An Interview with Ted Hughes

Interviewer: Amzed Hossein

Transcript © Amzed Hossein.

(Reproduced here with the permission of Dr. Amzed Hossein and Mrs Carol Hughes).

NOTE: This is the transcript of a tape-recorded interview with Ted Hughes. I met Hughes in Dhaka, Bangladesh, during the Asia Poetry Festival, 17-19 November 1989, where he was a Special Guest. The interview was conducted in two sessions, one at the Osmani Milanayatan, the venue of the Poetry Festival, during a tea-break on 18 November, and another in his room at Sonargaon Hotel, on 20 November. Amzed Hossein.

Amzed Hossein: Mr. Hughes, what exactly do you mean by the ‘bigger energy’, which you say (in your London Magazine interview, January 1971) you want to invoke through the animals in your poetry?

Ted Hughes: No, it isn’t that I want to invoke anything. It’s that in writing about certain things, in invoking certain images, certain symbols, you automatically invoke the energies that come with them. So in the whole register of levels or degrees of intensity of energy that can be invoked, corresponding to your whole register of symbols that will invoke them, you have to be very selective, you have to be very careful, you have to know that you’re playing with fire, and that some energies, the one pole of the whole range of energies, the one extreme of the range of the energies, is… can be unmanageable, can invoke energies that are unmanageable. And I think, for instance, that traditionally in almost all cultures, the images of big, predatory animals have represented energies that are difficult to control.

And, as I remember it, my point was that having concentrated on a symbol of this kind, in a particular animal, in order then to control whatever I might be summoning into my life with that symbol, I then wrote another poem with it to control it.

So it was as though I felt that in focusing on that particular symbol, just of that animal, trying to create that animal in that way, I might have summoned things into my life that’d be difficult to control. So I then made in the same poem a controlling poem which confined and controlled its energies as if you’d summoned the spirit into a magic circle which would control it. That was my meaning.

AH: About ‘Hawk Roosting’ you say what you meant was that simply Nature is thinking. What is your idea of Nature?

TH: Nature in the sense that the hawk only knows its own energy and its own purpose. It doesn’t compare its own energy and its own purpose with any other. And so in that sense the symbol of any element in the created universe, any living element, each one of which is fundamentally indifferent to the others,… maybe it is deeply aware of the others but in order to live it has to be indifferent, because it has to prey on them and devour them to live on.

And also, the hawk represents a natural world in that the natural, the living world, the animal kingdom which are the bird, the fish, insect, the whole biological kingdom, is unaware of death. Only man knows of death, knows beforehand of death. Animals only know of death when they are beginning to die and even then maybe they don’t know the process. That was my meaning.

And the hawk, in the early phases of writing it out, I had in my mind the notion of the Egyptian Horus, who was the hawk… who was the rising sun; so he was the sun in its positive phase, so he was the first original living energy in its positive phase. But that means a very destructive phase… [Interruption].

AH: In Wodwo what is your quest? What are you searching for? In the ‘Author’s Note’ there you say that the verse and the prose are ‘parts of a single work’, ‘chapters of a single adventure’. Would you please elaborate?

TH: I suppose I am searching for what everybody is searching for… I am searching for myself, searching for ways to confront myself. Because in the West,… I don’t know how it is in the East, because your whole culture is so deeply different, and your psychology is so deeply different, because of your religion, long history, different spiritual background… but in the West, our history has resulted in a psychology where human beings very easily lose touch with themselves.

Sounds ridiculous, of course, but it is the condition of most Westerners that they are no longer in touch with their real self, their own selves, and it is everybody’s task in the West, and I suppose in the world actually, but, certainly it’s an acute cultural preoccupation in the West, it is the business of confronting what really matters with your self, what really matters. And it is so easy to evade that, because we’ve no religious system that brings us face to face with that culturally. We have to do it ourselves, every man on his own. So it is most easy to avoid it, and find some way of life where you just simply never confront the problems that are really the basis of your own mind.

AH: Please tell me something about your poetic technique in Crow, about your method of working in poem cycles or poem - sequences.

TH: Yes, well, it’s just a method.

