The Snake, the Goddess and the Poet's Learning: Ted Hughes and the Contentions of Criticism

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    It is a familiar paradox of Ted Hughes?s career that his principal works of literary criticism ?Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Beingand the ?The Snake in the Oak: The Mythos of Coleridge?s ?new principle? of Metre? ?were published at the peak of his longstanding discomfort with prose criticism. He had given that discomfort its own myth, which became foundational to the narrative of his life and ethos as a poet: the dream of the burnt fox, from his time as an undergraduate at Pembroke College, Cambridge, which led him to forego university ?Eng. Lit.?. It may be no coincidence that the account of that dream as it appears in Winter Pollen(WP 8-9) is dated 1993, with the Shakespeare furore ?and the anxious drafting of the essay on Coleridge ?still fresh.1There was the burnt fox once more, as if still saying, forty years on: ?Stop this ?you are destroying us?(WP9).Indeed, this thought gnawed its way into an insistent new form in the last years of Hughes?s life: as he told Keith Sagar in July 1998, ?That fox was telling ?prose is destroying you physically, literally: maybe not others, but you, yes?(PC270).On the face of it, then ?from his early twenties onwards, and with increasing intensity ?Hughes identified himself as a poet in opposition to the act of criticism.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)7-21
    Number of pages15
    JournalThe Ted Hughes Society Journal
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 1 Jan 2016


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