August 17: Ted Hughes was born on this day in 1930. Apart from his fame as poet and husband, Hughes is highly regarded as a translator. Some feel that his best book, and “one of the great works of the century,” may prove to be Tales from Ovid, his 1997 translation of twenty-four stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In his introduction, Hughes says that Ovid is a good match for us, in that he conveys “what it feels like to live in the psychological gulf that opens at the end of an era.” The following is from early on, a description of how the world declined by Ages, from Gold to Silver to Brass to this:
Last comes the Age of Iron.
And the day of Evil dawns.
Go up like a mist—a morning sigh off a graveyard.
Snares, tricks, plots come hurrying
Out of their dens in the atom.
Violence is an extrapolation
Of the cutting edge
Into the orbit of the smile.
Now comes the love of gain—a new god
Made out of the shadow
Of all the others. A god who peers
Grinning from the roots of the eye-teeth.
Hughes also enjoyed writing tales for children, publishing over two dozen stories, picture books, and plays. Iron figures here, too: his Iron Man (1968) and its sequel, Iron Woman (1993) are on the rampage against a handful of modern ills and their ageless progenitor: “I am the Spider-god of wealth. Wealth. Wealth. The Spider-god of more and more and more and more money. I catch it in my web….” (Iron Woman). A new children’s book by Hughes and Jim Downer was published last year, the manuscript of Timmy the Tug found among Hughes’s manuscripts after his death. Click here for the interesting story of its genesis and of Hughes’s circle of artistic friends in 1950s London.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.