AH: It’s a method, but the poems are independent, yet it seems they are somehow related, doesn’t it? Why is it so?

TH: It was originally a story. That book is really just a fragment. I had the idea of a much longer story - the whole story is much fuller, longer and those are just pieces picked out here and there in the adventure.

The whole story is more like a… My model was really The Conference of the Birds, you know, the Attar poem - that book by the Sufi poet… I’d a notion of a journey of that kind in the background, of a creature that starts out, like one of the birds in The Conference of the Birds, separated from everything, just a creature with no attribute whatsoever except the will to keep searching. And then I was to take him through all his adventures, through the Seven Valleys until he found himself.

In this story of The Conference of the Birds, the birds search for themselves, they find the Simurg, the thirty birds, they find themselves. And that was the notion, the large notion, the quest behind.

But this search for himself in my story was more developed in the sense that in finding himself he was looking for his Creator, he was looking for who’d created him… and in searching for who’d created him he had to first of all find himself and then he would have found who’d created him, that there would be the understanding, the enlightenment for who’d created him. And the evidence that accumulates through his adventures is that he’s been created by just a female, that maybe he was created by his mother, or maybe he was created by the universe which is in a sense female, by a goddess, Mother Goddess, or what does it mean? She may be the [object of the] quest… that is the quest.

It’s a poem where the protagonist discovers that the universe that he exists in, and not necessarily we exist in, but he exists in, is a feminine universe.

AH: So is the theme in the Cave Birds… ?

TH: I suppose Cave Birds is really not unlike that. Cave Birds goes through… again a little adventure… where the protagonist who is a Crow, a kind of Crow, kind of raven, is judged for his mistakes, his sins and his mistakes, and his sins are in the form of cockerels and chickens. So it’s as if the Crow was full of a sinning cockerel, a sinning foolish chicken. He is judged by owls, he is taken in the underworld, is judged in the underworld by the owls, the eagles and falcons and then having confessed all his sins he is executed, and then he goes into the underworld where he is judged and once he’s confronted again himself, he is reborn as a falcon.

So he begins as a Crow, he goes through the phase of being a foolish cockerel, he’s judged and executed for that, he goes into the underworld where he is judged in the underworld, in a sort of a Hall of Judgement, where he is judged by the owls and the eagles and having encountered himself and purged himself of his sins, he is resurrected as a falcon. That’s the story, that’s the outline.

AH: Please comment on the expanding, beautiful verse of Gaudete. On the other hand, your verse in Cave Birds is very concentrated, compact. I particularly like the exuberant verse of Gaudete.

TH: The poems at the end?

AH: The poems at the end, well, they are very, you know, very concentrated, precise, almost esoteric, but, well, sometimes, I can’t interpret the meaning. There is a female goddess, who, it seems, you offer obeisance to…

TH: Well, it’s again a story of the hero that he is an ordinary…

AH: A story of transformation or metamorphosis? A changeling?

TH: Yes, the real hero is a minister, a Christian, a minister in the Christian religion. He is carried away into the other world by the spirits to heal the queen of the world of spirits. The basis of it in England was a story of a legendary poet in Scotland who was carried away by the fairies, to heal the queen of the fairies. And he disappears for seven years; well, that’s a combination actually… two-three references are there… and he disappears in the underworld for seven years. And I combined that with another suggestion that while he was away in the underworld, the spirits filled his place in the real world with a substitute, an exact replica made out of a log, but to human beings, to all his men. to all his acquaintances, to be the same man alive.

And so that changeling, made by the spirits or the fairies, out of the log of wood, tries to carry on the work of the Christian minister, and he knows vaguely and dimly that this man’s work is the gospel of love. So he interprets this at the crudest level, and he proceeds to seduce all the women of the neighbourhood, for which, eventually, the husbands, and the men of the neighbourhood, hunt him to death and kill him. And so the changeling is destroyed.

And really the whole story is run parallel to the life of the real man in the other world who is healing the queen of the spirits. And this real man suddenly finds himself back on earth, far away in the West of Ireland, and he’s no idea of really what’s happened to him, he’s like a man, like Rip Van Winkle, come back from some other world and he’s writing these strange little poems to this strange female. And I modelled those poems because I was enormously excited at that time by the translations of Tamil Vacanas1.

