Articles for ‘Hughes’

‘Siamese-twinned, each of us festering’: Sylvia Plath and the Haunting of Ted Hughes (suspended)

Friday, January 15th, 2010

This article has been withheld pending an application for permission to quote from Hughes' poetry. We hope that this suspension will be temporary. Please check these pages again soon.

Hughes: Crow (suspended)

Friday, January 15th, 2010

This article has been withheld pending an application for permission to quote from Hughes' poetry. We hope that this suspension will be temporary. Please check these pages again soon.

Hughes: Anthropocentric and Biocentric Perspectives (suspended)

Friday, January 15th, 2010

This article has been withheld pending an application for permission to quote from Hughes' poetry. We hope that this suspension will be temporary. Please check these pages again soon.

Hughes as Poet Laureate (suspended)

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

This article has been withheld pending an application for permission to quote from Hughes' poetry. We hope that this suspension will be temporary. Please check these pages again soon.

Reading Aloud: Hughes and Plath (suspended)

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

This article has been withheld pending an application for permission to quote from Hughes' poetry. We hope that this suspension will be temporary. Please check these pages again soon.

Hughes’ Student Writing: St Botolph’s Review

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Ted Hughes began to write while still a student, and like many student poets he had his work included in short-lived publications. One of these - Saint Botolph's Review (1956), edited by David Ross and Daniel Weissbort - has special importance. Adam Crothers has written a short introduction explaining its significance. Unfortunately, for copyright reasons, we cannot include images of the poems themselves, but we can include the cover and the contents page, to give you some flavour of what one surviving copy of the review looks like now. We have also included a much more recent student poetry publication, the Dial. The relationship between studying literature and writing it is not a straightforward one, but most of the Cambridge Authors, like many current students, made significant creative steps while at University.

St Botolph's Review

Although he wrote poems as an undergraduate, and published a number of them both pseudonymously and under his own name, the most important of Ted Hughes's publications in Cambridge came about after he had graduated. Hughes's friend Lucas Myers spent some time living at the rectory of Saint Botolph's Church, and the magazine that they and a few companions launched on 26th February 1956 bore the name Saint Botolph's Review. It was at the launch party that Hughes and Sylvia Plath met, although in an important sense they had met already: her poems had already appeared in a number of Cambridge publications, and she was familiar enough with her advance copy of Saint Botolph's to quote Hughes's own verse at him that night as they danced.

The second issue of the magazine, still under the editorship of David Ross, appeared in 2006. It contained work by some of the original contributors, including an introduction written by Hughes decades earlier to the poems of the late Susan Alliston, his London neighbour (mentioned in the Birthday Letters poem '18 Rugby Street'). Ignoring the chain of events the magazine would ignite in the lives of Hughes and Plath, it remains impressive that a magazine whose second issue took fifty years to appear, and whose first issue's contributors were then admired only within their social circles, should be thought of as something other than a mere curiosity. It helps that Hughes was not the only one who went on to success as a writer: Lucas Myers and Daniel Weissbort, in particular, are well known for poetry and prose writing.

The subsequent success of poets who published work when at Cambridge inevitably leads one to think of any new student publication as the home of at least one 'next big thing', or whatever the equivalent in the poetry world might be. But it is important also to remember that no writer has the benefit of hindsight when embarking upon her or his career: one can, and should, admire potential, and praise the poem as an indication of what the poet might one day be, but some admiration must also be given to the poem as it stands. In other words, while there is room to consider Hughes's early work as a preface to his more acclaimed poetry, it would be wrong to deny this early writing the acclaim that it earns for itself.

St Botolph's Review

By clicking below you can see the front and back covers, and the contents page, of St Botolph's Review, along with a selection of pages. The copy we used is in Girton College Library, and is reproduced with Girton's permission. The photographs were taken by members of the Scriptorium project - for more details see the Acknowledgements page. We are grateful for the help given by David Ross and Daniel Weissbort themselves as we prepared this page.

St Botolph's Review: Cover

St Botolph's Review: Contents

St Botolph's Review: page 4

St Botolph's Review: page 4

St Botolph's Review: page 14

St Botolph's Review: page 15

The Hughes poems we aren't able to reproduce are: 'Secretary', 'Soliloquy of a Misanthrope', 'Fallgrief's Girlfriends', 'Meeting', and 'Law in the Country of Cats'. Since they are all in The Hawk in the Rain, his first published volume, and then in later collections of his work, they are not hard to track down. This might give you some flavour of the publication.

For another St Botolph experience, watch the first few minutes of the movie Sylvia (2003), starring Daniel Craig and Gwyneth Paltrow. (It probably isn't supposed to be on Youtube, but at the time of writing, it is.) You'll see the Review, Sylvia reading it, and their first meeting.

The Dial

One of the most interesting things about the first issue of St Botolph's Review is the way in which this material book, of limited circulation, passed from and through the hands of other key friends and writers in Hughes' circle -- not only the friends who first published and read him, but Sylvia Plath, whose life and writings were to be so closely associated with Hughes' own. Student literary magazines, like the universities in which they are conceived, written, and consumed, are in part defined by their social and communal dynamics. Encountering literary writing in this format emphasises its social character in a way that the single-author collection, or the course-based syllabus in which many people read poetry, does not. Many famous and canonical English writers had their start, like Hughes, in university writing communities: the Elizabethan poets Edmund Spenser and Christopher Marlowe, for example, both began writing among friends while studying at Cambridge, John Donne circulated his lyrics and satires in the Inns of Court in London, and Tennyson (as Emma Leadbetter shows in an article for Cambridge Authors) used his university years to improve his writing within the comfort of a tight circle of like-minded (and talented) friends.

This sociality of literary writing persists in modern universities, of course. Much of the best (or most successful, or most capitalised) English literary art of the next century, like that of the past century, will be birthed and fledged in university writing communities across the world. Cambridge continues to play its part in this lively play of ideas, voices, experiments, and ephemera. As a way of witnessing and thinking about this sociality of literary endeavour in action, consider the recent revival of another Cambridge literary magazine, the Queens'-based Dial. This publication brings together the literary and design efforts of a loose group of friends and acquaintances, whose writings rub shoulders with one another here, for the first time -- but may well go on to other contexts and formats. As you browse the pages below, consider some of the conditions and pressures that affect literary writing in this environment: the novelty of exposure for new writers, the advantages and disadvantages of anonymity (or obscurity), the difficulties and opportunities of being read in a context where readers may know you as well as your words, and so on. When you've finished browsing or reading from the Dial, try thinking further about some of these issues with the questions at the bottom of the page.

