Dasein, Red Elephant.

Why Animals, Ted Hughes?


Portrait of Ted Hughes by Sylvia Plath, 1957

While reading Keith Sagar’s The Laughter of Foxes: A Study of Ted Hughes, I came across several quotes from Hughes, explaining the obvious animal symbolism in most of his poems.

Hughes told Ekbert Faas that all the forms of natural life were ‘emissaries from the underworld’. In the 1995 Paris Review interview, Hughes was asked why he chose ‘to speak through animals so often’. He replied:

I suppose, because they were there at the beginning. Like parents. Since I spent my first seventeen or eighteen years constantly thinking about them more or less, they became a language–a symbolic language which is also the language of my whole life. It was … part of the machinery of my mind from the beginning. They are a way of connecting all my deepest feelings together. So, when I look for, or get hold of a feeling of that kind, it tends to bring up the image of an animal or animals simply because that's the deepest, earliest language that my imagination learned. (81)

This reminded me of Hughes's Poetry in the Making, in which he compares poetry to an animistic phenomenon:

In a way, I suppose, I think of poems as a sort of animal. They have a life of their own, like animals by which I mean that they seem quite separate from any person, even from their author, and nothing can be added to them or taken away without maiming and perhaps even killing them. And they have a certain wisdom. They know something special … something perhaps which we are very curious to learn. Maybe my concern has been to capture not animals particularly and not poems, but simply things which have a vivid life of their own, outside mine. (Poetry in the Making 15)

It'll be interesting to read Hughes's work with this perspective. Some of his famous animal poems include Pike, Hawk Roosting and The Thought Fox.


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