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This review is taken from PN Review 243, Volume 45 Number 1, September - October 2018.

Cover of Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet
David TroupesSecond Nature

Yvonne Reddick, Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet (Palgrave Macmillan), £79.99
Everyone knows that Ted Hughes wrote about nature. His reputation rests on poems about hawks and pikes, salmon and jaguars, and the Yorkshire landscapes of his youth. His earliest critical exegetes, most notably the late Keith Sagar, tended to frame his work in anthropological terms, looking, for instance, to Jungian notions of the unconscious and the shamanistic religions of indigenous peoples to explain Hughes’s project. Hughes himself, in letters, interviews and prose publications, encouraged this approach.

Hughes died in 1998, and the years since then have seen the worlds of ecopoetry and ecocriticism blossom, as the extent of our spoilage of the earth reveals itself, and artists and critics alike struggle toward an adequate response. Hughes was surely ahead of his time in this regard, but critical commentaries on his work have, to a large degree, remained bounded by the terms of those original, canonical exegetes. The effect of this has been to create the sense that Hughes’s poetry is somehow dislocated in time, more an extended riff on Robert Graves’s The White Goddess than a body of work responsive to the incipient environmental crisis during which it was written.

In Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet, Yvonne Reddick sets out to correct this, with a study which is nothing if not utterly thorough. Early chapters would serve well as a general introduction to Hughes’s work in their detailed exploration of literary influences and themes, including accounts of Hughes’s boyhood moorland tramping, his adventures through the post­-industrial environments of Mexborough, and his ...

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