The Dial: Lent 2009

[high-resolution file]

Further Thinking

Circulation of poetry or other writing within a writing community can easily lead to immediate personal or social outcomes for the writer; Ted Hughes, for example, earned the interest (perhaps the admiration) of a woman he would shortly marry. Does (or can) this change the nature of the writing itself? Ought we to think differently about poetry or prose written 'for' a select and intimate audience, compared to writing produced for a public audience, or even for posterity? What about writers who write for no audience at all? ('Found' poetry?)

One of the interesting things about leafing through an old magazine like St Botolph's Review is the experience of confronting the poetry of an acknowledged literary celebrity -- here, Ted Hughes -- in a publication produced before that celebrity was acquired. It may be impossible fully to discern the quality of a poem behind the celebrity (or in some cases infamy) attaching to a celebrated writer like Hughes, but this experience provokes us to try. Do you find yourself unsettled by this process? How many of your own preferences and critical judgments are informed by convention (or resistance to convention), by the influence of others' opinions, or by the conditions created by publishers, bookshops, and/or libraries?

Reading Aloud: Hughes and Plath

Monday, September 21st, 2009

In an iconic incident commemorated in the film 'Sylvia', Sylvia Plath was able to recite parts of Ted Hughes's poems when she first met him. Memorization and reading aloud have always been vital parts of the experience of poetry, but they may at present be as neglected as they have ever been. On this page graduate student Adam Crothers and the Cambridge Authors team have put together what we hope might be some thought-provoking suggestions and quotations, relating to Hughes, and then Plath. Memorizing and reciting poetry enhances our experience of it, and may make us think differently about it; and it's good practice for both memory and voice.

I. Hughes: By Heart

Hughes was a great advocate of memorisation and reading aloud. Here graduate student Adam Crothers introduces some of his key words on the topic.

In a letter to his sister, Olwyn, written in 1952 during his first year at Cambridge, Ted Hughes writes of a conversation with his tutor, the Classicist Anthony Camps, about the English Tripos. They agreed that the syllabus was too wide, and led to 'opinions about literature', rather than 'a real knowledge':

I aired my belief - the old bards used to have to learn huge set tomes and become so intimate with them, that they became part of their mind. And just as one thinks with adopted ideas, so, if one studied say, just Shakespeare for 3 years intensely, it would be thereafter your mind, and an anchor for all other reading or art. (Letters, p. 15)

This idea - that intimate knowledge, repeated reading, and memorization, led to something very substantial - stayed with Hughes throughout his life. In 1988 it prompted him to write the following to Kenneth Baker, the Secretary of State for Education:

What kids need, say I, is a headfull of songs that are not songs but blocks of achieved & exemplary language. When they know by heart fifteen pages of , a page of Swift's , etc etc, they have the guardian angel installed behind the tongue. They have reefs, for the life of language to build and breed around.  A 'globe of precepts' and a great sheet anchor in the maelstrom of linguistic turbulence - (now we're really at sea!). (Letters, p. 546)

This is Hughes proposing the memorising of poetry not as busywork, and not as exam preparation, but as a grounding in the better uses of the oft-abused English language, a way of preserving a link to that language's power. Having laid some groundwork in the anthologies The Rattle Bag and The School Bag, edited in collaboration with the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney, Hughes put together an anthology of poems-for-remembering that was published in 1997 as .

A key component in the experience of poetry, both as poet and as reader, is reading aloud, as Hughes advises in a letter to Plath:

Beethoven composed singing and roaring and walking very fast and so did Dostoevsky - not singing but vociferating. So read aloud a lot, and read aloud poetry as you walk to and fro in your room timing the metre to your steps. This would be ideal, but you'll think it too ridiculous. (Letters, p. 51)

Whether or not this is good advice, it seems that speaking a poem aloud was an important part of Hughes's compositional process: for this reason if no other, it is worth paying close attention to the actual, heard sound, as opposed to the imagined, seen sound, of his poems. This may be helpful in anchoring one's mind in Hughes's own 'achieved & exemplary language', even if the process might end up emphasising that some of the poem's powers are greater when being read than when being remembered.

One might consider one of two stanzas from the poem 'Shells':

Shells white, shells brown, sea-shells
Or, cast bare, gleam dry. (You can find the whole stanza in Birthday Letters or in Collected Poems, p. 55)

Listen to the repetitions in this poem: of words, like 'shells', but also of sounds. The 'm' of 'Tumbled' is picked up by 'Swarm', 'foam' and 'gleam', a hum of oceanic ambiance running through the background of the poem. Perfect rhymes, like 'cry' rhyming with 'dry', mingle with half rhymes (shells / shoals / hauls, and the echo of the final syllable of 'curiosity' with the perfect rhymes). The word 'screech' picks up on the 's' sound while distorting the 'sh', the screech of the shells fitting in with a sound pattern yet also deviating from it. In poetry, the sound of the word and the word's meaning are not separate things, and a pattern of sounds helps the reader to experience the poem and to remember details of that experience.

'Shells' sounds beautiful, but ugly sounds can also be memorable, and thus beautiful in their own way. The poem 'Lineage' begins thus:

In the beginning was Scream
Who begat Blood
Who begat Eye
Who begat Fear
Who begat Wing
Who begat Bone
Who begat Granite
Who begat Violet
Who begat Guitar

And so on. Rhyme does not help the reader to remember the list of begettings; and rhythmically the unpunctuated lines simply repeat the same structure, by a rhetorical figure called . The poem eventually breaks away from this mould, but this still would convince nobody that a memorable pattern of sound had been established. Are not these words - Scream, Blood, Eye, and so on - interchangeable? Perhaps, and yet their order is their order, and the reader is expected to respect this. This might seem frustrating, as if the poem is trying to get away with something. But by reading the poem aloud, by reminding oneself that this is a coherent audio-visual experience rather than a typed list, one might become more alert to the possibilities of 'Lineage'. 'Who begat' becomes a drone (not unlike the murmuring 'm' already detected in 'Shells') against which the names of the begotten are clear and bright notes, as might emerge from that capitalised, anthropomorphised 'Guitar'. This apparently ugly and ramshackle composition creates the sonic context against which it plays its music. Once the reader becomes accustomed to inviting this process, giving the poem the opportunity to make itself heard, 'Lineage' and other such texts show that while regular rhyme and metre can make a poem powerful and memorable, there remain other techniques: poets like Hughes master as many as they can, and combine them with great subtlety and skill. Reading poems aloud, and memorising some poems or even handfuls of lines, is a way of sensitising the mind to these different techniques, enhancing the experience of reading and writing poetry, installing that 'guardian angel' to watch over one's encounters with literature and with language.

