The Energies and the Inner World

Ted Hughes consistently represented the creative process as a way of capturing the inner world of the artist. “You only write the poetry you find in yourself”, he once said1. And in 1976, when questioned about the aims of the Arvon Foundation2, he spoke of the need to let young people experience the way in which writing can lead them “into the world of perceptions and understanding which art attempts to express … a very big world – the world of those who in every age attempt to explore and express the human spirit”3.

Similarly, in his Foreword to a book by John Moat and John Fairfax (initiators of the Arvon Foundation courses), Hughes wrote of literature as “a living organism, part of the human organism, something which embodies the psychological record of this drama of being alive, something which articulates and illuminates the depth and range and subtlety of being human”4.

The inner world of the human organism is the world of our instincts, feelings and imagination, and it is “closer [to us] than the outer world, more decisive, and utterly different” (ME–2.85). Yet, Hughes believed that it is an area of our experience from which we are becoming increasingly alienated.

In two related but different essays published in 1970 and 1976, and both entitled ‘Myth and Education’, Hughes dealt at length with the inner world, and with the divisive influence that Platonic rationalism has had on our perceptions and beliefs5. He argued persuasively that “three hundred years of rational enlightenment” based on the analytical, deductive methods of Plato, have taught us to divide all human experience into two categories – objective, verifiable ‘facts’, which are valued; and subjective, unverifiable data, which is not (ME–1.56). Such a division, he believed, is artificial and damaging. It places too much emphasis on Mankind’s rational abilities, channels all our attention passively and objectively towards the outer world, and disconnects us from the experiences of our own bodies – from our inner worlds. This passive objectivity, Hughes wrote,

is a scientific ideal. And it is a powerful ideal, it has created the modern world. And without it the modern world would fall to pieces: infinite misery would result. The disaster is, that it is heading straight towards infinite misery, because it has persuaded human beings to identify themselves with what is no more than a narrow mode of perception (ME–2.87).

Excluded from this “narrow mode”of rational perception is everything which is subjective, non–rational, and instinctive. Yet Hughes believed, as Blake did, that the promptings of our inner worlds of instinct and feeling should not be ignored: that through these, aided by our imagination, we have access to other, very different, knowledge which is as important as that obtained through our five senses. As Blake wrote:

Mans perceptions are not bound by organs of perception; he perceives more than sense (tho’ ever so acute) can discover (There is No Natural Religion. Pl.[b]I).

Yet, the imaginative faculty, through which we receive many of these non–sensory perceptions, has itself been subjected to the divisive test of rationality. Because our imagination is essentially personal and unquantifiable, we have been taught to regard most of its functions as irrational – rather than simply non–rational. To the extent that imagination enables us to recall to the ‘mental–eye’ images of objects and events we have encountered in the physical world, and to make practical, rational predictions about that world, it is accepted. But all of those imaginative perceptions which are based on instinct and feeling are viewed with suspicion; and a whole world of knowledge which was once essential to the survival of our species is seen as dangerously imprecise and, therefore, valueless. Rationality and objectivity have become the only criteria for knowledge, despite the fact that “a detached, passively recording attitude, is of no use whatsoever when it comes to dealing with our own minds and hearts. It is useless in the most vital activity of all. The activity of understanding ourselves” (ME–1.57).

Compounding this error of perception, Hughes argued, Western society has brought rational scepticism and scientific objectivity to bear on its spiritual beliefs and has found them wanting. Religion, which once legitimised the inner spiritual world and “embraced and humanised the archaic energies of instinct and feeling” (ME–2.90), was first distorted by “puritanism, and the puritanical outlook”(ME–1.69), which alienated people from their natural emotions and instincts, and is now rejected by scientific rationalism. So, we have devalued the ancient beliefs, rituals and stories which once gave meaning, shape and importance to the inner world, and which “had conversed in simple but profound terms with the forces struggling inside people, and had civilised them, or attempted to”.

And so, denied the expression and control which religion allowed it, the inner world has become “elemental, chaotic, continually more primitive and beyond our control … a place of demons”, a place from which we are cut off because we no longer have any acceptable means of receiving and interpreting its signals (ME–2.90).

Pride in our own rational abilities has distorted our perceptions, immobilised our imagination, and cut us off from that part of our own being which is most closely concerned with the natural energies which we share with all living things. It has given us a false sense of our own ability to control ourselves and the world around us. And it has produced what Hughes called a “chronically sick society” (ME–1.60) in which the prevailing morality is passively inhuman, egotistical and neurotic.

