Collected Poems: Ted Hughes

Collected Poems: Ted Hughes

by Ted Hughes

All the poems of a great 20th-century poet

From the astonishing debut Hawk in the Rain (1957) to Birthday Letters (1998), Ted Hughes was one of postwar literature's truly prodigious poets. This remarkable volume gathers all of his work, from his earliest poems (published only in journals) through the ground-breaking volumes Crow (1970)


All the poems of a great 20th-century poet

From the astonishing debut Hawk in the Rain (1957) to Birthday Letters (1998), Ted Hughes was one of postwar literature's truly prodigious poets. This remarkable volume gathers all of his work, from his earliest poems (published only in journals) through the ground-breaking volumes Crow (1970), Gaudete(1977), and Tales from Ovid (1997). It includes poems Hughes composed for fine-press printers, poems he wrote as England's Poet Laureate, and those children's poems that he meant for adults as well. This omnium-gatherum of Hughes's work is animated throughout by a voice that, as Seamus Heaney remarked, was simply "longer and deeper and rougher" than those of his contemporaries.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The main details of Hughes's life are well-known: after his National Service with the RAF, the dashing poet marries the brilliant American Sylvia Plath in 1954, and becomes an instant celebrity with the publication of Hawk in the Rain in 1957. While "The Thought-Fox" scampers its way into numberless anthologies, he publishes the poems of Lupercal (1960) and Wodwo (1967), where he treats his own voice as a force of nature, threaded through a violent animism. His wife and his lover die by suicide. He makes a major artistic breakthrough with the widely praised sequence Crow (1971), which draws on his deep knowledge of English folklore, and sacrifices, for a kind of Zarathustrian bluntness, all lingering traces of formalism (though blank verse and ballad would continue to be favored methods). He writes plays and several children's books, and becomes poet laureate in 1984, publishing a surprisingly good book of civic verse, Rain Charm for the Duchy, in 1992. His final volume, Birthday Letters, is a conflicted, front-page-news-making account of his relationship with Plath. This enormous, rewarding compendium contains all of the above as well as numerous poems that were previously uncollected (such as the lovely, Williams-y miniature "Snail" and the long "Scapegoat and Rabies," an indictment of the soldier culture that partly shaped Hughes); the entirety of his acclaimed Tales from Ovid; Hughes's appendices to the books as originally published; and copious bibliographic notes. Hughes is already canonical in Great Britain, and this volume, with its resolutely undomesticated bestiary, will mark out permanent space on the shelves of U.S. readers. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Only months after Farrar's publication of a massive edition of Robert Lowell's Collected Poems comes its even larger omnibus volume of his brooding British counterpart, the late Hughes. It's fitting, since Hughes's literary stature in Britain was arguably as great as Lowell's in the United States. Chronologically arranged, Collected Poems is triple the size of 1994's New Selected Poems and spans four decades-from Hughes's early scholastic publications, through the darkly mythic murmurings and primal tensions of milestones such as Hawk in the Rain, Crow, and Moortown, to the autobiographical and still controversial Birthday Letters, which chronicled his troubled marriage to poet Sylvia Plath. In between are generous helpings of uncollected poems, some of which have never been reprinted. The text used throughout is that of the last published version. Nonpoetic work, such as Part 2 of Wodwo, is omitted. Appendixes include Hughes's original notes and prefaces, lists of variant titles and contents pages, and notes detailing textual variants between published editions of the poems. Essential for academic libraries and highly recommended for public libraries.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.50(h) x 2.24(d)

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Read an Excerpt


'The page is printed.'


The present edition gathers in one volume the poetry published by Ted Hughes. It includes the familiar sequence of individual Collections, from The Hawk in the Rain (1957) to Birthday Letters (1998), and takes account of a less familiar penumbra of broadsides, pamphlets and limited editions, published by numerous small presses and imprints during the same decades in which the official canon of his poetry was established with Faber and Faber. Hughes's engagement with small press publication extended to the co-ownership of actual presses, as a collaborative, even familial mode of literary production -- and as an alternative to the protocols of trade publishing, according to which an author might be expected not to contribute to the design of a book, or choose its endpapers, or propose the typeface (declaring an abiding preference for blackest Bodoni) -- all of which counted among Hughes's concerns.