Further Reading

Letters of Ted Hughes, ed. Christopher Reid (London: Faber, 2007)

The Collected Poems of Ted Hughes (London: Faber, 2003).

Further Thinking

1. Adam Crothers suggests 'Shells' and 'Lineage' as two Hughes poems with very different mnemonic characteristics, and different effects when reading aloud. Give them a try - and tell us your findings.

2. Then, of course, you could find other things to memorise and recite. You could try a speech from a Shakespeare play, alongside a Shakespeare sonnet. What differences between them emerge in the process?

II. Plath: 'Daddy' in Different Voices

The wonders of Youtube mean that you can hear Hughes and Plath reading their own poetry. What predictable and less predictable qualities do you observe?

Sylvia Plath's voice, reading 'Daddy' or 'Lady Lazarus', is particularly striking. This is partly because of the poet's life-story: her death overhangs the poems, and her voice seems like a voice from the dead. (Amazingly, you can find Tennyson's voice on Youtube as well. The faint recording (from 1890) has a deathly quality, but there isn't quite the same chill as there is with Plath.)

Another reason why the recordings are so striking is her accent. In the U.K., people hear American voices all the time, but they probably aren't that sensitive to the implications of accent. For example: when British audiences hear the voices of the actors in the Harry Potter films, it's reasonable to think that they can quickly (though appearances can be deceiving) form assumptions about the geographical origins and the social background of the speakers. They might be able to discern some different American accents, but they aren't so tuned in. It must work the other way around as well. In Plath's case, though, a lot of modern English speakers can recognise that this is an accent that they don't hear very often: a respectable New England voice, speaking with the formality and correctness that characterizes both British and American English of the 1950s. No glottal stops here.

Given the way that readers today appreciate the raw emotion of Plath's poetry, the voice might not seem to fit obviously with a poem like 'Daddy'. Perhaps it indicates that raw emotion might not be the key quality to appreciate in a finely wrought poem? Do you think her way of reading it has special authority to guide our interpretation? How does it affect the way you look at this, or another poem?

There are other places in the Cambridge Authors website where you can consider questions like this. For example, the issues of regional accents and dialects are considered in an interview with Stephen Logan in the Wordsworth section. In the case of 'Daddy', why not try a few experiments. Read it out yourself in different ways: which bits are difficult to get right? Does this tell you something about the poem? Consider also whether your own voice, with its characteristics of location and background: what difference does it make to the poem when read out loud? What difference does a male voice make?

Further Thinking

There are already lots of suggestions here about how to make use of recordings of Plath's voice. You could extend it to other poets, perhaps those who have distinctive regional qualities (for example, Seamus Heaney, or Robert Burns). Please tell us what you have found by adding a comment below.

If you find yourself interested in some of the issues raised here, you might enjoy hearing Stephen Logan speaking about Wordsworth, regional accents, identity, and criticism in the Wordsworth section.

Robert Frost (1874-1963) was an American poet.
Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal (1729) is a satirical essay about Irish poverty, that notoriously, but ironically, recommends that Irish children could be sold as food. Hughes's suggestion here must be deliberately controversial, or humorous.
A poem by T.S. Eliot, and by no means one of his best known; Hughes is not opting for the obvious examples.
The 101 poems here include extracts from longer works and Shakespeare plays. The selection is very thoughtful, including some extremely well-known, and some more obscure works. By Heart would be an excellent aid to getting in to memorising and reciting poetry.
The repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of several successive clauses, sentences, or lines.
Relating to the memory; used as a noun, a mnemonic is something, often a phrase or rhyme, that we use to help us remember things.

Hughes as Poet Laureate

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Undergraduate Kathryn Maude's essay evaluates the work Hughes produced as Poet Laureate. She finds that he places a great deal of emphasis on the monarchy as a unifying totem in society - but with limited success.

A Nation's a Soul
With a Crown at the hub
To keep it whole.

Ted Hughes became Poet Laureate in 1984, charged with chronicling in verse the births, marriages and deaths of the Royal Family. He filled the post until his own death in 1998. The poems he wrote as laureate, collected in Rain-Charm for the Duchy, are often criticised as stylistically poor and have been censured in some quarters for their unquestioning patriotism. So, why did Hughes become Poet Laureate, and how did writing to order affect his poetic imagination and tone?

Even a cursory glance at Hughes's Laureate poems suggests that his patriotism was heartfelt and entirely real. He became laureate at a difficult time for the monarchy and Sean O'Brien suggests that his response to this was 'to take the task entirely seriously and write more directly [...] in honour of the institution of the monarchy than might now be supposed possible' (in The Deregulated Muse, p. 38 - see Further Reading below). The epigraph at the beginning of the collection Rain Charm for the Duchy seems unambiguous in this respect, with the country portrayed as a wheel 'With a Crown at the hub | To keep it whole'. The Royal Family, as Hughes depicts it, is the nation's crutch in difficult times, a hub around which the whole country revolves. It could be argued that he is writing to the Royal Family: the poems can be seen as one man's homage to a great institution and its living representatives.

In poems like 'The Dream of the Lion', composed for the Queen Mother on her eighty-fifth birthday, a sense of reverence is conveyed particularly strongly. According to Hughes, the three Lions (his capitalisation) in this poem represent the Queen Mother herself (a play on her maiden name Bowes-Lyon), her astrological sign (Leo), and the Lion on the royal coat of arms, which he describes as the 'totem animal of Great Britain' (you can find this quotation - and the last one in this paragraph - in Appendix 1 of Collected Poems). The final lines describe how 'the Dream of the Lion / Dropping from air as manna dew, / Cleansing all, condensed on you / And the climbing sun revealed you, the Lion'. This addresses the Queen Mother directly, portraying her as a chosen figure anointed from on high by the spirit of Britain, the so-called 'Dream of the Lion'. The idea that this poem, at least, could be a personal, as well as a public, tribute to the Queen Mother is hinted at in the notes, as Hughes recalls that he first made the link between the Lion in the Queen Mother's surname and the Lion on the coat of arms 'during my boyhood obsession with the animal kingdom and my boyhood fanatic patriotism'. Writing poems for the Royal Family has brought out the child in Hughes that revered and respected the Crown, and they are pervaded by an atmosphere of deference.

