Coming about its own business Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox It enters the dark hole of the head. The window is starless still; the clock ticks, The page is printed.
As well as being a poet of the highest order, Ted Hughes was an early advocate of neo-Shamanism, an environmental campaigner, a pagan animist, and an astrologer.
He is celebrated as an influential eco-poet whose work combines exquisite naturalistic observation with an encyclopedic knowledge of lore, mythology, and esoteric traditions. So I often find myself walking in places he wrote powerfully about. Ted Hughes endorsed her description of her encounter with modernist psychiatry as a grotesque parody of shamanic initiation, refused to medicalise her distress and madness, and supported her through the night terrors of its long aftermath.
I count myself amongst those readers who empathise with both Hughes and Plath, whilst recognising that both were human-all-too-human. After the protestant reformation God became wholly transcendent and otherworldly, and magic was banished from everyday life.
Once the world had been constructed as mechanical it could be rendered as raw material for capitalist exploitation. The creepy crawlies which infest it are devils of dirt and without a soul, also put there for his exclusive profit and use.
As a young man, Hughes had a visionary dream in which a theriomorphic fox figure came to him. He recounted this experience in The Thought Fox, and may well have understood it as a threshold call.
The extra-ordinary power and beauty of these poems came into focus for me when I read some of them to my friend Peter during the last year of his life.
Terry Gifford regards Cave Birds as an exemplar of post-pastoral poetry, a key feature of which is that it attends, with a sense of awe, to the destructive as well as the creative aspect of Nature.
This perspective contrasts with that of some earlier critics who discuss shamanism in transcendental and dualistic terms. Although Hughes may have been influenced by Mircea Eliade, his take on shamanism was always grounded by his fascination with, and respect for, flesh and blood animals, and by his concern with human healing.
Ann Skea refers to his shamanic poetic magic, and locates him in the British bardic tradition. Keith Sagar, a literary critic and friend of Ted Hughes, who had been in dialogue with him during the writing of Cave Birds, and who was to have given the talk, had just died, so the event became a fitting tribute to him.
Something seems to have worked for one audience member at the time though. Suddenly the reading was interrupted by a protracted and full blooded scream, emitted by a woman at the back of the auditorium, who, we were told, also vomited in the foyer. The performers on stage assumed this had been a theatrical stunt, so continued as though nothing had happened.
Strangely, the opening poem in the Viking Press edition of Cave Birds is called The Scream, and ends with a vomited scream. It had been one his favourite poems.
I was, of course, reading it from an earth-centred animist viewpoint, for someone who would have been excited to become a flower, a bird, or a worm.Here Ted Hughes studied first English and then anthropology and archaeology.
This created an interest in mythological systems which grew into a fascination with astrology, shamanism and hermeticism, these topics also had an influence upon his poetry.
INTRODUCTION Ted Hughes as Shaman Most scholarly research is the result of a kind of evolution. The poetry of Ted Hughes became the subject of my PhD thesis, which I completed in. An Interviewwith Ted Hughes1 The following interview took place on 10th May in the Hampstead flat of the po.
Ted Hughes and Shamanism by Michael Baldwin. ©Michael Baldwin. Shamanism is not my word for Ted’s belief system, nor – in my hearing – was it ever Ted’s. It was used as a generic description of Ted’s muse by A. Alvarez in several broadcasts subsequent to . Shown here are two books reviews by Ted Hughes in draft, selected from a larger collection of similar material.
Shamanism The first typescript piece, for the 29 October issue of Listener, reviews Shamanism by Mircea Eliade and The Sufis by Idries Shah. We don’t have to re-invent Ted Hughes the Superstitious Savage as an all-wise healer, however, in order to appreciate his often astonishing poetry, or ponder its relevance to contemporary neo-Shamanism.