WINTER POLLEN: Occasional Prose by Ted Hughes

WINTER POLLEN: Occasional Prose

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KIRKUS REVIEW

With as much myth-making as metrical analysis, poet Hughes's diverse pieces--whether on Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, war poetry, or Norse myths--cohere into a provocative, bewitched view of poetry. In Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (not reviewed), Hughes formulated a central, universal myth of multiply incarnated warring male (rational) and female (creative) deities. Here he employs a similar critical apparatus with the atavistic figure of the Shaman-poet, complete with initiation rites and ecstatic trances, to everything he reads. Dylan Thomas, Wilfred Owen, Yeats, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, and Serbian poet Vasko Popa receive this unique treatment, and if it tends to level individual poetic talent, it heightens certain aspects in common, such as the formation of the imagination in conflict. The formation of Hughes's own poetic ideas unfolds in essays on the imagination, for and about children, and book reviews that absorb and transmute such subjects as ""primitive"" poetry, the ballad form, superstition, and environmentalism. Hughes's central myth, idiosyncratically exploiting Freud and Jung, views ""Westernized civilized man"" as ""the evolutionary error"" that has tried to suppress the Natural Goddess through rationality; specifically in England, he sees puritanical Protestantism ousting quasi-pagan Catholicism during the Reformation, and Britain finally losing its fables and mother tongue to Enlightenment neoclassicism. His themes unite in an extraordinary essay on Coleridge's conflicted imagination. This tour de force excursion through Coleridge's three famous visionary poems recasts his biography in a Shaman's mold while articulately examining his style and subject. Conversely, Hughes's essays about Sylvia Plath are sometimes strained, but those sparely and protectively written ones about her estate yield to a vivid reconstruction of the drafts of ""Sheep in Fog."" Allowing for characteristic poetic license, the reader finishes Hughes's best pieces with a renewed understanding of poetry--and a rekindled passion for it.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Picador/St. Martin's