Photograph by © Rima Staines, March 2011
The comedy [in Aristophanes’ play The Frogs] lies entirely in the idea that a dead poet might be brought back, not at all in the idea that a poet might save the city. The absolute seriousness of that proposition marks the difference in the status of the poet in Athenian society from our own. The idea that a poet could save us if listened to would now provoke almost universal laughter, not least among academics.
© Keith Sagar, ‘The Laughter of the Foxes, A Study of Ted Hughes’ , pg. 34 (Liverpool University Press, 2006)
Single vision is fallen vision, fallen, that is, from an assumed original, primal, unified vision, symbolized by Eden. At the Fall, which is both a curse we inherit and a process we re-enact in every life [italics mine], Man is assumed to lose his ability to perceive anything in the spiritual dimension, anything as holy or miraculous. Hence it is a fall into sterile materialism and rationalism. He is assumed to lose his innocence, which is not simply his ignorance and inexperience but his flexibility, openness to experience, good faith, capacity for spontaneous authentic living; to lose his access to the Energies, either within himself or without. Fallen Man lives a second-hand life, a living death, in a self-made world of false rigidities and mechanisms of thinking and feeling and seeing [italics mine]. Single vision cannot see wholes, only fragments. It is analytic, compartmentalizing. It cannot see relationships and patterns and wholes, and is therefore solipsistic, reductive and dehumanizing, at the mercy of time and chance and death. Single vision is alienated, hubristic selfhood, and the achievement of twofold, threefold and fourfold vision [such as William Blake’s vision] are therefore stages in the annihilation of the self. The purpose is to regain Paradise — but it will not be the same Paradise. The new Paradise will be ‘organized innocence’ and atonement on the far side of experience and suffering and many inner deaths.
Single vision has been Western Man’s common condition throughout historical time. Artists and prophets have always cried out against it. Only the symptoms change from age to age, and the artist must diagnose them afresh, for the new symptoms are usually hailed as signs of ‘progress’. Blake saw the symptoms in the late eighteenth century as the deification of reason and the five senses (Locke), mechanistic science (Newton), the increasingly repressive Puritanism of the churches, and the first mills of the Industrial Revolution. It is not assumed that every artist is born with fourfold vision and never loses it. What he can never lose is the sense of something lost, and the obligation to struggle to recover it.
© Keith Sagar, ‘The Laughter of the Foxes, A Study of Ted Hughes’ , pg. 30 (Liverpool University Press, 2006)
"And it is here in this woodcut, in the actual work of the blade, that we can find the meaning of Baskin’s line. With deep labour, he is delivering his form from the matrix. He is liberating a body from the death that encloses it. Inevitably, one imagines a surgeon’s tranced sort of alertness, as he cuts…And as the scalpel cuts, mana [Mana was Hughes’ equivalent of Lorca’s duende] flows. That is, seen from our point of vantage, beauty flows. As if the blade, in prayer, were less a honed edge, more a laying on of hands — a blessing — a caress — and a glorification. The steel, under Baskin’s care, is a balm flowing into the wound…
But in Baskin’s imagination the Hanged Man is evolving further, and becoming something else too. That moment of redemption, where healing suddenly wells out of a wound that had seemed fatal, is not enough. The beauty of it has to blossom. The dead man has to flower into life. And so this skinned carcass, so wrapped and unwrapped in its pain, is becoming a strange thin — a chrysalis, a giant larva.”
© Ted Hughes in his essay on Leonard Baskin, ‘The Hanged Man and the Dragonfly,’ as published in Winter Pollen (1994 / US Picador edition, 1995) / Image: Hanged Man, Leonard Baskin (1922-2000), Woodcut, 78 x 36 in. (198.1 x 91.4 cm), 1955, Smithsonian Art Museum
He [Ted Hughes] admired a generation of East European poets such as [Vasko] Popa and [János] Pilinszky whose work was purged of rhetoric, deliberately impoverished, ‘a strategy of making audible meanings without disturbing the silence’ (Winter Pollen, 1994/ US Picador edition, 1995). He sought a simplicity not of retreat or exclusion but on the far side of experience and complexity …
© Keith Sagar, ‘The Laughter of the Foxes, A Study of Ted Hughes’ , pg. 21 (Liverpool University Press, 2006)
The most primordial is the pre-historic, which precedes even prehistory itself.