However, the laureate poems could never solely be addressed to the Royal Family. They are designed to be public celebrations of important events in that family's life. Each of the poems in Rain Charm for the Duchy And Other Laureate Poems was originally published in a newspaper, so Hughes had to take into account his wider readership as well as the wishes of the Royal Family. In the notes to 'A Masque for Three Voices', Hughes actually states that he had 'taken pains to make [it] as accessible as possible' (Collected Poems, Appendix 1). It has been suggested that Hughes did not rise to the challenge of writing for these two very different audiences. A. Alvarez suggests that, with the exception of Birthday Letters, Hughes's better poems were written earlier on and in later life 'his duties as Poet Laureate seemed to have got the better of him' (this quotation can be found in The Epic Poise: A Celebration of Ted Hughes, ed. Nick Gammage (London: Faber and Faber, 1999), p. 210).

There appears to be a consensus that, in trying to make his poems accessible, Hughes lost the immediacy and depth found in collections such as Crow. When discussing the laureate poems, Sean O'Brien draws attention to 'Hughes's adoption of the careful plainspokenness more usually found in his work for children' (The Deregulated Muse, p. 39). 'A Masque for Three Voices' exemplifies this with stanzas like 'Being British is the mystery / That it is you or you or you or me? / I do not understand how this can be'. A kinship between the poet and the readership is sought as Hughes addresses us directly, and the simple rhyme scheme and rhythm echo the sing-song cadence of a nursery rhyme.  The historical sections of the poem are reminiscent of the programmes that fill dead hours in TV schedules: the Top Ten Dictators or the Top Twenty Great Moments of the Twentieth Century. The beginning of section three reads:

Einstein bent the Universe
To make war obsolete.
Ford swore his wished-for wheels would rush
The century off its feet.
The Soviet Butcher Bird announced
The new age with a tweet.

Again there is a simple rhyme scheme, abcbdb, and a strong rhythm with alternating four-stress and three-stress lines. Apparently to Hughes accessible poetry rhymes and has a strong rhythm. It seems a little patronising that his work addressing the public at large is reminiscent of his work for children, as if the meaning of the poems needs to be spelt out to the masses in case they don't get it.

The notes Hughes wrote to explain the laureate poems are longer than those for any other collection. The weight of symbolism is enormous and a few key images are repeated again and again. There is a preoccupation with unity and a history measured not in years but in the passing of generations. The crown features large in this mythology of the Royal Family; its circle symbolises both the unity of the people under the Queen and the continuity of the royal line as it is passed from one member of the family to the next. 'A Masque for Three Voices' begins:

A royalty mints the sovereign soul
Of wise man and of clown.
What substitute's debased those souls
Whose country lacks a crown.

Here the crown is described in , as a precious metal that elevates the 'base' souls of humanity to higher things. It also assumes that both the 'wise man' and the 'clown' will, following the prompts of their 'sovereign' souls, bow down to their sovereign. A remark O'Brien makes about the laureate poems as a whole has particular relevance here, as he states that 'the social order is justified by the fact of its existence...The central, impossible part of Hughes's task here is to resurrect it through a myth of consolation' (The Deregulated Muse, p. 39). Hughes seems to believe that the Royal Family is its own justification and speaks of the monarchy as it was in the past, when it truly was the focal point for the country. The myth Hughes attempts to perpetuate is that the Royals are still seen as the unifying force in the country today, which many would be quick to deny.

This mythical upholding of the monarchy is attempted through the evocation of a kinship between the peoples of Britain, which is again symbolised by the crown. Hughes states that in war time 'our sacred myth, the living symbol of a hidden unity, the dormant genetic resource, turned out to be the Crown' (Appendix 1, Collected Poems). In 'A Birthday Masque' the Crown is linked to the 'ring of the people', a Native American concept from the memoir of the Sioux Shaman Black Elk. The 'ring of the people' is the unity of a group of people in a society.  The section entitled 'The Ring' describes all the different groups of invaders that arrived in Britain and merged to become one people, paralleling this with the forging of a crown out of many different metals. It depicts:

a melt of strange metals
To be folded and hammered [...]
Till millionfold
It is formed, is the living
Crown of a kingdom
The ring of the people.

Different metals are combining to make a crown, and under that Crown the people combine to make a nation: the two circles of the crown and the people mirror each other. The only problem with this image is that it has little relevance to the world in which Hughes actually lived. Rand Brandes notes that 'Hughes' poetry resists history through...his belief in the healing capabilities of ritual and myth' (in The Challenge of Ted Hughes, p. 156, see Further Reading below). In this case this assessment is a valid one. The historical fact that the monarchy is losing its significance as the world changes is ignored, as Hughes focuses on the comforting myth of unity; one people under one crown. Seamus Heaney is correct when he remarks on Hughes as one of three poets who are 'hoarders and storers of what they take to be the real England' (in The Achievement of Ted Hughes, p. 19, see Further Reading). To Hughes, the real England is symbolised by the monarchy.

Another interesting aspect of Hughes' laureate poems is the link they create between animals, the land and the monarchy as three unchanging constants. His first poem as laureate was 'Rain-Charm for the Duchy - A Blessed, Devout Drench for the Christening of HRH Prince Harry'. This parallels the rain falling on the land Harry is to inherit with the holy water poured on Harry at his christening. The land and Harry are portrayed as inseparable, with the moors paying homage to the birth of the new royal child: 'I imagined the two moors / The two stone-age hands / Cupped and brimming, lifted, an offering'. The animals in the laureate poems also pay homage to the Royal Family, notably in 'A Birthday Masque' when the birds of England come together to find the Crown. The final stanza reads 'Thirty birds / Searching for God / Have found a Queen...Sixty wings / Making a crown'. The Queen is the representative of God on earth, as the head of the Church of England. The birds find the Queen when searching for God and they realise that their own wings, in a circle, can make the crown. All of the aspects of the country are united under the crown, in the myth if not in fact.

