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Durham e-Theses
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The elegies of Ted Hughes

Hadley, Edward (2008) The elegies of Ted Hughes. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The purpose of this study is to make the case that Ted Hughes (1930-1998) is one of the pre-eminent elegists writing in English in the latter half of the twentieth century. Whilst his poetry has been widely criticised for its apparent preoccupation with violence and death, it is puzzling that the links these topics have in common with elegy have never been clearly verified. This might be because Hughes's elegies do not appear to bear the characteristics frequently associated with traditional poetic laments; however, as this study shows, closer scrutiny reveals not only many similarities, but also acts of resistance within the broader scope of elegy. Drawing on both established and contemporary critical debates surrounding Hughes and elegy, this study undertakes a comprehensive reading of the poet's major works from The Hawk in the Rain to Birthday Letters, whilst also paying attention to limited editions of his verse, including Recklings, Capriccio and Howls & Whispers. Posthumous publications, including the Collected Poems. Selected Translations and Letters of Ted Hughes, are accounted for. so that (alongside the chronological reading of the poems) Hughes's development as an elegist is fully realised. One of the aims of the thesis is to demonstrate that the poet's elegies are unified in presenting what I term the ‘actual'; that is to say, that Hughes does not fabricate sensations or forge experiences that purport to be beyond the realm of recognisable human endeavour. This I term his 'unfalsifying dream’. This is striking because quite often traditional elegies appear to present the opposite: a language which is ๐mate and images which are close to beatifying the deceased, putting them at a remove from human experience and existence. 'The Hawk in the Rain' is used to illustrate Hughes's theoretical position, especially in the case of his earlier war elegies and the circumstances of Remains of Elmet and Moortown Diary. He is both the observational, seemingly dispassionate poet (the hawk), capable of a detaching himself from the experience he wishes to relay in his verse, and yet, he is also the wanderer 'in the rain, one who is immersed in the momentous instant of his own language and experience. Like his personas, Hughes is divided. He is complicit with many of elegy's practices and traditions, but he is also a reformer and renovator of elegy, writing invigorating verse which brings the realities of mortality closer to the reader. In doing so, he reaffirms the significance of life and how this life might be better lived in closer harmony to poetry and contemporary ecological urgencies. 'The Elegies of Ted Hughes' aims to prove that far from being just a 'poet of nature', Hughes has been an exemplary elegist in our own time.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2008
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:09 Sep 2011 09:57

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