AH: I see…

TH: And so they were my version of Tamil Vacanas, not actual Vacanas, but my own contribution to an English tradition of Tamil Vacanas.

AH: I see. I see.

TH: There is one wonderful collection… translations… in English [of Tamil Vacanas]2.

AH: Please elaborate a little about the process of psychic birth, death and rebirth which seems to be the theme of many of your later volumes, particularly Crow, Gaudete and Cave Birds.

TH: I think they may be just themes that happen to appear there, because they are part of a whole lot of materials that interested me. But, you know, like many another poets, I see the whole problem that poetry works at, one of the great problems that poetry works at is to renew life, renew the poet’s own life and, by implication, renew the life of the people, if they can respond to the way he has done it for himself. And because the tendency of life is to use itself up and encrust itself with an alter ego which imprisons life… this happens very quickly and the inner life then has to somehow break down that crust of ego and be renewed, and so it’s a process, really, of the death of what is restraining the new life that is there, and the birth, really the rebirth, of the life that’s been smothered. So I think in the work of many poets you can see that as the recurrent basic theme of their successive works.

It’s very easy to see, for instance, in the works of Shakespeare where every play, and certainly every tragedy, as he grows older and becomes more serious, every tragedy can be interpreted as an effort of some new tremendous surge of power and feeling to break down an enclosing mistake. And the tragedies are composed of the disastrous circumstance that in breaking down what seems to be the fixed, circumstances that estrange it, he also kills what’s most precious to him; it is part of the shape of the tragedies that each play has a figure who goes mad with passion and breaks up something; and that is the vitality of the play, the play as an oeuvre; that he’s killed something that is most precious to him, that made it all balanced in the process. It’s as though he’s gone mad, overbalanced and exhausted himself, and the whole thing is built up again, and he has to do it again, and he has to do it again, and each of the tragedies does it again. And then eventually, in the later tragedies he finds a way of salvaging this, this, the thing that he loves, he finds out a way, not killing the woman, keeping her alive, seeming to kill her but then it turns out that she hasn’t been killed.

AH: You referred to the last poems of Gaudete. Do you attach any particular importance to those poems?

TH: No, but I like them. I’m not sure that it’s a form that has a real context in English. So, in a way it was experimental to that extent, but I feel that maybe among English readers of English literature in general, it is a little bit without context because its context is in fact Goddess religions, in particular, the Indian mystical experience. So it is without context in English literature. So I don’t know whether it’s a form that one can develop within English, because it isn’t natural for English. I wish it were.

AH: In Season Songs, Moortown, Remains of Elmet and River, you have been able to reveal what I may describe as the beauty and vitality, the glory and the power of flowers, insects and animals. In a post-industrial or highly industrialized, materialistic-rationalistic civilization, what hope do you have about the creativity or the creative power of nature?

TH: From being very young, I lived very much in the country, and was preoccupied with animals and fish and birds, and, well, that was my life, that was the only thing I was interested in. Then, although I lived in rather an industrial part of England, that is South Yorkshire, right in the coal belt… in Poetry in the Making I talked about it… but then I moved away and all kinds of things happened and so on. And I wrote about other things and I got interested [in other things]; well, my interest took me to another direction away from that natural world that I’d grown up in. Although obviously I still used it but I didn’t use it directly… I only used it as a sort of a source of metaphors and language.

But then in the seventies I felt… I was then over forty… I felt that I’d missed it out. You know it was as though I looked around and thought: why have I been neglecting this? And so then for a few years I just wrote about it directly, you know, just for myself, just to write poems about things that I loved and that excited me in that world, just simple, direct poems, because I felt I’d left it out. And I just wanted to reclaim it again, bring it back into my life. And also at that time I was farming and so I was immersed in that world anyway.