On balance, the critical opinion lies with Tony Harrison, a fervent anti-monarchist, who wrote a poem entitled 'Laureate's Block' after Hughes's death noting that 'It's not for Laureate poems we'll miss Ted Hughes'. Ted Hughes is not missed for his Laureate poems, but the poems he wrote for the Royal Family do give an interesting insight into a patriotism and unity of purpose that is now only a myth.

Further Reading

  • Seamus Heaney, 'Englands of the Mind' in Finders Keepers (London: Faber and Faber, 2002). This is a helpful comparison between the England of Ted Hughes' poetry with the Englands found in Philip Larkin and Geoffrey Hill. It has an interesting section on the rhythm of the poetry and its relation to the land.
  • Sean O'Brien, The Deregulated Muse: Essays on Contemporary British and Irish Poetry (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1998). Sean O'Brien sees Ted Hughes' Laureate poetry as reflecting the opinions and preoccupations of the upper classes. In Hughes' poetry overall, he suggests that the denial of politics can be read as an implicit call to maintain the status quo.
  • The Achievement of Ted Hughes ed. by. Keith Sagar (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983); and The Challenge of Ted Hughes ed. by Keith Sagar (London: Macmillan, 1994). These two books of critical essays edited by Keith Sagar are also useful, as they give a broad overview of all Hughes' poetry and show a variety of critical opinions.

Further Thinking

Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate, described the job as basically thankless, and found that it gave him writer's block. Do you think Hughes' laureate poems display some of this difficulty?

Kathryn Maude's essay makes use of Sean O'Brien's negative view of these poems. In O'Brien's view, they let themselves and their readers down by not questioning the political system enough. Do you agree?

Alchemy, practised by alchemists, was a branch of occult philosophy with a particular interest in creating special substances through processes not unlike chemistry. Two of their most famous goals were immortality (by means, for example, of the philosopher's stone), and turning base metals to gold.

Hughes: Anthropocentric and Biocentric Perspectives

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

In this essay undergraduate Yvonne Reddick looks at a developing interest in Hughes's poetry. She argues that he becomes increasingly interested in the natural world and the environment, both as an aspect of his mythology and as something under threat in reality.

In Hughes' poetry between 1957 and 1989, I think there is a gradual change from an anthropocentric, or human-centred viewpoint, towards a more biocentric, or ecological perspective. This progression in his poetry is more like the slow process of evolution than a sudden change from one mode of thinking to another. He may draw metaphors from the spiritual world of cultures, and yet in his collections The Hawk in the Rain through to Crow his is more a voice speaking of nature than a guardian spirit speaking out for it. Until Gaudete, his is not an environmentalist agenda, but a subtle exploration of the connection between man and nature. He tends also to be concerned with man and nature; in his earlier poetry, women are often reduced to sexual objects and producers of children. Yet in Gaudete, Hughes creates a collection sometimes akin to the views of , documenting the relationship between the female earth-goddess and a male worshipper; the difficulties of this relationship are explored in his later works.

Jonathan Bate is right to find in Hughes' poetry 'the hot stink of animal flesh' (as he says in The Song of the Earth, which is in 'Further Reading' below). His work, redolent of wildness, richly repays an ecocritical reading. According to Richard Kerridge, 'ecocriticism seeks to evaluate texts and ideas in terms of their coherence and usefulness as responses to environmental crisis' (as he says in Writing the Environment - see below). Like other schools of criticism ecocriticism reflects the political and cultural climate in which it is evolving. Recent interest in ecocriticism has grown out of the increasing inspiration artists, musicians and writers are taking in environmental issues; the 2007 Live Earth concert was a very high-profile manifestation of this interest.

However, Hughes died in 1998, before the publication of such seminal ecocritical works as Jonathan Bate's Song of the Earth. Yet even before the inception of ecocriticism proper, Ted Hughes' work anticipates this critical movement. To what extent are Ted Hughes' early works useful to 'environmental crisis'? He was certainly aware of ecological destruction. Greg Garrard (in his book Ecocriticism) states that modern environmentalism begins with 'A Fable for Tomorrow', in Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962). This book was very important in inspiring the ecological movement. Its title refers to the results of agricultural pesticides on the environment. Birds were dying at a frightening rate, and with them, their songs. Hughes' career as a published poet begins in 1957, and even before his encounter with Carson, his works show an inkling of literary green thinking. Hughes was an environmental writer ahead of his time, yet the brand of environmentalism in his poetry is subtly different from conventional ecological thinking, being at once more aesthetic and more mystical.

During his anthropological studies at Cambridge in 1953-4, Hughes gained an understanding of shamanism and the role of the shaman's animal Helper. As early as his residence in Pembroke College, Hughes created artworks inspired by animals: drawings of foxes and other creatures have been discovered on the walls of his old college room. Indeed, in his essay 'The Burnt Fox', Hughes recounts a dream he had while at university. This dream inspired him to change course from English to Anthropology. When exhausted by struggling to write a literature essay, he dreamt of 'a figure that was at the same time a skinny man and a fox walking erect on its hind legs' (in his book Winter Pollen, p. 9). The man-fox left a bloody paw-print on his essay, saying to Hughes, 'Stop this - you are destroying us'. His study of literature was destroying the creatures inhabiting his poetic imagination. Hughes also relates to the critic Keith Sagar that he dreamed of 'a leopard - but standing erect' (in his Letters, p. 422) the following night. The burnt fox inspired his poem 'The Thought-Fox', which 'enters the dark hole of the head' (line 22) and thanks to whom 'The page is printed' (line 24). The result is not an essay but a poem like an encounter between the modern-day shaman and his 'animal Helper'. 'A widening deepening greenness' (line 18) begins when the poet looks into the fox's eye, but it is not yet the greenness of deep ecology. The half-human fox returns to Hughes' mind to inspire poetry, rather than speaking through him.

The macaw, the jaguar, the sculptural horses, the man-leopard and the were-fox of Hughes' first collection still struggle to escape . Alone of all the creatures in The Hawk in the Rain, the thought-fox has sufficient agency to give orders to the poet. Instead of a formal essay or an imitative poem, it demands the poetic equivalent of a bloody paw-print: a sacrificial poem that goes beyond conventional language to create something natural. The dream of 1953 is a modern-day encounter with an animal helper: Hughes' eco-shaman was initiated long before he read Silent Spring. The 'greenness' glimpsed in the fox's eye continues to widen and deepen in later works. It can even be evident in his poetic form - Hughes breaks away from the canonical four-line stanza towards a more fluid, natural form.

