Ted Hughes: <em>Crow</em> (paperback)

Ted Hughes: Crow (paperback)

Ted Hughes: <em>Crow</em> (limited ed.)

Ted Hughes: Crow (limited ed.)

Ted Hughes: <em>Crow</em> (LP record front)

Ted Hughes: Crow (LP record front)

Ted Hughes: <em>Crow</em> (LP record inner)

Ted Hughes: Crow (LP record inner)

Ted Hughes: <em>Crow</em> (cassette tape)

Ted Hughes: Crow (cassette tape)

Crow: From the Life and the Songs of the Crow.

Author: Hughes, Ted

Published by Faber & Faber, 1970
Augmented edition 1972
US ed: Harper & Row, 1971

Illustrator: Leonard Baskin

Apart from Birthday Letters, Crow is probably Ted Hughes's most famous collection of poetry. It seems that Crow grew partly out of an invitation by Leonard Baskin to write a few poems to accompany some of Baskin's drawings. In the process, Hughes seems to have broken through to a very reduced by enormously powerful language.

The book tells of Crow's adventures and relates some of the songs and stories he makes up. During readings Hughes generally used to provide a narrative framework for the poems which has never been published in print. In this framing story, God has a recurring dream, a nightmare. The nightmare "appears to God as a hand. And this hand [...] is also a voice [...]", a laughing voice. It "comes the moment he falls asleep. This thing arrives and grabs him round the throat, and throttles him and lifts him out of his Heaven and rushes him through his universe and pushes him beyond his stars and then ploughs up the Earth with his face and throws him back into Heaven. [...] God cannot understand what there can be in his creation which – (after all he is responsible for every atom in it) – [...] is so strange to him and can be so hostile to him". Eventually, God gets this "voice-hand" to speak, and "the speech is a terrible mockery of God's creation, particularly of the crown of his creation, which is Man". So, there "begins a great debate in Heaven between God and his nightmare – about Man. And God is very defensive of Man. Man is a very good invention and a successful invention and, given the materials and the situation, he's quite adequate. The voice just continues with its mocking that Man is absolutely hopeless.

It so happens, that while the debate has been going on [...], Man [...] had sent up a representative to the Gates of Heaven. This representative had been knocking on the marble gates and God had been so preoccupied with his nightmare that he hadn't heard him. So this little figure was sitting in the Gate of Heaven waiting for God to hear him. And now the voice [...] asks this little figure to speak [...]. And it so happens that Man has sent this little figure up to ask God to take life back because men are fed up with it. God is enraged that Man has let him down in this way in front of the Demon, so he challenges the voice to do better – given the materials and the whole set up – just to do better – produce something better than Man.

This is what the voice has been negotiating for. So, with a great howl of delight, he plunges down into matter and God turns Man round and pushes him back down into the World." So Crow is created and God, who feels pity for this ugly little creature, shows him around Creation. But Crow gets involved, plays about and more often then not messes things up. So God gets fed up with him.

Gradually it becomes clear that Crow is looking for his Creatrix who is also to become his intended bride, who is also a part of himself.

Due to tragic personal circumstances, Crow remained a fragment of only about two thirds of the story. Hughes saw himself unable to finish the story with a happy ending which he could not verify in his own life.

[The account of the background story was adapted from my essay "Difficulties of a Bridegroom", in Bertrand Rougé (ed): Q/W/E/R/T/Y 9, 1999; I am also quoting from Ann Skea's transcript of a reading at the Adelaide Festival (ann.skea.com).]

The American edition has seven additional poems. The 1972 edition has six of these plus "Crowcolour" – "The Lovepet" appeared only in the American edition. Subsequent public editions follow the edition of 1972.

The limited edition of 1973 (with the Baskin drawings) included three additional poems.

Further poems appeared in The Achievement of Ted Hughes, in magazines and several limited publications.

See also Cave Birds and Ann Skea's on-line essay "Ted Hughes and Crow" accessible on her site.
See also the recordings of Crow (LP record and tape) and the essay "Crow on the Beach" in Winter Pollen.