During the 1970s, at the height of this engagement, much of Hughes's writing was initially published or collected by the Rainbow Press, an imprint owned by the poet and his sister Olwyn Hughes. ('The name of the press was related to an early plan -- defeated by vagaries in the availability of materials -- to have each smaller-format title bound in a different shade of leather so that the book spines would form a "rainbow" along the shelf.'*) Between 1979 and 1983, to take another example, the Morrigu Press -- consisting of an Albion hand press contributed by Olwyn Hughes -- published nearly twenty separate broadsides of individual poems by Hughes, all printed by his son Nicholas (a Blakean version of ownership of the means of production). Again, the Gehenna Press (Paradise Lost, I, 405: '. . . And black Gehenna call'd, the Type of Hell'), set up by his lifelong friend and collaborator Leonard Baskin, published the first broadside of a Hughes poem in 1959 -- 'Pike', from The Hawk in the Rain -- and equally published his very last volume of poetry, Howls & Whispers, 'during the promising Spring of 1998', as the Gehenna colophon hopefully expressed it, just a few months before his death.

There was no Faber edition of Howls & Whispers, nor of several other private press volumes, notably Recklings (1967), Orts (1976), A Primer of Birds (1981), and Capriccio (1990). On the other hand, Remains of Elmet, Spring Summer Autumn Winter (Season Songs), Prometheus On His Crag and Moortown Elegies (Moortown Diary) began as limited editions and subsequently became Faber volumes. For Hughes these practices were complementary rather than opposed, and one of the roles of the small press was as a tiring room or rehearsal space. A constant small revisionary activity accompanied -- or even defined -- the sending out of poems into the world. On their first publication, in the sense of 'issued for sale to the public', many poems were already subject to post-publication revision. The Collected Poems must therefore reconcile two systems of publication within one chronology: the volumes which established Hughes's reputation -- The Hawk in the Rain, Lupercal, Wodwo, Crow, Cave Birds, Gaudete, River and other collections -- were accompanied or tugged into view by a hidden flotilla of smaller vessels, some of them fugitive, gaily coloured and strangely shaped. If the present edition, like the Collected Poems of any poet, ratifies a known body of work, it is also a display of fresh evidence: the poet encountered in these pages has yet to be fully assimilated.

In addition to the private press editions, many individual poems by Hughes first appeared in periodicals and as contributions to books. From the outset, and encouraged by his first wife Sylvia Plath, Hughes made extensive use of periodical publication prior to collecting poems in volume form. Later on, the private press to some extent replaced the intermediate role of the periodical, but throughout his career Hughes sent poems out to an eclectic and inclusive range of journals and rnagazines. Many of these -- American or Australian as much as British -- were short-lived, and many of the poems which appeared in their pages were never reprinted. The present edition has sought to include all (nearly one hundred and fifty) uncollected poems.

With the exception of the poems written for children, whose presence or absence is discussed below, the Collected Poems therefore includes the ensemble of the published poetry. Or rather, it includes only the poems which Hughes published (or which, in two relevant instances, were broadcast rather than printed). His manuscripts, now deposited in various collections -- most importantly in the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory University, Atlanta -- are voluminous for all aspects of the poetry and all stages of the career, but their collation must await the long-term project of a Complete Poems. For the present edition, pre-publication materials have not been consulted: no unpublished poems have been included in the text, and no manuscript drafts or variants for published poems have been recorded in the notes. The Collected Poems is an interim edition, restricted to the print history of the poetry.


Questions of structure inevitably arise, given the involutions of that history. On the one hand, the various kinds of publication -- periodical, private press, trade -- are accorded equal rights of inclusion. On the other hand a chronology must be established, and therefore a hierarchy. Hence the Collected Poems retains the familiar public shapes of Hughes's poetry -- its volume-by-volume progress, from The Hawk in the Rain to Birthday Letters -- as an overall structural principle: the sequence of Faber collections has been followed, as have their individual contents and ordering of poems. A slight exception has been made for Crow, which evolved through a succession of part-publications, and is here presented as a process which both preceded and followed the Faber edition.

Those private press volumes for which there were no subsequent Faber editions have been included in their entirety. However, where individual poems from these volumes appeared later on in Faber contexts, the Collected Poems follows suit: thus a poem from A Primer of Birds (1981) which reappears in Wolfwatching (1989) is placed with the latter collection, to reflect Hughes's intentions and to maintain the familiar contours of his poetry. The endnotes to each collection explain the local accommodations required in the interests of what might be called chronological advantage.