Modern biocentric ideas are akin in part to the ancient, animist beliefs that Hughes studied. According to Terry Gifford and Neil Roberts, he most consistently draws on Robert Graves' The White Goddess for ideas about the earth-goddess and her related aspects:

[Graves describes] the nature-goddess in her three aspects of maiden, mother and crone ( in the best-known version). This myth holds, in a single imaginative unit, the total, inescapable character of reality, both beneficent and destructive. It assists Hughes [...] to incorporate all that is terrifying and predatory, as well as comforting and nurturing, in nature. The goddess is implicit in his work from the beginning, but becomes increasingly prominent in the 'mother' of several of the Crow poems, and in the object of Lumb's devotion in Gaudete. (Quoted from Gifford and Roberts, p. 19)

As Hughes' work matures, the feminine figure becomes more and more clearly identified with nature. From the human dilemmas of 'Hag' in The Hawk in the Rain, the hag-figure evolves into a character empowered in Lupercal's 'Witches' because her affinity with nature subverts patriarchy. She is at once the maidenly yet sexualised 'rosebud' and the animal 'old bitch' (line 4) who could 'ride a weed the ragwort road' (line 2). In Wodwo, the human protagonist of 'Wino' describes himself as part-plant: 'Grape is my mulatto mother' (line 1).  However, he desires the grape to fulfil his needs rather than to be his equal: 'Her veined interior / Hangs hot open for me to re-enter' (lines 2-3).

In Gaudete, however, a significant change in the presentation of the nature-goddess takes place. She is presented as not only equal to, but a superior of, the poet; he, her priest, is also a part of her. Her potency is conveyed in the power of the surging rhythms used by Hughes:

She rides the earth
On an ass, on a lion.
She rides the heavens
On a great white bull (lines1-4)

This canto is given a timeless, chant-like quality by Hughes' use of the present tense and repetitive, echoing constructions.  A rising stress-pattern emerges in the two of the first line and the rising feet of even numbered lines. Yet this stanza is far from regular in metre, though it is carefully cadenced. In Hughes' essay 'Myths, Metres, Rhythms' (part of the collection Winter Pollen) he cites Gerard Manley Hopkins' description of as 'the most natural of things' (p. 333). For Hughes, too, this verse-form is the most natural of things. A sinuous, organic power, which refuses to be reined in by regular metre, emerges in the stress-patterns of these lines.

'Great white bull', a threefold strong stress, resists the two-stress pattern of the three previous lines, ending the stanza on an upsurge of sound-energy. This is of the ceaseless, vigorous movement of the goddess, who refuses to be constrained by Man. Hughes sets out (in the same essay in Winter Pollen) a mythology of poetics. He personifies regular metre and 'sprung rhythm' as a conflicting couple locked in an uneasy marriage. The latter, the more 'unorthodox tradition,' as Hughes calls it, is seen as feminine. Her struggle to resist the male gives her a wild power, as 'she erupts, love-mad, imperious, dazzling, tempestuous, alarming, while he fights to subdue her, in Marlowe and early Shakespeare' (p. 369). Her dazzling, tempestuous, awe-inspiring rhythmic energy is also unleashed in Hughes' poetry. The 'unorthodox tradition' is the very voice of the earth-goddess. Hughes reworks traditional metre to take poetry beyond the constraints of anthropocentric language and thought.

Yet poetry was not the only medium through which Hughes' concern with breaking anthropocentric constraints was given voice. In 1987, he wrote to Mark Purdey that a letter he had written to The Times about man-made chemicals affecting otters had been turned down by the editor (Letters, p. 534). While Hughes certainly was 'a fearless environmental activist' as Douglas suggests (in the online article cited below), his poetry expresses the concern that such activism may come too late to prevent extinction. The collection Wolfwatching (1989) contains what is perhaps Hughes' most environmentalist poem: 'The Black Rhino'. It is also one of his bleakest visions of death in the natural world. Like the tainted river, the rhino is 'Horribly sick, without knowing,' (III, line 2) and yet her sickness is of a different order. 'She is infected / With the delusions of man' (lines 3-4) and has 'blundered somehow into man's phantasmagoria, and cannot get out' (lines 7-8).

Here, Hughes refines his depiction of animal mythologies. The very nature- that gives rise to the relationship between the shaman and his power-animal also attributes magical properties to the rhino's horn. This makes it a commodity of commercial value, 'at eight or nine/ thousand dollars a handful' (lines 28-9):

The Black Rhino
Is vanishing
Into a soft
Human laugh (lines 53-6)

The final line is not end-stopped, but fades with the sound of human derision. One is left with the impression of the human voice replacing the organic discourse of the mute 'thorny scrub', the silent 'waterholes' and 'horizon mountain-folds' (lines 51-2). If Gaudete represents the echoing, repeating, cyclical hymns of the natural world, in Wolfwatching we see how a cycle of natural echoes can be broken and silenced by human intervention. Hughes' later poetry is tinged with a melancholic sense that despite his activism, it may be too late to save some species.

Works Cited

  • Ted Hughes, Collected Poems, ed. Paul Keegan (London, 2003).
  • Ted Hughes, Letters of Ted Hughes, ed. Christopher Reid (London, 2007).
  • Ted Hughes, Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose, ed. William Scammell (London, 1994).
  • Jonathan Bate, The Song of the Earth (Harvard, 2002).
  • Lawrence Buell, The Future of Environmental Criticism (Oxford, 2005).
  • Ed Douglas, 'Portrait of a Poet as Eco-Warrior,' accessed at,,2204850,00.html on16/02/08.
  • Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, (Abingdon, 2004).
  • Terry Gifford and Neil Roberts, Ted Hughes: A Critical Study (London, 1981).

Further Reading

Ecocriticism: Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism (Abingdon, 1994) is a good introduction to this emerging field. Jonathan Bate, The Song of the Earth (Harvard, 2002) is one of the key examples of the theory in practice. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (first published in 1962 but reprinted since then) was a founding text of the environmental movement.

Ted Hughes, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (London, 1993). Hughes himself interpreted literature in relation to the mother-goddess myth. His reading of Shakespeare is idiosyncratic but makes an interesting comparison with his poems.

