A Ted Hughes Bestiary: Poems

A Ted Hughes Bestiary: Poems


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“Ted Hughes was a great man and a great poet because of his wholeness and his simplicity and his unfaltering truth to his own sense of the world.” —Seamus Heaney

Originally, the medieval bestiary, or book of animals, set out to establish safe distinctions—between them and us—but Ted Hughes’s poetry works always in a contrary direction: showing what man and beast have in common, the reservoir from which we all draw. In A Ted Hughes Bestiary, Alice Oswald’s selection is arranged chronologically, with an eye to different books and styles, but equally to those poems that embody animals rather than just describe them. Some poems are here because, although not strictly speaking animal, they become so in the process of writing; and in keeping with the bestiary tradition there are plenty of imaginary animals—all concentratedly going about their business.

In Poetry in the Making, Hughes said that he thought of his poems as animals, meaning that he wanted them to have “a vivid life of their own.” Distilled and self-defining, A Ted Hughes Bestiary is subtly responsive to a central aspect of Hughes’s achievement, while offering room to overlooked poems, and “to those that have the wildest tunes.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374272630
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 07/12/2016
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,215,969
Product dimensions: 5.47(w) x 8.18(h) x 0.51(d)

About the Author

Ted Hughes (1930–1998) was born in Mytholmroyd, England, and produced more than forty books of poetry, prose, drama, translation, and children’s literature. His first book, The Hawk in the Rain, was published in 1957, and his last collection, Birthday Letters, was named the Whitbread Book of the Year in 1998, also winning the Forward Prize and the T. S. Eliot Prize. He was appointed the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in 1984.

Alice Oswald lives in Devon and is married, with three children. Dart, her second collection of poems, won the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2002. Her most recent collection, Memorial, was awarded the 2013 Warwick Prize for Writing.

Read an Excerpt

A Ted Hughes Bestiary


By Ted Hughes

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2014 The Estate of Ted Hughes
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-71543-4


The Hawk in the Rain

    I drown in the drumming ploughland, I drag up
    Heel after heel from the swallowing of the earth's mouth,
    From clay that clutches my each step to the ankle
    With the habit of the dogged grave, but the hawk

    Effortlessly at height hangs his still eye.
    His wings hold all creation in a weightless quiet,
    Steady as a hallucination in the streaming air.
    While banging wind kills these stubborn hedges,

    Thumbs my eyes, throws my breath, tackles my heart,
    And rain hacks my head to the bone, the hawk hangs
    The diamond point of will that polestars
    The sea drowner's endurance: and I,

    Bloodily grabbed dazed last-moment-counting
    Morsel in the earth's mouth, strain towards the master-
    Fulcrum of violence where the hawk hangs still.
    That maybe in his own time meets the weather

    Coming the wrong way, suffers the air, hurled upside down,
    Fall from his eye, the ponderous shires crash on him,
    The horizon trap him; the round angelic eye
    Smashed, mix his heart's blood with the mire of the land.

The Jaguar

    The apes yawn and adore their fleas in the sun.
    The parrots shriek as if they were on fire, or strut
    Like cheap tarts to attract the stroller with the nut.
    Fatigued with indolence, tiger and lion

    Lie still as the sun. The boa-constrictor's coil
    Is a fossil. Cage after cage seems empty, or
    Stinks of sleepers from the breathing straw.
    It might be painted on a nursery wall.

    But who runs like the rest past these arrives
    At a cage where the crowd stands, stares, mesmerized,
    As a child at a dream, at a jaguar hurrying enraged
    Through prison darkness after the drills of his eyes

    On a short fierce fuse. Not in boredom –
    The eye satisfied to be blind in fire,
    By the bang of blood in the brain deaf the ear –
    He spins from the bars, but there's no cage to him

    More than to the visionary his cell:
    His stride is wildernesses of freedom:
    The world rolls under the long thrust of his heel.
    Over the cage floor the horizons come.

The Thought-Fox

    I imagine this midnight moment's forest:
    Something else is alive
    Beside the clock's loneliness
    And this blank page where my fingers move.

    Through the window I see no star:
    Something more near
    Though deeper within darkness
    Is entering the loneliness:

    Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
    A fox's nose touches twig, leaf;
    Two eyes serve a movement, that now
    And again now, and now, and now

    Sets neat prints into the snow
    Between trees, and warily a lame
    Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
    Of a body that is bold to come

    Across clearings, an eye,
    A widening deepening greenness,
    Brilliantly, concentratedly,
    Coming about its own business

    Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
    It enters the dark hole of the head.
    The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
    The page is printed.

The Horses

    I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.
    Evil air, a frost-making stillness,

    Not a leaf, not a bird –
    A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood

    Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
    But the valleys were draining the darkness

    Till the moorline – blackening dregs of the brightening grey –
    Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:

    Huge in the dense grey – ten together –
    Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,

    With draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
    Making no sound.