Hughes wrote that there is “no question of reversing the trend, abandoning science”, but his artistic purpose was always to use imagination and the creative arts to re–establish the connection between our inner and outer worlds (ME–1.60). He believed that art not only expresses the human spirit, it also has the power to reconcile the divisions we have made and to demonstrate that the laws of our divided worlds “are not contradictory at all; they are one all–inclusive system”(ME–2.92). He also believed that these laws are the laws of human nature and, in restating them, great works of art display a pattern of struggle which is imaginatively recognisable and provide us with a “formula that reconciles everything, and balances every imbalance”(ME–2.92).

Myth, in particular, impressed Hughes with its power to restate the laws of human nature. He described it as “tribal dreams of the highest order of inspiration and truth, at their best”. And, because of the common patterns and the vivid images which myth embodies, he saws it as “an archive of draft plans” on which the imagination can work and through which we can better understand and reconcile the conflicting energies with which we live (ME–2.93).

Hughes’ faith in the imaginative healing power of myth was based, in part, on his knowledge of Ancient Greek, Sufi, and Hermetic philosophies and practices. For each of these groups, ritual story–telling had (and for Sufis and Hermeticists still has) an important educative, spiritual and psychological purpose, being deliberately used to cause imaginative change in the listener and, thereby, to alter that person’s ideas, beliefs and understanding. Such ritual story–telling, and the power to stimulate imaginative alterations, needs to be carefully controlled, because, in a completely imaginative way, the story works on all parts of our nature, and it’s impossible to know finally what its influences are.(ME–1.67).

For this reason, the knowledge and skill of the story–teller and his or her ability to control the ‘magical’ effects of the chosen story are of utmost importance. And the story–teller’s own understanding of the inner world from which the imaginative impetus comes is essential.

Traditionally, especially in societies which have no written history, the story–teller is an individual who preserves and passes on the accumulated, and often sacred, knowledge of the group. Hughes, writing of our own literary heritage, called it “the sacred book of the tribe”, something which “enshrines our deepest knowledge of ourselves” and which carries the “national soul6. The story–teller, therefore, is vital to the tribe’s identity, continuity, and spiritual well–being.

Traditionally, too, the special wisdom and skill of the story–teller’s art is learned only through constant and disciplined effort. In this learning task, myth and legend are important not only for their effects on the listener, but also because the common pattern of their themes offers valuable guidance to the story–teller, suggesting the most fruitful paths that may be followed and indicating the accumulated ‘truths’ of many societies.

In the common thematic patterns of world myth, and of the traditional stories of many cultural groups, Hughes traced the outline of the heroic quest – the epic journey towards enlightenment and healing which imaginatively extends our vision beyond the confines of the ordinary world. This epic journey has, he suggested, three historically familiar forms, with religious quest as the most civilised form, and heroic epic as the barbaric form, and the shaman’s dream of his flight as the prototypical and, as it were, biological form,7.

All three of these epic forms can be found enmeshed in Hughes’ own story–telling sequences; and myth and epic can be seen to play a fundamental part in his life and work. He drew on the well–known mythological and religious literature of our own culture (often by means of the allusive power of a single significant word) to stimulate the imagination of his readers and to put them in touch with their inner worlds. He used myth as a framework on which to build his longer poetic sequences, being guided and guiding his readers by its patterns, and personally traversing the paths of the hero in the process. And, increasingly, he used the ritual aspects of myth and story–telling to control the energies released by his own poetic, shamanic flights, putting himself through the shamanic journey in order to find, and return with, some powerful healing energies.

For Hughes, poetry itself was a shamanic journey. In his prose writing, in introductions to poetry readings, and in interviews, he constantly connected poetry and myth with shamanism, emphasising the healing, regenerative, magical power of each. Poetry is a vehicle for our inner life, an expression of our inner energies, and in the great narrative poems, epics and sagas, it records the shamanic journey to the underworld, the shaman’s ‘Heroic Quest’ which is “one of the main regenerating dramas of the human psyche: the fundamental poetic event8. But it is not the narrative, or the language or the style of the poetry which are important: “You choose a subject because it serves, because you need it” and– the narrative is “just a way of getting a big body of energy moving along a track9. Hughes’ fundamental concern was with the energy itself, and with the universal cosmic force which he believed controls the death/rebirth cycles that pattern events in this world. He saw this force most clearly expressed in the world of Nature, which is “what we have to live in, what we are part of, what we grow out of”(ME–1.69), and it is to Nature that he most frequently turns, both imaginatively and literally, for inspiration and renewal.

