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This article is taken from PN Review 222, Volume 41 Number 4, March - April 2015.

A Case for Pastiche? Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin Antony Rowland
In a chapter published in Revisions of Englishness (2002), I examined a Ted Hughes letter to Alice Quinn from the Emory archives in which he argues that Philip Larkin ‘Larkinised’ two of his early poems that he never published in a collection.1 He added that, in his opinion, one of them was transformed into one of Larkin’s best poems. Throughout this chapter, I attempted to identify which poems Hughes was referring to, and suggested ‘Sad Steps’, ‘Homage to a Government’ and ‘To the Sea’ as possibilities. The opening of the Hughes archives in the British Library has made the tracking of the poems potentially easier. Indeed, one letter reveals, definitively, the identity of one of the supposedly ‘Larkinised’ poems.

The idea of Larkin diligently reading and responding to a Hughes poem appears unlikely in the context of Andrew Motion’s biography, and The Selected Letters of Philip Larkin. We learn in these books, for example, that Larkin allegedly framed a picture of Hughes in his Hull toilet, and that he described Hughes’s first Laureate poem as basically unreadable. Yet, responding to William Scammell’s article in Poetry Review about the mutual influence between himself and Sylvia Plath, Hughes writes to Scammell that he often wonders if his poem ‘Lines to a Newborn Baby’ functioned as a kind of rough draft for Larkin’s ‘Seventy feet down’.2 Scammell’s article – which was developed from a lecture entitled ‘The Fox Thinks Twice’, delivered at the Cheltenham Festival in 1997 – discusses the ‘mutual influence between two of the strongest poets of the mid-century. Early on ...

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