    I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
    Grey silent fragments

    Of a grey silent world.

    I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
    The curlew's tear turned its edge on the silence.

    Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
    Orange, red, red erupted

    Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud,
    Shook the gulf open, showed blue,

    And the big planets hanging,
    I turned

    Stumbling in the fever of a dream, down towards
    The dark woods, from the kindling tops,

    And came to the horses.
        There, still they stood,
    But now steaming and glistening under the flow of light,

    Their draped stone manes, their tilted hind-hooves
    Stirring under a thaw while all around them

    The frost showed its fires. But still they made no sound.
    Not one snorted or stamped,

    Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
    High over valleys, in the red levelling rays –

    In din of the crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
    May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place

    Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing curlews,
    Hearing the horizons endure.


        He smiles in a mirror, shrinking the whole
    Sun-swung zodiac of light to a trinket shape
        On the rise of his eye: it is a role

        In which he can fling a cape,
    And outloom life like Faustus. But once when
        On an empty mountain slope

        A black goat clattered and ran
    Towards him, and set forefeet firm on a rock
        Above and looked down

        A square-pupilled yellow-eyed look
    The black devil head against the blue air,
        What gigantic fingers took

        Him up and on a bare
    Palm turned him close under an eye
      That was like a living hanging hemisphere

        And watched his blood's gleam with a ray
    Slow and cold and ferocious as a star
        Till the goat clattered away.



    The wolf with its belly stitched full of big pebbles;
    Nibelung wolves barbed like black pineforest
    Against a red sky, over blue snow; or that long grin
    Above the tucked coverlet – none suffice.

    A photograph: the hairless, knuckled feet
    Of the last wolf killed in Britain spoiled him for wolves:
    The worst since has been so much mere Alsatian.
    Now it is the dream cries 'Wolf!' where these feet

    Print the moonlit doorstep, or run and run
    Through the hush of parkland, bodiless, headless;
    With small seeming of inconvenience
    By day, too, pursue, siege all thought;

    Bring him to an abrupt poring stop
    Over engravings of gibbet-hung wolves,
    As at a cage where the scraggy Spanish wolf
    Danced, smiling, brown eyes doggily begging

    A ball to be thrown. These feet, deprived,
    Disdaining all that are caged, or storied, or pictured,
    Through and throughout the true world search
    For their vanished head, for the world

    Vanished with the head, the teeth, the quick eyes –
    Now, lest they choose his head,
    Under severe moons he sits making
    Wolf-masks, mouths clamped well onto the world.

Esther's Tomcat

    Daylong this tomcat lies stretched flat
    As an old rough mat, no mouth and no eyes.
    Continual wars and wives are what
    Have tattered his ears and battered his head.

    Like a bundle of old rope and iron
    Sleeps till blue dusk. Then reappear
    His eyes, green as ringstones: he yawns wide red,
    Fangs fine as a lady's needle and bright.

    A tomcat sprang at a mounted knight,
    Locked round his neck like a trap of hooks
    While the knight rode fighting its clawing and bite.
    After hundreds of years the stain's there

    On the stone where he fell, dead of the tom:
    That was at Barnborough. The tomcat still
    Grallochs odd dogs on the quiet,
    Will take the head clean off your simple pullet,

    Is unkillable. From the dog's fury,
    From gunshot fired point-blank he brings
    His skin whole, and whole
    From owlish moons of bekittenings

    Among ashcans. He leaps and lightly
    Walks upon sleep, his mind on the moon.
    Nightly over the round world of men,
    Over the roofs go his eyes and outcry.

Hawk Roosting

    I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
    Inaction, no falsifying dream
    Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
    Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

    The convenience of the high trees!
    The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray
    Are of advantage to me;
    And the earth's face upward for my inspection.

    My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
    It took the whole of Creation
    To produce my foot, my each feather:
    Now I hold Creation in my foot

    Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly –
    I kill where I please because it is all mine.
    There is no sophistry in my body:
    My manners are tearing off heads –

    The allotment of death.
    For the one path of my flight is direct
    Through the bones of the living.
    No arguments assert my right:

    The sun is behind me.
    Nothing has changed since I began.
    My eye has permitted no change.
    I am going to keep things like this.

The Bull Moses

    A hoist up and I could lean over
    The upper edge of the high half-door,
    My left foot ledged on the hinge, and look in at the byre's
    Blaze of darkness: a sudden shut-eyed look
    Backward into the head.