Thomas Nagel, 'What is it like to be a bat?', Philosophical Review, 83 (1974), 428-439; but it can be found online in various places. In the light of the mention of anthropomorphism above, it might be interesting to chase up this classic essay about the differences between species and their consciousnesses and experiences. It is not a simple read, but it is rewarding.

Further Thinking

Yvonne Reddick suggests that 'more fluid' forms of Hughes' later poetry are more 'natural'. Do you think that less strict verse forms have a more 'natural' effect in his work? Do you think this is generally true?

Do you think that 'ecocriticism' (which 'seeks to evaluate texts and ideas in terms of their coherence and usefulness as responses to environmental crisis' as is quoted above) seems like a good way to go? Why should literature have something to say about the environment?

Shamanism is a system of belief based on communication with a spirit world, through the work of a holy person or 'shaman'
Eco-feminists combine the interests of ecology and feminism, and argue that the two have a lot of affinity. Both women, and the environment, suffer oppression by men.
The tendency to portray animals with human characteristics. This might not seem properly ecological, since animals ought to be respected as animals.
Three Greek goddesses. Some people who study myths from an anthropological perspective see them as three aspects of am earth-goddess figure found in many mythologies.
An iamb is a unit of metre composed of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable - iambic metre (ti-TUM ti-TUM etc.) is made up of iambs.
An anapeast is a unit of metre composed of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable, ti-ti-TUM.
A kind of poetic metre associated particularly with the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. He believed it followed the rhythms of speech. Lines are divided into 'feet' in which the first syllable is stressed, and any number of unstressed syllables can follow.
This word derives from 'mimesis' which means 'imitation' or 'representation'; so 'mimetic of' means 'imitating' and/or 'representative of'.
A state where the difference between real and unreal (whether dreamed, or imaginary) is blurred

What Use was Ted Hughes’ Degree? The Case of Crow

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Cambridge Authors did not all study literature at university. Ted Hughes, for example, studied Archaeology and Anthropology. Undergraduate David Lowry's essay asks what difference this part of his education made to Crow, one of his most important collections. The poems often express themselves plainly, but there are some very sharp ideas working below the surface.

During his undergraduate years at Pembroke College, Ted Hughes studied for the . In this article I would like to propose a reading of Crow: From the Life and the Songs of the Crow as anthropological art, that is to say, as a sequence which is motivated by anthropological issues and which approaches them in an anthropological fashion. Anthropology means, literally, the study of humans; anthropologists explore human psychology and culture to explain the characteristics and social phenomena which make us human. In the 1950s, when Hughes was a student, anthropology was undergoing a sea-change. The ideas of French thinkers such as Claude Lévi-Strauss and Roland Barthes revolutionised the way that anthropology was done, connecting it to ideas about language and philosophy for the first time. Furthermore, the horrors of the Holocaust, in which humans beings proved capable of what seemed a new scale of horrors, demonstrated a need for a radical reassessment of what it meant to be human. These are the problems that Ted Hughes faced as a student and the enduring effect of his Cambridge years was such that Crow is constructed around the same issues.

To say that Crow has an anthropological tone seems wrong. We might hesitate to say that Ulysses is a geographical novel or that The Waste Land has a lot to do with quantum mechanics. However, several stylistic features which pervade the entire sequence do, I believe, add up to a sense in which the poems feel anthropological. As an example, let us consider part of the opening poem from Four Crow Poems ('That Moment'):

And the only face left in the world
Lay broken
Between hands that relaxed, being too late
And the trees closed forever
And the streets closed forever
And the body lay on the gravel
Of the abandoned world
Among abandoned utilities
Exposed to infinity forever
Crow had to start searching for something to eat.

, a primeval cultural phenomenon, is vital to anthropologists. This poem has an overwhelmingly mythic tone, for example in its large number of totalising concepts ('the only face', 'closed forever', 'infinity forever') which give a sense of enormity and eternity fitting to myth. The childlike syntax, with only one long sentence and the use of hypotaxis (the employment of numerous unequal clauses given equal weight by the use of the conjunction 'and'), places the reader in the position of an anthropologist observing a society - someone who sees the world through the eyes of an outsider.

Similarly, the fact that the poem essentially consists of a series of disparate images presented without context means that the reader's task is that of an anthropologist; who has to place cultural phenomena into a framework that makes them comprehensible. The concluding line, with its jarringly prosaic and yet also essentially human mundanity, reminds the reader that the complex myths and other cultural phenomena which seek to explain the universe are often responses to basic human needs such as food. Anthropologists became interested in these underlying primal causes partly because of the work of Sigmund Freud. He analysed mental processes such as dreaming and argued that they were responses to simple unconscious wants such as eating, touching and sex. In 'That Moment', Hughes seeks to establish an anthropological framework within which to read Crow: the tone is mythical; we are alerted to an attempt to alienate the reader and place him or her in the position of the anthropologist; and we see how Crow himself functions in this case as a signifier for basic human needs.

Having established that Crow has an anthropological focus, I would like to turn now to examine how Hughes responds to the revolution that structuralism brought to anthropology in the 1950s. Structuralism as a movement began with the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. Saussure's basic thesis was to isolate individual instances of language and show that they could not make sense alone: the structure of the language as a whole is what gives meaning to a word. This idea was taken up by anthropologists who felt that individual artefacts of cultures could only make sense in an overall structure. For example, in his seminal book Structural Anthropology, Claude Lévi-Strauss argues that anthropological phenomena are to be analysed by placing them in within a broader structure.

This system of thought pervades Crow. In 'Crow Tries the Media', Hughes conveys Crow's frustration with words:

He did not even want words
Waving their long tails in public
With their prostitute's exclamations

Crow is angry with the public nature of language, with the fact that it is part of a shared system, with the fact that their 'long tails' and prostitute-like nature can be taken by anyone and given meaning. However, by using words to explain this hatred of language, Hughes shows that a single instance of thought or feeling can only be given meaning when placed within the shared structure. Indeed, in crafting such a complex and striking metaphor Hughes calls attention quite overtly to our need for language and our need to place individual images into a structure before making sense of the whole. The words are compared first to animals and then to prostitutes, two separate linguistic subsets which are then placed within a newer structure to form the overall comparison.