Over the years, Hughes dealt with Nature in a variety of ways. In particular, Nature is present in his work as the Triple Goddess – Bride, Mother and Hag: the Goddess of Creation, Fertility and Death – who is the Goddess of Nature. Keith Sagar, in The Art of Ted Hughes, traced the pathways of the Goddess as, in her various forms, she threads her way through Hughes’ poetic work. There is no doubt that she plays a central role, both in the form of ever present natural forces and as the source of the many powerful, and often threatening, female figures in Hughes’ poems. In addition, Hughes’ use of Nature was directed, as Sagar suggests, towards the restoration of Blakean ‘four–fold vision’ and of the holistic perception that we have lost through rationalism and pride10. Whilst the parallels between Blake and Hughes are very evident in their shared belief in the power of imagination to achieve spiritual renewal, and in the similarity of their concern for the destructive forces of war, industry and religion, Hughes’ depiction of the natural world is quite different to that of Blake. Hughes’ descriptions are precise and vividly sensual: the images and symbols which he uses most powerfully are those which derive directly from his own experience; and his creatures have a characteristic energy even whilst they serve symbolic purposes. So, whilst Blake’s ‘Robin Red breast’ remains un–described in its cage waiting for Heaven's “Rage” to redress such wrongs (‘Auguries of Innocence’, Lines 5–6, The “Pickering” MS.) Hughes summons his caged animals into being so that we see their beauty and feel the powerful energies they embody and the barely suppressed violence which threatens their human keepers.

The Energies themselves, Hughes undoubtedly saw as a form of spiritual energy. Not the narrow formalised version of spiritual energy which is the concern of such rigid forms of religion as that of which Hughes wrote so scathingly in ‘Mount Zion’ (THCP.480), and with which he dealt at length in his ‘Note’ to A Choice of Shakespeare’s Verse: but the great range of cosmic energies of which we are sometimes aware, and which Hughes saw as underlying many of our imaginative and spiritual endeavours. These are the energies which are frequently exemplified in Hughes’ poetry by the cyclic life/death patterns of Nature.

Hughes believed very strongly that people, like other animals, have access to these energies: that buried deep in all living things is something which he once called “The luminous spirit (maybe he is a crowd of spirits), that takes account of everything and gives everything its meaning”. His apprehension of this ‘being’ is of something living “somewhere at the core of us – strange, beautiful, pathetic, terrible”; something which is “a truth under all the truths” and which “opens a door to a world of spirit – nothing else, it simply opens a door. and that other world is present. And it is as if the whole of Creation were suddenly present”11.

Hughes’ view of this universal spirit energy was not simple. It encompassed the sort of psychic spiritualism which Yeats experienced, Hughes’ own vivid dreams and the animals which he regards as his shamanic guides, and some of the most profound and widespread religious beliefs in the world, amongst which Alchemy and the oriental philosophies have been particularly influential in shaping his work. He spoke of it as Nature, the Goddess, Pan, and as an elemental demonic force. In his introduction to The Collected Prints of Leonard Baskin he described it as mana – the underlying force in nature, art and music; something which creates in us a paradoxical awareness of both horror and beauty: something which is “the core of life, like the black, ultimate resource of the organism12. Like Lorca’s Duende, it is “the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that we all know and all ignore, the mire that gives us the very substance of art13. And like Lorca, and also Nietzsche, Hughes saw the necessity of confronting this demonic, magical power which exists around and within us, and also the danger of suppressing it, since it is an essential part of our whole being. “Every man and every artist”, wrote Lorca, “whether he is Nietzsche or Cezanne, climbs each step in the tower of his perfection by fighting his duende”, for the Duende is

a mental wind blowing relentlessly over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents; a wind that smells of baby’s spittle, crushed grass, and jellyfish veil, announcing the constant baptism of newly created things14.

In Hughes’ words, Lorca’s Duende/energy is “a divine horror – a thunderbolt beautiful and terrible15.

