Patterns of initiation in the poetry of Ted Hughes from 1970 to 1980
This study seeks to give a close reading of the poems in the major sequences by Ted Hughes published since 1970. The consideration of the poems centres upon the influence of initiatory religious patterns and their mythologies upon the poet's work. A key to such initiatory patterns is the primitive religious phenomenon known as shamanism. The first chapter of the thesis charts evidence of Hughes's fascination with shamanic practice and shows its pervasive and central influence from early poems such as 'Jaguar' right up to the pivotal work of Caudate. In chapters on each of the three volumes preceding Gaudete Hughes is shown as being preoccupied with shamanic questions rather than with the answers that a fully initiated shaman is able to give. Crow takes its protagonist to the very threshold of initiation, as does Prometheus on his Crag, but the need for the contextualization of the abstract experiences in the poems becomes very clear. Cave Birds is an attempt to introduce a coda of the realities of common human experience, but it is not until Gaudete that the strong mythological element in Hughes's work is disciplined into a greater, though flawed, whole. More and more Hughes seeks to transform the profane experience of our present life into a perception of the sacred. In Gaudete Lumb fails to do this with the rituals of his personal fertility cult and those around him are killed or emotionally damaged. But he himself is radically changed. The Epilogue Poems of Gaudete reflect this change and point the way away from a poetic reliance on the mechanisms of mythology to a living out of ritual in the poetry itself. Both 'Moortown' and Remains of Elmet exemplify this development in their perception of the sacredness of Nature. By Adam and the Sacred Nine the mythological element can now be presented yoked in a balanced way to the sensitivity of the poetry.