The need for structural knowledge to interpret a poem is also apparent in 'Lineage', which purports to explain the genealogy of Crow:

In the beginning was Scream
Who begat Blood
Who begat Eye
Who begat Fear
Who begat Nothing
Who begat Never
Never Never Never

Who begat Crow

The list recalls the opening of St Matthew's Gospel in the Bible, in which the lineage of Christ is set out in a similar fashion. (The list starts: 'Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren'.) However, there are further literary analogies: the poem's 'Nothing' looks like a reference to Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear in which the king tells his daughter Cordelia that 'nothing will come of nothing'. In an ironic twist, Hughes' 'Nothing' begets 'Never / Never Never Never', which resemble Lear's dying words as he embraces the dead Cordelia. Thus the begetting of Crow is not only associated with the birth of Christ but also with the death of man. The seemingly familiar structure encourages the reader to contemplate the relationships between the images which the genealogy invokes.

The genealogy of Crow is twofold: firstly he resembles Christ, but he also resembles Lear, a glimpse at the worst that humanity can be. As I previously mentioned, the 1950s saw a large amount of anthropological activity surrounding the Holocaust - a necessary attempt to understand what it now meant to be human. One key way in which all cultures have sought to understand themselves is the totem, an anthropological term for a figure believed to watch over a group of people: examples include the ancient Egyptian sun god or the Israelites' Yahweh. In Totem and Taboo, Sigmund Freud had drawn attention to the similarities found in the behaviour of members of aboriginal tribes in Australia and his own neurotic patients, and it became common to view abstract social concepts such as money or sex as modern-day totems. I would like to argue that in Crow Hughes is creating a new form of myth for the modern world, along with a new conception of what it might mean to be human. In the poem 'Carnival', Crow finds himself destroyed:

He saw his eyes in paperback
He saw his guts in Schopenhauer's spectacle case
He saw his blood spattered
Across Beethoven's score
He saw his brains splashed like a custard pie
Jung had lobbed at Freud
He saw his skin still bandaged on the cross
And in fact it was worse there were details

The use of colloquial language ('guts' or 'custard pie', for instance) contrasts with the references to high cultural figures and creates an orgy of pure violence. The great achievements of humanity, such as Beethoven's music, become merely part of a childish fight, and the cross, symbol of Christianity, is mentioned in the same way as a custard pie. In the next stanza even punctuation has broken down: one cannot read the line without wishing to insert a comma or colon. Like humanity, for whom he is a totem, Crow has been ripped apart and we can no longer distinguish between good and evil, just as we cannot separate the horrors of the Holocaust from the beauty of the music of Wagner.

As humanity's totem, Crow often functions metaphorically for human phenomena. In 'Crow's Fall' it is explained the Crow was originally white, but grew angry at the white sun and went to fight it:

But the sun brightened -
It brightened, and Crow returned charred black.
He opened his mouth but what came out was charred black.
'Up there,' he managed,
'Where white is black and black is white, I won.'

The poem is a little akin to the types of stories told to children to explain tigers' stripes, but the stark emphasis on colour difference relates to an ongoing debate in anthropology (and the arts generally) about the structure of thinking, language, and meaning.

In 1929 the German philosopher Ludwig Klages coined the term 'logocentricism' to denote what he felt was a Western phenomenon of locating meaning within a 'logos'. 'Logos' is a Greek word meaning word, reason or spirit; Klages and those who followed him felt that most Western philosophy saw all meaning residing in this concept. Jacques Derrida was one of the best-known inheritors of the idea of 'logocentrism', and he aimed to undermine its results. He and other 'deconstructionists' believed that lots of key ideas related to an implied logos - an assumption that some concept had special inherent meaning. For example, a traditional idea of male sexuality as something present and single and whole, whereas female is hidden and multiple, could be explained by a false reliance on the 'logos' of male sexuality.

For Derrida, terms always come in pairs, such as white and black, with one leaning towards the concept of 'logos', in this case white. (So people are likely to think of white as something, black as the lack of something.) In 'Crow's Fall', Crow ascends to 'where white is black and black is white'; that is to say, he achieved a suspension of logos, and still returned black. Derrida felt that the only way to begin to override the dependence on 'logos' was to begin examining the non-logos side of pairings. In this case Hughes has crafted a poem which does so. Indeed the whole of Crow, with its strange exploration of darkness and the absurd, could be viewed as part of the project envisaged by Derrida to shift human society away from its addiction to logos, which would be a fundamental change in the idea of humanity itself and hence a radical anthropological action.

In this article I have explored some of the ways in which the type of thought Ted Hughes was exposed to during a degree in Archaeology and Anthropology both informs and creates the meaning of Crow. By placing the poems in an intellectual context I think we gain insight to why their strange and alienating, yet familiar and engaging style and content have led them to be ranked amongst not only Hughes' greatest work, but also the greatest poetry of the twentieth century.

Further Reading

  • Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth - In this little, readable account of the relationship between humanity and its simplest form of literature, myth, Armstrong combines the role of literary critic and anthropologist in an exciting way.
  • Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo - A little more technical, but definitely one of the most accessible works of Freud. Although his conclusions have now been largely discredited, Freud's method of analysis remains popular as a way of 'reading' people and texts and his insights into the human psyche are nothing if not intriguing.
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses - A collection of numerous Greek and Roman myths themed around change, Ovid presents the back-history of the civilisation to which he belongs in an amusing, human and often startling way, a task comparable to Hughes' in Crow.

Further Thinking

In some ways the poems of Crow are very simple. David Lowry has brought in some complex areas of thought in order to understand them better. Do you think the poems work better like this, or do you think they might also be appreciated for their simpler characteristics?

Can you think of other modern myths and totems?

'Tripos' is the Cambridge word for a course of study, named after the three-legged stool on which students were said to sit during examinations
Myths are typically ancient and often simple stories that seem to underlie a culture and its values. They are usually stories that either describe, or hint at, how the world was created, how societies were formed, how people should behave, etc.
The study of human psychology by means of a process of analysis that aims to uncover the underlying causes of mental problems. Sigmund Freud (born 1856, died 1939) developed many of its core concepts.
Absurdism is a philosophy that believes that it is absurd for us to try to find meaning in life. The philosophers Kierkegaard and Camus are both associated with it. The 'theatre of the absurd' (for example, in the plays of Beckett and Ionesco) puts this philosophy on the stage.
This word can be used to mean something that surpasses reality, but here it means something that (often spuriously) is above the world of experience, somehow elevated above reality.