Ted Hughes, Wolfwatching

Mark Hutcheson
Dick Davis compared Ted Hughes' superb Crow to latter-day Turner: 'either you are bowled over by ... it all or you ... secretly wish he hadn't given up doing watercolours of Salisbury Cathedral. W olfwatching is good news for the Salisbury Cathedral brigade."
Mr. Davis parades with this Luddite brigade who leave no room for experimentation, no room for finding room. How he cleaves Crow from The Hawk in the Rain or Lupercal is a mystery .. Un poeta, un'opera (pace Mussolini). The books are a unity, not excellent Shakespeareana and degenerate amorphousness. Wolfwatching, and Crow, are both good news for poetry.
To read Ted Hughes is to read life, to swim in a dizzying current of energy, strength, vitality, humour, irreverence, pathos, tragedy, exuberance and dexterity. There is violence, but there is also pity, even consolation. There is nature, there are animals, birds and fish, there are men, women and children and there is a vast enigmatic earth, beyond which, somewhere, there is doubtless a God. Ted Hughes sweeps all creation into his stanzas. He surveys, grieves for an thrills in its dynamism and sluggishness, its deaths and renewals, its clarities and conundrums. There seems to be no limit to his plumbing - even if chiefly he appears to watch animals, and externally at that - unless it be the limits of a God he fails to comprehend. His technical and descriptive skills are hugely adequate to his subjects. He has a mastery of form and free verse, of consonance, rhyme and rhythm, of language and metaphor that sets forth his world with inescapable conviction. Wolfwatching is just so.
The title poem, like the earlier 'The Jaguar' and 'Second Glance at a Jaguar', observes a caged animal, though it is age and weariness, rather than energy, that emerge. With a characteristic accumulation of detail, it looks at the old wolf who "Subsides/ln a trembling of wolf-pelt he no longer/Knows how to live up to"; then at his erstwhile vigour: "The Asiatic eyes, the gunsights/Aligned effortless in the beam of his power." But he is trapped in decline:
"Upside down on the wire/Of non-participation ... eyeslLike doorframes in a desert/Between nothing and nothing."
There are birds too: 'A Sparrow-Hawk' is "The warriorlBlue shoulder-cloak wrapped about himlLeaning, hunched,/Among the oaks"; 'A Dove' appeared in a previous collection, Season Songs and 'Macaw' ~as to ':come, fi~ally, to grips/With the dancing stars/Who deVIsed thls/Trembhng degradation and prison and this/Torture instrument."
'~he Black Rhino' is a lament for a perishing species with an absorbmg dream where the Rhino accuses man: "I no more exist/Outside your dream/And lethal whim/Of what I am/Than the ~~etle can -/ ... Be ot~er than black." There is also a celebratory LIttle Whale Song and another nostalgic piece 'On the
    Reservations'.     '
'Take What You Want But Pay For It' is Hughes at his delightful Corvine mischief. God strips Adam's soul of body, A~~ grows it anew till a "musing woman ... lifted the body/As a chIld s'" e;fortless, and .walked/Out of t~e prison with it, singing gently. Two A.strologI~al Conundrums are equally fascinating.
The hallucmatory Slump Sundays' and the poignant 'Dust As We Are', 'Source' and 'For The Duration' return to world war but is after-effects rather than its actuality. The superb 'Anthe~ for Doomed Youth' (a glance at Owen) describes a hunting trip in postWorld War II English countryside. "Crack!" barks the rifle and
Conscripts of a dream!
The dream broke there.
Only the dodo bird
Trooped up and fell open Suddenly big, dark-hearted poppies.
More metaphysically, 'Telegraph Wires' seems to sum up the whole human condition.
In the revolving ballroom of space, Bowed over the moor, a bright face
Draws out of telegraph wires the tones That empty human bones.
Ted Hughes is one old wolf who is stili very much worth watching.
Page 89, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 28