And then gradually, you know, I felt I’d reabsorbed it, I’d renewed myself, I’d reclaimed it in a sense and renewed my own relationship with it. And then because I’d engaged myself to do certain books, you know, I’d engaged myself to do a book with Fay Godwin’s photographs about South Yorkshire, I’d engaged myself to do a book about rivers with the photographs of a friend of mine, I’d engaged myself to do a book about flowers and insects with a friend of mine who is a painter and a draughtsman and he wanted me to do a book about flowers and insects and I said, yes, I’ll write some poems about flowers and insects, and that’s the way these books happened.

But in a sense, I feel that they were sort of marginal. Necessary, but marginal. For what really interests me, I think, what really interests me, is something else.

AH: But, you know, I have read somewhere some critics who say that you should proceed along those lines, that is, writing simple, direct nature poems, instead of the mythical poems.

TH: Yes, but you have to remember that the critics you’re speaking about are English. They wouldn’t be said by Americans. I don’t know American critics could say that. I think they must be English. And within your own country, as you know, in Bangladesh, I’m sure, it’s the same; whatever work you try to do, everybody tries to stop you - it’s - that’s a law of writing [laughs]; every writer’s impression is that everybody else is trying to stop him writing what he’s writing and telling him to write something else, telling him to write what they want him to write, as though you should have sent your pages along to them and said, please write my poems for me before I could publish them. And it’s very like that in England.

AH: So you think that these books are marginal?

TH: In my own sense. But others, readers, may not think so. Well, everybody has a taste. And whatever certain readers and reviewers may say about my interest in mythology and folklore and religious literature and so on, it is the thing that interests me more than anything else. It’s what I want to incorporate and it’s the thing that I enjoy working with. It’s the thing that seems to me to give me most access to what I want to express and so I [shrugs] really don’t care what they think.

AH: Do you think poetry has a role to play in society?

TH: I think poetry is the psychological component of the auto-immune system, right? So you have the physical auto-immune system and in stress, in any stress, in any disaster, in any grief or mourning or just simply the stress of life, just the day-to-day biological response to the problems of your life, your immune system is in constant activity to repair the effect of this on your own body, on your own system. Your whole chemistry of your body is constantly under bombardment from external things, and your immune system is constantly repairing and renewing it. And that is a physical component of that which is actually a chemical process. But it seems to me that there is also a psychological component of it. And the psychological component is the strange business that we call Art… and poetry is simply the verbal form of that process. That’s what I feel.

AH: You studied Anthropology and Archaeology at Cambridge. Have they in any way shaped your poetic attitude?

TH: I studied Anthropology and Archaeology because I was interested in Anthropology and Archaeology. I was already interested in it. So what shaped my poetic attitude, as you say, maybe because what made me interested in Anthropology and Archaeology. In other words, I was interested in other cultures, simple as that, other cultures, in a life in other cultures; I suppose I was interested in that.

AH: Are you in any way influenced by the contemporary socio-cultural events in England, say the counter-culture movement of ’the swinging sixties’?

TH: You know, I was only thirty years in the swinging sixties. The effect on England of the swinging sixties was to be… it was really when the government was far Left. And the effect was to give confidence to everything in England that was Left. So the effect was to give confidence to a whole range of social energies and voices that had been excluded from cultural expression, really, at all previous times, because that was the first time since the Education Act, just after the War, what used to be called the working classes, and who from the Education Act onwards, began to infiltrate and move into higher education. It was the first time they’d been given the confidence of their voices. And so it had the effect of releasing a great deal that had never been released in England. And it released good and bad. It released that whole range of expression from a part of society that before had hardly spoken. And that lasted maybe into the mid-seventies.

And then the drift back to the Right began, and you could see it in reviews, in every expression of the cultural - sort of disciplinary… controls of how people responded to literature and art and expressions and so on. You could see that as if it swung to the Right, it returned to a repressive situation, as far as those voices were concerned, and they gradually disappeared from expression and were replaced by the old voices of… what’s too simple to call… the Right. But they were replaced basically by those cultural values that existed in England before the War.

And so the swinging sixties can be seen, I think, as a moment when, quite suddenly, the Left and all that world which corresponded to the Left, that world which had never really attained expression in England, suddenly had the liberty to express itself and the confidence to express itself… it’s a matter of confidence… that had somehow been given the confidence because the Government was Left.

