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Ted Hughes's poetry: wild at heart

Alice Oswald on compiling a bestiary of Ted Hughes's animal poems

Ted Hughes wrote, in Poetry in the Making, that he thought of his poems as animals, meaning that he wanted them to have "a vivid life of their own". So there is something very distilled and self-defining about his animal poems, almost as if they were prayers to language itself; which is why, out of the mass of his Collected Poems, it seemed a good idea to gather a bestiary.

A bestiary was originally a Christian idea a book of animals sketchily recorded and then reduced to emblems  which sounds inimical to Hughes, whose animals are so radiantly themselves. The purpose of a bestiary (and this purpose was more and more neurotically observed through the middle ages) was to find distinctions between man and the animals, but Hughes worked in the opposite direction, aiming to show us what they have in common. He was wary of any project that was too narrowly Christian.

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