The idea of the existence of some universal energy or power is as old as Mankind itself. For anthropologists it is the source of all the magical and religious beliefs and practices which people have developed over the centuries. Such ideas, however, are not confined to the realms of primitive thought, nor are they limited to any particular group of people, such as poets or musicians. In an attempt to quantify the spiritual aspect of human nature, Oxford Zoologist, Sir Alister Hardy, recorded the effects of “specific, deeply felt, transcendental experiences” as reported by a wide range of people, including children, atheists and agnostics. Such an experience, he found, “usually induces in the person concerned a conviction that there is another [non-physical] dimension to life16.

Sir Alister records, also, that in his research into spiritual experience, he found a strong link between transcendental experiences and aesthetic and creative activities. Prayer and meditation, natural beauty, literature and music, rate highly as “triggers” of spiritual experience. Similarly, Hughes wrote:

Some animals and birds express this being pure and without effort, and then you hear the whole desolate, final actuality of existence in a voice, a tone. There we recognise a spirit, a truth under all the truths. Far beyond human word … It is a spirit and it speaks to a spirit. Sometimes singers have this elemental, bottomless, impersonal, perfect quality, which seems open up to the whole Creation… Children acting sometimes have it, and it is the distinctive thing in the recorded chanting of religious texts, where they are distinctive at all, or in the recorded singing of primitive holy men17.

Hardy’s factual, statistical, and ‘scientific’ assessment of such subjective data appears to make the subject more ‘concrete’, and hence more acceptable in our rational, science–orientated world: but Hughes’ poetic descriptions of the same kind of experience offer a more immediate appreciation of its quality and impact.

Hughes’ belief in the power of music to trigger spiritual experience was of particular importance to his work. He was aware that from the earliest times music has been used by primitive people to promote trance and ecstatic states, and that it has always been an important part of religious ritual. He knew, too, that, since it is independent of language and seems not to be an attempt by man to imitate nature (in the way that Aristotle believed that literature and art were), philosophers have sometimes sought to explain its existence and its influence in terms of a direct link with the Universal Energies. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (whose works were familiar to Hughes) regarded music as the pure expression of the universal energy which they called ‘The Will’. In his essay, The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche wrote:

Language can never adequately render the cosmic symbolism of music, because music stands in symbolic relation to the primordial contradiction and primordial pain in the heart of the Primal Unity, and therefore symbolises a sphere which is beyond and before all phenomena. Rather are all phenomena, compared with it, merely symbols; hence language. as the organ and symbol of phenomena, can never, by any means, disclose the innermost heart of music18.

Acknowledging Schopenhauer’s description of the terrible awe which the rationally inexplicable arouses , Nietzsche wrote, also, of the ability of music to link man with the “Primal Unity” through the awakening of Dionysian ecstasy and “self–forgetfulness” which occurs in communal musical activity. “Under the charm of the Dionysian”, he wrote,

not only is the union between man and man reaffirmed, but Nature which has become estranged, hostile, or subjugated, celebrates once more her reconciliation with her prodigal son, man19.

Yet, despite his belief in the inadequacy of language to explain the powers of music, Nietzsche saw a close relationship between music, lyric poetry and drama, linking each with energies “which burst forth from nature herself, without the mediation of the human artist20. Music, however, he considered as the most fundamental and deeply significant of these arts. In poetry and drama, unlike music, other antithetical sub-conscious energies (which he called ‘Apollonian’) exert a controlling and shaping influence on the Dionysian energies, and he described the “dialectical resolution21 of these dual “art–impulses of nature22 as the source of the great artistic creations of Hellenic poetry and drama. Yet, whilst Nietzsche regarded the Apollonian and Dionysian energies as the necessary source of all works of art, it was the Dionysian energies, and in particular music, which he believed gave access “to the innermost heart of things23.

There are many similarities between Nietzsche’s view of the creative arts and those of Hughes who, in a 1962 book review, wrote of the close links between music and poetry: Poetry at its most primitive seems first to occur as a one–line chant of nonsense syllables in accompaniment to the rhythm of a stamping dance24. At the same time, he called primitive songs “power charms” or “tools” designed to control the spiritual energies in some way. Hughes also believed that "music holds the key" to those powerful energies which can be experienced through great works of art: and that "In all art, everything that isn’t the music rides on the music. Without that inner musicality of every particle, art ceases to do the work and have the effect and retain the name of art"25 . In an interview with Drew Heinze, Hughes spoke of "the magical healing power of art" and how, although prose narratives can carry this healing, "Poetry does it more intensely. Music maybe most intensely of all"26. And discussing his language, ‘Orghast’, in 1971, he spoke of music as being “mathematically precise but completely mysterious and open, giving access to a deeper world, closed to direct analysis27.