And I don’t know whether I was affected by that or not. You must, one must be affected by that kind of broad movement in the community you live in, you have to be affected by it. And it made many things possible which later became difficult, as I think you can see it in many writers. And that whether it affected me, I don’t know. I don’t know, I really don’t know because I didn’t take part in pop music, I was never able to respond to pop music.

AH: But you were interested in, you know, in mystic cults etc…

TH: Yes, but I was interested in the mystic cults in 1948.

AH: ’48!

TH: Yes, I mean I began reading those texts of religious values at 14, 15, 16…

AH: You have on various occasions referred, to Shamanism, Sufism and Tibetan Buddhism, particularly The Tibetan Book of the Dead. You have reviewed Idries Shah’s The Sufis and Eliade’s Shamanism. In a poem in Wodwo you’ve mentioned the Cabala. Why are you interested in these mystic cults?

TH: Yes, well I was making… I was invited by a Chinese musician to make an oratorio of the Tibetan Book of the Dead in 1959, long before the swinging sixties had got going, and before that I knew the Bardo Thodol quite well. I mean I studied this at the University when I was 20. That whole popular interest in these things, Sufism and so on, that became general in the sixties, was just something that happened. They happened. It amazed me that all these people should be interested in things without my private curiosity. [Interruption].

Well, what were we talking about? I think I’ve more or less answered that.

AH: You were talking about the Chinese musician who met you in 1959.

TH: Yes, I was writing the script to produce the Bardo Thodol as a dance oratorio. But then I’ve been interested in Shamanism since I was seventeen or eighteen. I was surprised when all these became very popular in the sixties. When I first studied it, you couldn’t buy these books, you could only find them in old libraries, they were very difficult to find. Then quite suddenly they were best sellers. In the sixties they became best sellers… yes, I was amazed. But… I kept separate from it, really, because I was… I didn’t have carried on as I had before, but inevitably, as I say, you are…

The fact was that everybody was interested in these things mainly… that lots of people understood more or less what I was writing about, because a lot of that [was] what I had always been interested in. Inevitably, something of that was in what I wrote; and suddenly there was a generation that had some idea of what I was writing about, whereas the generation as far as of now, doesn’t. They don’t know anything of these things. Because all that world of interest in Sufis, in Eastern mysticism or primitive mysticism, has now again become the curiosity of the specialists. It’s no longer the general sort of reading of the average student or even the reasonably literate student or even the student of literature. They are not interested in those things.

AH: No, my point is whether there is any influence in Wodwo, of, for instance, mysticism. You refer to the Cabala there.

TH: Yes, who knows, yes, presumably, presumably. I became very interested in the Cabala, long ago. These things inevitably appear in what you write, because they’re what you think about.

AH: Please tell me something about your method of working in myths. You rework old myths and often create new myths. Why do you find myths or the mythic method so useful for your poetic purpose?

TH: Well, I’m just interested in mythology… I’m just interested. I’ve always been interested in folklore, in ballads, that sort of thing. As soon as I read that sort of thing as I read novels, it just simply interests me and it’s been always like that since I was a boy. And so in my writing, I suppose, I’ve seen ways of finding forms of expression out of my familiarity with that mythical world, with that world of story-making, that kind of metaphysics, as the kind of way my mind now works. I’ve been saturated in it so long, and I suppose, one could say, maybe, that kind of mythical style of things creeps occasionally into things I’ve written; but never deliberately, I’ve not particularly created the mythology or anything else of that sort.

And I don’t particularly want to use mythology, you know, to take this myth and turn it into that work. If there’s anything mythical and so on into what I write, I want it to be something that I just find in… out of my own psychology. And I really never give it, fit it back into any particular, previous, established, mythological, fake context. I don’t want to do that, I don’t want anybody to need to know some particular mythology before he can understand of what I’m talking about. So really I’m talking about mythical kind of idea, mythical kind of thinkers which I like, and so I suppose that appears there. But the actual use of different myths for that purpose is not the way I work.

AH: But do you find myths convenient for your purpose?

TH: Well, obviously, I make reference to those mythical types of figures…

AH: But they are your own creations?

