Ted Hughes: <em>Cave Birds</em> (hardback)

Ted Hughes: Cave Birds (hardback)

Ted Hughes: <em>Three Books</em> (paperback)

Ted Hughes: Three Books (paperback)

Cave Birds. An Alchemical Cave Drama.

Author: Hughes, Ted

Published by Faber & Faber, 1978
US ed.: Viking 1979

Drawings by Leonard Baskin

Cave Birds continues the kind of quest story that already appeared in publications such as "The Wound", Gaudete and Crow. A first, limited edition appeared in 1975. All later editions are heavily revised and very different from this.

Cave Birds
tells of the purification of a protagonist in what parallels stages of an alchemical process of transforming base material (sometimes referred to as "bronze" in the book) into a refined substance.

Possibly the most well-known poem in the book is "Bride and Groom Lie Hidden for Three Days", which Hughes re-incorporated into the Crow version on the Faber/Penguin audiobook. Crow is the collection where it originally belonged.

In her book Ted Hughes. The Poetric Quest, Ann Skea has included an excellent poem by poem guide to the workhttp://ann.skea.com.

See also Terry Gifford's essay "A Return to 'The Wound' ..." available on this site.
Additional Cave Birds poems were published in The Achievement of Ted Hughes and Collected Poems (2003).
Three Books (Faber & Faber, 1993) includes a version without the illustrations.


Note: Cave Birds exists in various different versions several limited edition prints to the trade edition version. The contents listing for the limited edition (below) are quote from Sagar/Tabor.

Cave Birds (1978 trade ed.)

  • The Scream
  • The Summoner
  • After the First Fright
  • The Interrogator
  • She Seemed So Considerate
  • The Judge
  • The Plaintiff
  • In These Fading Moments I Wanted to Say
  • The Executioner
  • The Accused
  • First, the Doubtful Charts of Skin
  • The Knight [from the ltd. ed.]
  • Something was Happening
  • The Gatekeeper [from the ltd. ed. with revisions]
  • A Flayed Crow in the Hall of Judgement [from the ltd. ed. with revisions]
  • The Baptist [from the ltd. ed. with revisions]
  • Only a Little Sleep, a Little Slumber
  • A Green Mother [= "A Loyal Mother" in the ltd. ed.]
  • As I Came, I Saw a Wood
  • A Riddle [based on "Incomparable Marriage" from the ltd. ed.]
  • The Scapegoat [= "The Culprit" from the ltd. ed.]
  • After There was Nothing Came a Woman
  • The Guide [from the ltd. ed. with revisions]
  • His Legs Ran About
  • Walking Bare [from the ltd. ed. with revisions]
  • Bride and Groom Lie Hidden for Three Days
  • The Owl Flower [= "The Good Angel" from the ltd. ed.]
  • The Risen
  • Finale!

Cave Birds Limited editions (1975/1978)

[the following is from Sagar/Tabor: Ted Hughes. A Bibliography 1946 – 1995]:"

  • A Death-Stone Crow of Carrion: The Knight
  • A Maze Pelican: The Baptist
  • A Flayed Crow: The Hall of Judgement
  • A Double Osprey: The Gatekeeper
  • A Sunrise of Owl: A Loyal Mother
  • A Monkey-Eating Eagle: Incomparable Marriage
  • A Stud Cockerel Hunted in a Desert: The Culprit
  • A Scarecrow Swift: The Guide
  • A Crow of Prisms: Walking Bare
  • An Owl Flower: The Good Angel.

Of the approximately 25 out-of-series copies, ten were embellished in March 1979 with three original water colours by Baskin and three holograph poems by Hughes, and lettered A to J. […] The poems are as follows:

Copy A:

  • Bride and Groom Lie Hidden for Three Days
  • After There was Nothing There was a Woman
  • The Hen

Copy B:

  • The Advocate
  • Two Dreams in the Cell
  • Pheasant


Copy D:

  • The Swans
  • The Executioner
  • A Dove


Copy E:

  • Buzzard
  • The Fierce Osprey
  • Heron


Copy G:

  • Caprimulg
  • Grabbery as Usual
  • His Legs Ran About


Copy J:

  • Cuckoo's
  • Starling
  • Tern
  • Evening Thrush
  • Black Back.


One of the remaining copies contains:

  • The Macaw
  • Kingfisher, and
  • Sparrow.


Another contains:

  • Snipe,
  • Shrike, and
  • The Lame Flamingo Bathes its Knees.


We have no information on the other two. The bird poems here are early drafts of poems intended for A Primer of Birds." [quoted from Sagar/Tabor: Ted Hughes. A Bibliography 1946 – 1995 ]