From Publishers Weekly
The main details of Hughes's life are well-known: after his National Service with the RAF, the dashing poet marries the brilliant American Sylvia Plath in 1954, and becomes an instant celebrity with the publication of Hawk in the Rain in 1957. While "The Thought-Fox" scampers its way into numberless anthologies, he publishes the poems of Lupercal (1960) and Wodwo (1967), where he treats his own voice as a force of nature, threaded through a violent animism. His wife and his lover die by suicide. He makes a major artistic breakthrough with the widely praised sequence Crow (1971), which draws on his deep knowledge of English folklore, and sacrifices, for a kind of Zarathustrian bluntness, all lingering traces of formalism (though blank verse and ballad would continue to be favored methods). He writes plays and several children's books, and becomes poet laureate in 1984, publishing a surprisingly good book of civic verse, Rain Charm for the Duchy, in 1992. His final volume, Birthday Letters, is a conflicted, front-page-news-making account of his relationship with Plath. This enormous, rewarding compendium contains all of the above as well as numerous poems that were previously uncollected (such as the lovely, Williams-y miniature "Snail" and the long "Scapegoat and Rabies," an indictment of the soldier culture that partly shaped Hughes); the entirety of his acclaimed Tales from Ovid; Hughes's appendices to the books as originally published; and copious bibliographic notes. Hughes is already canonical in Great Britain, and this volume, with its resolutely undomesticated bestiary, will mark out permanent space on the shelves of U.S. readers.
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Lauded as a poetic genius and demonized for the suicide of his poet wife, Sylvia Plath, Hughes remains a controversial and compelling figure, one deserving of the serious attention this mammoth first collected edition of his poems demands. Precocious and ambitious, Hughes began winning literary awards with his debut collection, The Hawk in the Rain (1957), thanks to Plath's encouragement. Earthy and mystical and steeped in folklore and myth, Hughes wrote lush and confident nature poems until Plath's death, after which his poetry turned spare and wary. In Crow (1970), for instance, images of fallen trees, shrunken forms, camouflage, sickness, and stasis abound, followed by the torment of Prometheus on His Crag (1973). But slowly the prolific and irrepressible Hughes regained his artistic grounding, and ultimately created a great treasury of original and exalted works, finally addressing his intense relationship with Plath in his final book, Birthday Letters (1998), a resounding collection that stunned the literary world. Supported with extensive notes, this definitive volume brings Hughes into crisp focus as a complex and major poet. Donna Seaman
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