© Ben H. Vedder, Heidegger’s Philosophy of Religion, p. 31 (via spiritandteeth)
The artist must have the ability to communicate experience through language in a way that produces an authentic miracle — some sounds, or marks on a page, should transmit a healing and fertilizing power.
© Keith Sagar, ‘The Laughter of the Foxes, A Study of Ted Hughes’ , pg. 18 (Liverpool University Press, 2006)
We are all criminals in the sense that we have all persecuted, exploited or denied essential parts of ourselves, particularly that part which Jung called, in men, the anima. And that innermost self is representative of all that we persecute, exploit or deny in the outer world — women, ‘undeveloped’ peoples, animals, Nature herself. Hughes is careful not to accuse his protagonists of specific crimes. Their guilt lies rather in a state of being, a set of unconscious attitudes we all inherit, complacent and hubristic and inimical to Nature’s laws. This state of being harms the goddess in three ways. It harms the actual women, her incarnations, with whom the protagonist comes in contact ; it harms, directly or indirectly, the earth, its sacred creatures, its delicate web of interdependencies ; and it harms the man’s own anima, his daemon, the more creative, feminine part of his own nature.
© Keith Sagar, ‘The Laughter of the Foxes, A Study of Ted Hughes’ , pg. 17 (Liverpool University Press, 2006)
Because regardless of how attached we might be to the practical, within our mysterious matter boils the thirst of the unknown, the intense desire to create, the poetic condition that propels us towards everything magic, ritualistic, fantastic and miraculous. I can already hear a multitude of fanatics saying: “Miracles don’t exist! Miracles don’t exist!” But those fanatics remind me of the anecdote according to which Baudelaire, when a friend asked him why he had abandoned a certain discussion at a café in anger, responded: “Of course I’m leaving! How can you discuss anything with a person who doesn’t believe in miracles?” That is: how can we consider an individual fully human if within his matter there doesn’t exist even an atom of poetic force, an atom of absurdity, a portion of magic?
Men who heard Sirins singing their beautiful songs would forget everything on earth, follow them, and ultimately die.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.
© Dylan Thomas, from ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’
"The Alkonost is, according to Russian mythos and folklore, a creature with the body of a bird but the head of a beautiful woman. It makes sounds that are amazingly beautiful, and those who hear these sounds forget everything they know and want nothing more ever again.She lives in the underworld with her counterpart the Sirin.The alkonost lays her eggs on a beach and then rolls them into the sea. When the alkonost’s eggs hatch, a thunderstorm sets in and the sea becomes so rough that it is untravelable. The name of the alkonost came from a Greek demigoddess whose name was Alcyone. In Greek mythology, Alcyone was transformed by the gods into a kingfisher.”
Source: A Polar Bear’s Tale / Image: Birds of Joy and Sorrow [Sirin (left) and Alkonost (right)] by Viktor Vasnetsov (1848–1926)
Perhaps the most damaging perversity in our response to great literature has been our insistence on treating as heroes the anti-heroes, the criminals. Prometheus has been celebrated as winning Man his freedom from the tyranny of the gods. What Prometheus did was to teach Man to regard himself as autonomous, to regard nothing as sacred, to ‘strike wounds in the divine environment’ (Károly Kerényi), to relegate nature to a heap of raw materials, to regard technology as the highest achievement, to probe Nature’s deepest secrets and not hesitate to play with fire. In other words, Prometheus set the feet of the race on the road to where we now have to live.
© Keith Sagar, ‘The Laughter of the Foxes, A Study of Ted Hughes’ , pg. 15 (Liverpool University Press, 2006)
A few years ago, in a dancing contest at Jerez de la Frontera, an old woman of eighty carried off the prize against beautiful women and girls with waists like water, merely by raising her arms, throwing back her head, and stamping her foot on the platform ; in that gathering of muses and angels, beauties of shape and beauties of smile, the moribund duende, dragging her wings of rusty knives along the ground, was bound to win and did in fact win.
Lorca (The Theory and Function of the Duende) as quoted in Keith Sagar’s, ‘The Laughter of the Foxes, A Study of Ted Hughes’ , pg. 14 (Liverpool University Press, 2006)