Sometimes the Faber collections themselves have more than one life. Remains of Elmet (1979) and River (1983) were considerably altered for their reissue in Three Books (1993). Since the Collected Poems has sought to include all of Hughes's printed poems -- including poems subsequently omitted from the canon as it evolved -- it has been decided to print the contents and follow the ordering of the original Faber editions, for reasons of chronology and of inclusiveness, while nevertheless offering the revised texts of individual poems (see the Note on the Text, page 1238). Likewise, the new poems which Hughes added to these two sequences in 1993 find their point of entry later on in the Collected Poems.

The attempt to shape a single chronology, while preserving the integrity of individual Faber collections, has dictated that uncollected poems be entered in groups between those collections -- following Hughes's own policy when he inserted groupings of hitherto uncollected poems at various junctures in his New Selected Poems (1995). They are here entered by their dates of (first) publication, and the chronology of the edition is in all respects a chronology of publication. There is little evidence in Hughes's typescripts for dates of composition, and his tendency to engage simultaneously in different projects discourages attempts to date poems circumstantially by composition.


Hughes's collections are full of cross-pollination. Poems originally intended for Crow were finally published in Cave Birds; poems shared out between Wodwo and Recklings were first published together on the same pages of periodicals; the Gaudete epilogue poems have close affinities with Orts, and so on. On the one hand, from Crow onwards, Hughes worked predominantly with sequences (Moortown Diary, Season Songs, Gaudete, Adam and the Sacred Nine, Cave Birds, Prometheus On His Crag, River, Remains of Elmet, Tales from Ovid, Birthday Letters), the only thoroughgoing exception to which is Wolfwatching. On the other hand, the borders even of the sequence are permeable to a traffic in individual poems, as if the alternative modes of production at his disposal encouraged Hughes to take a provisional view of what might be termed the unrepeatability of the poem, and its supposed fixity of place.

Thus a well-known poem like 'A Dove' appears in A Primer of Birds (1981), and in Season Songs (1985), and in Wolfwatching (1989); individual poems from The Hawk in the Rain, Lupercal and Wodwo reappear three decades later in Elmet (1994); sometimes the same poem belongs equally in two collections (as opposed to putting in a guest appearance): 'Sheep' and 'March Morning Unlike Others' are integral both to Moortown Diary and to Season Songs, and are entered in both sequences in the present edition. This plurality of intentions means that editorially there are false friends throughout the work -- the same poem under different titles, different poems under the same title -- and that the fortunes of any individual poem are likely to be picaresque: 'Leaf Mould', to take one example, was first collected in Remains of Elmet (1979) under the title 'Hardcastle Crags'; it reappeared in the TLS in 1985, in heavily revised form but using the same title, and this version was then collected with further revisions in Wolfwatching (1989) under the new title of 'Leaf Mould'; after which it re-entered Remains of Elmet -- in Three Books (1993) -- and was reprinted in Elmet (1994) before coming to rest, with further small variations, in New Selected Poems (1995).

Hughes changed poems when he changed their places. Moreover these revisions were not usually incorporated into subsequent reprints of the collection in which the poem originally appeared. For example, the changes made to various Wodwo poems for their inclusion five years later in Selected Poems 1957-1967 were never incorporated into subsequent reprints of Wodwo. The reader stands in an open and populous field, rather than on the path of a tidy self-replacement in which earlier versions are progressively disowned. Several texts of a Hughes poem often coexist in print, depending on whether it is encountered in its original setting, or in the changed context of a later collection, or in one of his several selections of his poetry (including those meta-selections, Moortown and Elmet), or even in one of his children's collections.

*footnotes have been omitted

Copyright © 2003 The Estate of Ted Hughes

Meet the Author

Ted Hughes (1930-1998) produced more than forty books of poetry, prose, drama, translation, and children's literature, including, in the last decade of his life, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being; Tales from Ovid; verse adaptations of Aeschylus's Oresteia, Racine's Phedre, and Euripides' Alcestis; and Birthday Letters. He lived in Devonshire.

Paul Keegan is poetry editor of Faber and Faber in London.

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