“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 distinctionsbetween them and usbut 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 animalsall 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.”
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|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 GirouxCopyright © 2014 The Estate of Ted Hughes
All rights reserved.
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 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.
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,
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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
From Lupercal (1960)
Esther's Tomcat 10
Hawk Roosting 11
The Bull Moses 12
View of a Pig 14
An Otter 16
From Recklings (1966)
Stealing Trout on a May Morning 21
The Lake 25
From Wodwo (1967)
Ghost Crabs 27
Second Glance at a Jaguar 29
Song of a Rat 31
The Howling of Wolves 39
From Crow (1970)
That Moment 44
Crow and the Birds 45
Crow Tyrannosaurus 46
Two Legends 48
Examination at the Womb-Door 50
Crow's Fall 51
Owl's Song 52
Crow's Elephant Totem Song 53
From Prometheus On his Crag (1973)
'Prometheus …Pestered by birds roosting and defecating' 56
'Prometheus …Began to admire the vulture' 57
The Lamentable History of the Human Calf 58
From Season Songs (1976)
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
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)
The Weasels We Smoked out of the Bank 92
The Canal's Drowning Black 93
The Long Tunnel Ceiling 95
From Moortown Diary (1979)
Feeding out-wintering cattle at twilight 99
February 17th 104
Coming down through Somerset 106
While she chews sideways 108
From Earth-Numb (1979)
The Lovepet 113
From A Primer of Birds (1981)
The Hen 122
Evening Thrush 125
A Dove 128
Sing the Rat 129
From River (1983)
Under the Hill of Centurions 134
Milesian Encounter on the Sligachan 135
That Morning 138
A Rival 140
An Eel 143
October Salmon 145
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
From Tales From Ovid (1997)
From Arachne 160
From Birthday Letters (1998)
The Owl 162
The Chipmunk 163
From Selected Translations (2006)
From The Boy Changed into a Stag Cries Out at the Gate of Secrets 167
The Prophet 170