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This review is taken from PN Review 144, Volume 28 Number 4, March - April 2002.

DOMESTIC MISERY AND POTENT APPETITES ELAINE FEINSTEIN, Ted Hughes, The Life of a Poet (Weidenfeld and Nicolson) £20

As his career developed, Ted Hughes grew more and more involved with the possibilities of ancient myth and classical drama. They allowed for the presentation of a world which was simultaneously violent, unpredictable and ritualistic. In the absence of any liturgical routine, the ritualistic mind tends to turn towards allegory, and reading Hughes backwards, one begins to see how close to allegorical and emblematic thought much of his work was.

Crow may be Hughes's most famous book but it is also one of his weakest because it is one-dimensional, even though a kind of allegory is being enacted, a kind of inverted liturgy uttered. Crow might easily have strutted out of a medieval bestiary; his is the voice of intelligent appetite in a world where love is parodic and where God is so appalled at the goings-on in his creation that he hands it over to the lower forces. Those pikes and hawks all have their place in a lexicon of universal images: they are the embodiments of non-negotiable power. Hughes's imagination is gripped by absolute force, by appetites mated with predatory skill.

What the ancient myths and dramas permitted was a combination of this brutal and efficient power with a portrayal of humanity and an enactment of ritual. The difference, to put it bluntly, between Euripides and Crow is the human thinness of the latter. Allegory is a hard act for the modern mind to pull off unless there is a specific polemical purpose, ...


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