‘Wolfwatching’ by Ted Hughes

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Friday, February 25, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

If you were to ask me to name my favourite poet, I would have a very hard time naming just one, as I read different people for different things.  I read Robert Browning for his amazing dramatic monologues; John Donne for his fiery passion, whether holy or secular; W. B. Yeats for his mysticism and occultism; Shakespeare for wit and brilliance; Hillaire Belloc, Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll for their humour; and there are a host of others I can turn to in any given mood.  Ted Hughes, I read primarily for his nature poetry which illuminates creatures and landscapes that I see all the time with a clarity and accuracy which make me see them in a new way.

Wolfwatching is a collection of poems which divides fairly evenly into the nature poems that I love so much and poems about Hughes’ father and their relationship.  I personally prefer the former type because of the shocks of recognition that they provide; the poems which aren’t centred around the natural world are more opaque and harder to pin down, but they feel profound even if I don’t understand them as well.  It is a slim volume of only 55 pages, but it is powerfully written and full of beautiful phrases.

As I find it almost impossible to review poetry, I thought I would share some of my favourite passages instead.  The first example is drawn from the first poem in the book, ‘A Sparrow Hawk’:

Those eyes in their helmet

Still wired direct

To the nuclear core – they alone


Laser the lark-shaped hole

In the lark’s song.

I love how it both physically describes the bird and conveys the speed, efficiency and deadliness of the hawk’s attack.

Next is an offering from ‘Manchester Skytrain’, perfectly describing a highly-strung racehorse:

Every known musical instrument

The whole ensemble, packed

Into a top-heavy, twangling half ton

On the stilts of an insect.

And finally, the famous ending of one of the more esoteric poems in the collection, ‘Two Astrological Conundrums II: Tell’:

With all my might – I hesitated.

Wolfwatching by Ted Hughes.  Published by Faber and Faber, 1989, pp. 55.  First edition.

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