For Hughes, as for Nietzsche, the music which connects man with the Energies is made by the combination of words, rhythm, sound and sense, which can be achieved in poetry or poetic drama. So, in Gaudete, which is Hughes’ most thorough exploration of the Dionysian energies, music of every kind plays an important role. Early in this poetic drama, when Jennifer Estridge plays a Beethoven sonata, the music seems to be “Havocking polished, interior glooms” (G.41), and it deeply disturbs her father who finds it “Unmanageable and frightening”. He “Cannot interpret those atmospherics / And soundings and cries” and “he hears / Something final approaching. // An evil / Like his own creeping, death–dawn–emptiness fear”(G.42).

Gaudete Cover

This music, “Like a materialised demon” (G.44), brings in its wake havoc and death. Later, in one of the most horrifying episodes in Gaudete, the Reverend Lumb and the women of his parish enact a ritual in which “the pipe and drum music” controls them as if it is a “tight, shuddering, repetitive machine” in which Lumb and the women are “mechanical parts … fastened into it”. With his words Hughes recreates the powerful, throbbing, rhythms of the music: “A hobbling, nodding, four–square music, a goblin monotony,/ The women in a circle clapping to the tread of it . / Their hair dangles loose, their eyes slide oiled, their faces oiled with sweat / In the trundling treadmill of it”(G.139).

As the music becomes progressively more insistent, the Dionysian energies take over and run out of control until “Everything and everybody is moving / As if the music were the tumbling and boiling of a cauldron”. (G.145). Until, finally, in this trance-like, demonic scene, the powerful music climaxes in the ritual sacrifice of one of the women.

In his 1971 interview with Ekbert Faas, Hughes spoke of the dangers of releasing such Dionysian energies, even within his own poetry. Parts I and II of his poem, ‘Gog’ (THCP.161-4), for example, alarmed him so much, he said, that he wrote the poem about “the Red Cross Knight just to set against it with the idea of keeping it under control”28. He went on to explain in some detail his use of poetry as a means of both contacting and controlling the Universal Energies. Just as myth and religion provide a framework of ritual within which these energies can be experienced and explored in a controlled way, so Hughes used poetry as a carefully constructed ritual in which powerful symbols link the poet and the reader with the ‘elemental power circuit of the universe’. Thus, in Gaudete, as in much of his work, he uses his skill to shape his poetry and to provide the ‘Apollonian’, logical control over the universal force which is the subject and content of the work. From the point of view of Hughes’ own creative work, his most significant statement concerning the Energies is that he believed that “the sole original purpose of the sound and action of poetic drama was to engage that world [the world of spirit], open it, and act out its pressures and puzzle over its laws”(WP.125).

He repeatedly spoke of his belief in the power of poetry to tap the spiritual energies within us and to “express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are” (PIM.124); and of the poet’s ability to make contact with the greater energies of the universe of which we are only dimly aware.

Because of his beliefs, Hughes personally explored the Energies in a number of different ways. His book reviews show the breadth of his interests covering, as they do, such topics as drama, folklore, myth, Shamanism, Sufism, magic and poetry. Sylvia Plath, his first wife, wrote of his knowledge of Astrology and of their experiments with the ouija board as a source of inspiration for their poetry29 . And Hughes had sufficient knowledge of Buddhist thought to have written the libretto for an opera by the Chinese composer, Chou Wen-chung, based on the Bardo Thodol 30. Increasingly, however, Hughes was drawn towards the image of the poet as one who invokes the Energies through powerful symbols and makes them subservient to himself: one who, like a shaman, can use the Energies as “a cure, an answer, some sort of divine intervention in the community’s affairs”31.

Mircea Eliade, whose book on shamanism Hughes reviewed in 1964, describes the shaman as “indispensable in any ceremony which concerns the experiences of the human soul32, and Hughes, who studied anthropology and archaeology at Cambridge and had a wide knowledge of primitive peoples and their ideas, mythologies and rituals, increasingly adopted the role of poet/shaman, using shamanic techniques to pursue his healing purposes. Poetry, as he told to Faas, is a “record of just how the forces of the Universe try to redress some balance disturbed by man33. Poetry, therefore, was not just Hughes’ personal means of linking his own inner and outer worlds: it was an expression of the Universal Energies in action and, through its musical power and its power to stimulate the common human faculty of imagination, he used it as a means of channelling these healing energies to others.

