COLLECTED POEMS

Ted Hughes, Author, Paul Keegan, Editor , edited by Paul Keegan. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $50 (1333p) ISBN 978-0-374-12538-7

The main details of Hughes's life are well-known: after his National Service with the RAF, the dashing poet marries the brilliant American Sylvia Plath in 1954, and becomes an instant celebrity with the publication of Hawk in the Rain in 1957. While "The Thought-Fox" scampers its way into numberless anthologies, he publishes the poems of Lupercal (1960) and Wodwo (1967), where he treats his own voice as a force of nature, threaded through a violent animism. His wife and his lover die by suicide. He makes a major artistic breakthrough with the widely praised sequence Crow (1971), which draws on his deep knowledge of English folklore, and sacrifices, for a kind of Zarathustrian bluntness, all lingering traces of formalism (though blank verse and ballad would continue to be favored methods). He writes plays and several children's books, and becomes poet laureate in 1984, publishing a surprisingly good book of civic verse, Rain Charm for the Duchy , in 1992. His final volume, Birthday Letters , is a conflicted, front-page-news–making account of his relationship with Plath. This enormous, rewarding compendium contains all of the above as well as numerous poems that were previously uncollected (such as the lovely, Williams-y miniature "Snail" and the long "Scapegoat and Rabies," an indictment of the soldier culture that partly shaped Hughes); the entirety of his acclaimed Tales from Ovid ; Hughes's appendices to the books as originally published; and copious bibliographic notes. Hughes is already canonical in Great Britain, and this volume, with its resolutely undomesticated bestiary, will mark out permanent space on the shelves of U.S. readers. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
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