          Blackness is depth
    Beyond star. But the warm weight of his breathing,
    The ammoniac reek of his litter, the hotly-tongued
    Mash of his cud, steamed against me.
    Then, slowly, as onto the mind's eye –
    The brow like masonry, the deep-keeled neck:
    Something come up there onto the brink of the gulf,
    Hadn't heard of the world, too deep in itself to be called to,
    Stood in sleep. He would swing his muzzle at a fly
    But the square of sky where I hung, shouting, waving,
    Was nothing to him; nothing of our light
    Found any reflection in him.

            Each dusk the farmer led him
    Down to the pond to drink and smell the air,
    And he took no pace but the farmer
    Led him to take it, as if he knew nothing
    Of the ages and continents of his fathers,
    Shut, while he wombed, to a dark shed
    And steps between his door and the duckpond;
    The weight of the sun and the moon and the world hammered
    To a ring of brass through his nostrils.

            He would raise
    His streaming muzzle and look out over the meadows,
    But the grasses whispered nothing awake, the fetch
    Of the distance drew nothing to momentum
    In the locked black of his powers. He came strolling gently back,
    Paused neither toward the pig-pens on his right,
    Nor toward the cow-byres on his left: something
    Deliberate in his leisure, some beheld future
    Founding in his quiet.

            I kept the door wide,
    Closed it after him and pushed the bolt.


Excerpted from A Ted Hughes Bestiary by Ted Hughes. Copyright © 2014 The Estate of Ted Hughes. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xiii

Four prose excerpts xvii

From The Hawk in the Rain (1957)

The Hawk in the Rain 3

The Jaguar 4

The Thought-Fox 5

The Horses 6

Meeting 8

From Lupercal (1960)

February 9

Esther's Tomcat 10

Hawk Roosting 11

The Bull Moses 12

View of a Pig 14

An Otter 16

Thrushes 18

Pike 19

From Recklings (1966)

Stealing Trout on a May Morning 21

The Lake 25

From Wodwo (1967)

Thistles 26

Ghost Crabs 27

Second Glance at a Jaguar 29

Song of a Rat 31

Skylarks 34

The Howling of Wolves 39

Gnat-Psalm 40

Wodwo 43

From Crow (1970)

That Moment 44

Crow and the Birds 45

Crow Tyrannosaurus 46

Two Legends 48

Lineage 49

Examination at the Womb-Door 50

Crow's Fall 51

Owl's Song 52

Crow's Elephant Totem Song 53

Littleblood 55

From Prometheus On his Crag (1973)

'Prometheus …Pestered by birds roosting and defecating' 56

'Prometheus …Began to admire the vulture' 57

Uncollected (1975)

The Lamentable History of the Human Calf 58

From Season Songs (1976)

Swifts 61

Mackerel Song 63

Work and Play 64

A Cranefly in September 66

The Stag 68

From Gaudete (1977)

'Calves harshly parted from their mamas' 70

Uncollected (1978)

A Solstice 71

From Orts (1978)

'The white shark' 78

From Cave Birds (1978)

Only a Little Sleep, a Little Slumber 79

The Owl Flower 80

The Risen 81

From Adam and the Sacred Nine (1979)

And the Falcon came 82

The Skylark came 83

The Wild Duck 84

The Swift comes the swift 85

The Unknown Wren 86

And Owl 87

The Dove Came 88

The Crow came to Adam 89

And the Phoenix has come 90

From Remains of Elmet (1979)

Curlews 91

The Weasels We Smoked out of the Bank 92

The Canal's Drowning Black 93

The Long Tunnel Ceiling 95

Cock-Crows 97

From Moortown Diary (1979)

Feeding out-wintering cattle at twilight 99

Foxhunt 101

Roe-deer 103

February 17th 104

Coming down through Somerset 106

While she chews sideways 108

Sheep 110

From Earth-Numb (1979)

The Lovepet 113

Uncollected (1980)

Mosquito 115

From A Primer of Birds (1981)

Cuckoo 116

Swans 118

Buzzard 119

Snipe 120

The Hen 122

Mallard 124

Evening Thrush 125

Treecreeper 127

A Dove 128

Uncollected (1982-3)

Sing the Rat 129

Swallows 131

From River (1983)

Under the Hill of Centurions 134

Milesian Encounter on the Sligachan 135

That Morning 138

A Rival 140

Performance 141

An Eel 143

October Salmon 145

Visitation 148

Uncollected (1984)

The Hare I-III 149

From Flowers and Insects (1986)

Two Tortoiseshell Butterflies 152

In the Likeness of a Grasshopper 154

From Wolfwatching (1989)

A Sparrow Hawk 155

Wolfwatching 156

From Tales From Ovid (1997)

From Arachne 160

From Birthday Letters (1998)

The Owl 162

The Chipmunk 163

Epiphany 164

From Selected Translations (2006)

From The Boy Changed into a Stag Cries Out at the Gate of Secrets 167

The Prophet 170

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