmery tent – with alder and oak-leaf

And the flowing deer? What were her real names?

She painted men’s and women’s souls Into her tunnel water With the brother-blood of raven and...

Two Poems

Ted Hughes, 2 October 1980


Big wings dawns dark. The sun is hunting. Thunder collects, under granite eyebrows.

The horizons are ravenous. The dark mountain has an electric eye. The sun lowers its meat-hook.

His spread fingers measure a heaven, then a heaven. His ancestors worship only him And his children’s children cry to him alone.

His trapeze is a continent. The sun is looking for fuel With the gaze of a...

Poem: ‘Nightjar’

Ted Hughes, 15 May 1980

The tree creeps on its knees. The dead branch aims, in the last light. The cat-bird is telescopic.

The sun’s escape Shudders shot By wings of ashes.

The moon falls, with all its moths, Into a bird’s face.

Stars spark From the rasp of its cry.

Till the moon-eater, cooling, Yawns dawn And sleeps bark.

Two Poems

Ted Hughes, 21 February 1980

Unfinished Mystery

Enter Hamlet, stabbed, no longer baffled, Stepping across his mother, drowned in a pearl, Carrying lifeless Ophelia. Now enter

Stabbed Othello, enlightened at last, From his cistern of toad-genderings, bearing Suffocated Desdemona. Now enter

Headless Macbeth, regicide killed in him, Stepping from the cauldron of sisters Bearing his cold Queen. Now enter

Crack-brained Lear,...

Poem: ‘Night Arrival of Sea-Trout’

Ted Hughes, 25 October 1979

Honeysuckle hanging its fangs. Foxglove rearing its opened belly. Dogrose touching the membrane.

And through the dew’s mist, the oak’s mass Comes plunging, comes tossing dark antlers.

Then a shattering Of the river’s hole, where something leaps out –

The stillness snarls, moon-mouthed, and shivers.

Summer dripping stars, biting at the nape. Lob-worms coupling in...

Half-Fox: Ted Hughes

Seamus Perry, 29 August 2013

Among the many delights to be found in Roger Lonsdale’s New Oxford Book of 18th-Century Verse is a squib by Thomas Holcroft, provoked by some disparaging remarks Voltaire made about...

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Between leaving school and going to Cambridge, Ted Hughes did his National Service in the RAF. Writing from RAF West Kirby, in the Wirral, to a friend, Edna Wholey, in 1949 –...

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‘I was there, I saw it’: Ted Hughes

Ian Sansom, 19 February 1998

Captain Hook, ‘cadaverous and blackavised’, ‘never more sinister than when he is most polite’, lives in fear of the crocodile who ate his arm and swallowed a clock....

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He knew not what to do – something, he felt, must be done – he rose, drew his writing-desk before him – sate down, took the pen – – found that he knew not what to...

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Godmother of the Salmon

John Bayley, 9 July 1992

The worst of being dubbed Laureate today would not be the task of composing poems for royal and public occasions, but trying to make them sound like oneself, or even more so. Auden had no...

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Protestant Guilt

Tom Paulin, 9 April 1992

There is a particular type of literary criticism – these days very rare – that aims to exist intensely as bravura performance, dramatic spectacle. It would be pointless to object that...

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What the doctor said

Edna Longley, 22 March 1990

Most books offered as poetry never leave the condition of prose – which is not to say they are good prose. But when a prose voice enters poetry, it can clear and freshen the air. Beside...

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The New Narrative

John Kerrigan, 16 February 1984

‘When We talk of narrative poetry today,’ James Fenton asks in the September issue of Poetry Review, ‘are we referring to the kind of story in which, you want to know what...

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Social Arrangements

John Bayley, 30 December 1982

‘New’ poetry can mean two things. When Ezra Pound said ‘make it new’ he was willing the advent of Modernism, the birth of a consciousness transformed by the...

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Cambridge Theatre

Donald Davie, 19 August 1982

Sue Lenier’s poems occupy 70 closely printed pages, of which I have read – the things I do for LRB! – 50 or so. If ‘read’ is the word for what one does, or can do,...

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Prize Poems

Donald Davie, 1 July 1982

The Arvon Foundation’s 1980 Anthology contains four splendid poems: Stephen Watts’s ‘Praise Poem for North Uist’, and Keith Bosley’s ‘Corolla’; Aidan...

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War and Pax

Claude Rawson, 2 July 1981

Christopher Logue’s War Music is not ‘a translation in the accepted sense’. It’s not clear why, having said this, he should invoke Johnson’s remark that a...

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Facts and Makings

John Bayley, 21 February 1980

Ted Hughes has always possessed in his poetry the gift that D.H. Lawrence had whenever he took up his pen: the gift of joining his ego to the visible world so that both not only energise each...

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