TH: They are my own creations, yes. As soon as you start referring to other people’s mythology you become merely… I suppose… you know, obviously one does that occasionally, because that’s part of everybody’s culture. I recently wrote a piece about a Jewish myth, a very precise, early myth about the demon goddess Lilith and the sister-goddess Mahomot. And that was a very specific story that provided a very specific image for something I wanted to write about a very specific situation. I didn’t want to write about the myth, I wanted to use that myth just to give myself distance from a particular situation that I wanted to write about.

Well, that’s an instance of using a specific old Hebrew myth, O.K.? That I’m not talking about the myth, I’m talking about the modern situation and merely using the myth to conceal the fact that it’s a modern situation, and using it as a screen, not as a way of making a poem mythical. That was something that I could not have written about in immediate terms. And in that, in cases like that, maybe, you can use the art, mythical ideas or curiosity, as you might use the life of Pedro or you know, the death of Goethe as an idea, maybe as an image, as a mythical idea, use them simply as an image, what T.S. Eliot called an ’objective correlative’, give you just an image, as the outline of a fable.

AH: What is your attitude to your contemporaries like Larkin, Gunn, Wain, Amis or the Movement poets?

TH: Well, they were really… we call them Movement poets, they were the last wave of the regular English poetry as it had been through the century before the sixties, before that wave of the sixties. And in a way that volume called the Movement3 was a sort of last stand, a defiant last stand to affirm the values represented in that collection, which are values of a fixed metric, a fixed and disciplined, traditional metric with tight rhyme, regular iambics, fixed verse forms and so on, and a sort of discursive, ironic treatment of the material. Understated, discursive, ironic, very rational, yes, very sober, very English. And there were very good poets among them.

But it was really the last moment before everything suddenly became very free for a few years, and then chaos entered the English Literature, it entered via American literature, via European literature, and then for ten-fifteen years, anything went. And then gradually those values, as I say, reasserted themselves. They reasserted themselves in slightly different forms, slightly freer forms really, slightly freer external forms, but in spirit they’re the same; they’re the same, of particular mood, and discursive, basically discursive. Maybe they replaced the kind of deliberate placing of imagery rather than a deliberate and ordered placing of argument, but basically the principle of rational restraint is the same.

AH: But you are completely different from them?

TH: Well, I am. I just… I suppose, I just absorbed all kinds of things wherever I felt that I could adjust it or I could use it or, you know, gave me something that I could make my own. And I don’t feel particularly hostile to these poets. I like a lot in all. I’m a great admirer of Larkin, Thom Gunn. Gunn, I think, he’s a wonderful poet.

AH: Gunn was often associated with you.

TH: Yes, he was, because we were in the University at the same time and we were both published by Faber and Faber at the same time… and we’ve always been friends; but our poetry is very different. But I do like his work very much, I like his mind.

AH: Who among the recent, younger poets do you think are close to the universe of your poetry? Who do you think are the most promising poets among the younger generation?

TH: That’s very difficult to say. I make a rule of saying nothing about the younger or the living, if possible, nothing about the living. I’ve lived long enough to know that every remark you make about a living person makes enemies. I don’t mind making enemies [laughs], but why make more than I already have?

AH: [Laughing] No, no, but they sometimes can make friends also.

TH: Yes they can make friends. But when you say he is a wonderful poet, everybody else feels insulted [laughs heartily].

AH: Right; so you would refrain from making any comment on this. But do you think your poetry has a therapeutic role to play in our contemporary materialistic-rationalistic society?

TH: I don’t know whether it’s any role to play at all, I don’t have any thoughts about that.

AH: But you might have some purpose behind writing these poems?

TH: No, my purpose in writing poems is to satisfy that strange sort of impulse one has to write; what is that impulse I don’t know. I certainly don’t have any idea of writing for some purpose, or for some social purpose, not at all.

AH: No, it may not be any direct social purpose, but…

TH: Well, it’s the same. If anybody finds any use in them, that’s something else. But it’s not any particular use that I put there.

AH: But don’t you think that the materialistic-rationalistic situation is rather crippling our souls?

