This is a collection of 150+ poems extracted from 15 works from Ted Hughes’ early career. Note: there is a second volume that picks up where this one leaves off and continues to 1994, as well as another volume entitled “New Selected Poems” that covers his entire poetic career from 1957 – 1994.
The selected poems are largely free verse. However, particularly among his early works there are many examples of rhymed and near-rhymed verse. As would be expected of a collection of selections covering more than two decades, the topics and themes are varied. However, naturalistic symbolism is the dominant approach across the collection, as seen in one of Hughes’ most famous poems, “The Jaguar.” There are poems that take Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” Greek mythology, or other human-centric subjects for their subject matter, but imagery from nature is the most common means used by Hughes to achieve his aim – even when that aim is commenting on human subject matter.
There are a couple pages of explanatory notes, but – otherwise – the book is all poems, and no forwards, conclusions, graphics, or other ancillary matter. It’s 222 pages packed with poetry.
I enjoyed Hughes’ poetry and am fond of his use of natural imagery. That imagery is vivid and evocative, but some readers may find it a bit arcane or obscure for their tastes. One has to ride it like a river, rather than excavating like an archeologist. I would highly recommend this book for poetry readers.