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This review is taken from PN Review 104, Volume 21 Number 6, July - August 1995.

DEFENDING A LANDSCAPE TED HUGHES, Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose (Faber)

Though he avoids interviews and distrusts critical prose as something 'I had always promised myself I would avoid', so far in the 1990s the only significant works the Laureate has produced are the controversial Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being and Winter Pollen, which together total a thousand prose pages. Winter Pollen, now available in paperback, spans over thirty years. In it Hughes parades a gift of persuasion, lays out a banquet of metaphor, with a clarity that for many readers will prove more accessible than his poems. Yet the volume opens with the line, 'The poet's only hope is to be infinitely sensitive to his own gift' and, accordingly, much of the collection reads like a covert defence of and introduction to his own poetic landscape.

But as the essays are not chronologically arranged and the poems themselves are not published in sequence of composition, Winter Pollen provides few clues to the critical trajectory that might have accompanied his poetic movement; for example, from violence to survival, or from animal action to animal thought. As a result the book never delivers an overall defence of his poetic programme: the reader has to make do with momentary insights into particular periods and poems. As the later essays get longer they lose some of the exdtement that is the main ingredient of their persuasion.

His use of myth has often been seen as redundant in a twentieth-century context. Unqualified myth is both romantic (thus obsolete ...

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