TH: Yes, I do, yes, yes, I would like to see the West completely injected by the East, I would like it… to see it completely suffused by the East. I think what the West needs is a lot of the spirit of the East. That’s why I think during the sixties there was an enormous thirst for Eastern things. Because we know that the whole world, the whole spiritual world, on which the East still floats in many different ways and forms and so on… from extreme fundamentalism to philosophical mysticism… nevertheless, there is an easy acceptance throughout Eastern society that existence is based on spiritual things.

And in the West, you see, that’s gone. And the misery and unhappiness of the West under its apparent prosperity is a misery that everybody lives in. It’s a deep unhappiness that every individual Westerner lives in. And they know that no matter how much they have, they don’t have the important thing which is to be happy, and they know what they are lacking is something, some sort of spiritual foundation. They know that they are lacking it because that’s what human beings are, need; they know that they’ve been cut off from it. But they don’t know how to find it. They do not find it in man. They don’t want it in that religion, because that is too narrowing and dogmatic and crippling; they don’t want it in that religion because that was too this, or that religion becomes too that. They want some invented new spiritual reality that hasn’t been discovered. And so the whole thing is a search and search and search… . And they feel that it’s there in the East, maybe, maybe, there’s something to be learnt there, but they don’t know what. Maybe they should bring it again, invent it again out of themselves, but they don’t know how.

AH: What do you mean by this ‘spirit of the East’?

TH: Well, I think it is that the Western society is basically materialist and Eastern society basically isn’t materialist. Even though it’s adopting very rapidly technology and science and so on, it’s giving out its spiritual foundation with great reluctance. And maybe the East will find some way of making all these things live together. Why not? Why should science remove one’s sense of spiritual existence? It shouldn’t. There’s no necessity for it. It’s just… it’s all a case of reinventing your idea of God, you know, because the old notion of the Christian God fizzled out and was discredited by science. They think that’s gone, the whole thing… the whole thing disappeared with it.

AH: Can I ask one textual question, please? What is the idea of the first two poems of Crow? What do you wish suggest by these?

TH: The first two, where I talk about the ‘Lineage’? Well, that’s a kind of… that’s just a sort of scanning cartoon.

AH: Cartoon!

TH: As far as I remember, yes, about that; just a way of locating, you know, the material, an early attempt to locate the material, nothing more than that.

AH: O.K. thank you. When are you leaving Bangladesh?

TH: Friday.

AH: Do you have any plan to come to India, to Calcutta?

TH: Yes. I do. But I don’t know when. Let’s see.

AH: I mean not immediately? Not in the near future?

TH: No, this is really an unusual amount of travel for me.

AH: No, I thought that since you are in Dhaka, and Calcutta is half an hour’s journey from here, you may -

TH: No, I should have been back in London tonight.

AH: What are you writing at the moment? We have seen your What is the Truth? and nothing more after that.

TH: Well, they’ve published a book of mine this year.

AH: I haven’t seen it yet.4

TH: Now what is the idea of What is the Truth? It is that in spite of the fact that everything on earth gets such a bad time, all the animals, all the birds and fish on earth have a difficult time from man, because he kills them, or he fights them, he enslaves them, he eats them… this is apart from the fact that they are killing them each other and eating as well, of course. Nevertheless, that doesn’t alter the fact that they are all part of the great Creative Idea. And at the end of the story, God’s Son, nevertheless, having heard what’s happened to all the animals, walks down into the earth, into the world to join men where he will also be killed and eaten.

AH: And do you like to make any comment on River, particularly?

TH: No, nothing to say about that except that they’re just poems about memories of rivers, you know, that I’ve [seen].

AH: Thank you very much, Mr. Hughes.


1. The Vacanas are devotional free-verse lyrics, composed in Kannada, one of the major South Indian languages, and not in Tamil.

2. Hughes perhaps refers to Speaking of Siva, an anthology of vacanas translated with an Introduction by A. K Ramanujan, (London: Penguin Books, 1973).

3. Perhaps Hughes had in mind New Lines, Robert Conquest, ed. (1956; rpt. London: Macmillan, 1962).

4. This book, Wolfwatching, became available for study soon after the interview.

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