In another respect, also, the role of poet/shaman had particular appeal for Hughes, since it combines the primitive and poetic ability to contact the subconscious mind with an awareness of the importance of dreams and symbols. In reviewing Mircea Eliade’s book on shamanism, he wrote:

The initiation dreams, the general schema of the shamanic flight, and the figures and adventures they encounter are not a shaman monopoly: they are, in fact, the basic experience of the poetic temperament we call ‘romantic’34.

Perhaps, because of his own visionary experiences with poetry and dreams, or because he agreed with Schopenhauer that dreams afford a glimpse of a quite different reality, Hughes was fascinated by the link between poetry, dreams, the subconscious mind, and the potentially healing Universal Energies.

Like the shaman, who is summoned to his calling by dreams or visions, Hughes paid particular attention to his dreams: and the animal spirits that summon and guide the shaman find their counterparts in the animals in Hughes’ poems. Hughes spoke to Faas of the symbolic nature of his Jaguars, and many of his animal subjects contain a force and energy far beyond a simple animal picture: the menacing horses in his story, ‘The Rain Horse’ (W.45-55), for example; the rat in ‘Song of a Rat’ (THCP.169–170); and, in particular, his wolves, foxes, birds and fish. Hughes, himself, told of a particularly influential dream/vision of a fox which caused him to abandon the study of English Literature, and turn, instead, to Anthropology and Archaeology. At University, trying to write “the last [English Literature] essay before the exams for Part I of the degree”, he “got bogged down” and toiled for days and long into the nights “but to no avail”. Still struggling over this essay until very late one night, and hating every minute of it, he began to dream. In his dream, he saw the door of his room open, “Then a head came round the edge of the door. It was about the height of a man’s head but clearly the head of a fox”. It was “at the same time, a skinny man and a fox walking erect on its hind legs” and it looked as if it has “just stepped out of a furnace. Every inch was roasted, smouldering, black–charred, split and bleeding”. This fox/man crossed the room to Hughes’ desk where his unfinished essay lay and leaving a bloody hand–print on it said, “You have to stop this. You’re destroying us”. This was the last such essay that Hughes wrote35.

Both Faas and Heilpern record similar incidents which reflect the importance that Hughes places on his dreams36. Plath, too, seems to be drawing on personal experience in her story, ‘The Wishing Box’, wherein a dreamless wife grows jealous of her husband’s nightly dream life. Plath’s fictional husband not only reflects Hughes’ own particular activities and interests, he also accepts his dreams “as if they were really an integral part of his waking experience” and interestingly, in her poem, ‘Shrike’, Plath has a jealous “earth-wife” take bloody revenge on her errant, dream-enchanted husband37.

The most important evidence of the dream origins of some of Hughes’ work, however, comes from the poet himself. He described his play, The Wound, which was first broadcast by the BBC in February 1962, as being based on a dream which he dreamed twice. Waking up in between, and which he subsequently wrote down, “managing to get the main thread and most of the episodes”38. Similarly, parts of a play which was based on a recurring dream were broadcast by the BBC on 22 November 1965, and an expanded fragment of this play was later published as a poem entitled, ‘The Brother’s Dream’. In Remains of Elmet, Hughes rewrote the poem ‘Ballad from a Fairy Tale’ (THCP.171), which was based on a recurrent dream, as ‘The Angel’ (THCP.492. There, it is of great importance to the regenerative theme in Remains of Elmet39.

Music, too, is a central element of the shamanic seance and, as a preliminary to ecstatic flight, the shaman summons guiding spirits with rhythmic drumming on a magic drum. This instrument is made of wood from the ‘cosmic’ tree and it is given a life of its own in special anointing ceremonies. Shutting the animal guide or guides in this drum, the shaman flies to the Otherworld, often using the drum as his vehicle40. In Hughes’ work, animals frequently functioned as summoning spirits through which Hughes’ inner powers, his poetic and visionary abilities, were tapped and released. Using the rhythms of poetry as his drum, he enclosed their ‘spirit’ within the poems’ framework and ‘flew’ through his poetry into the spirit realm. As the shaman who knew the road, he had the ability to escort the ‘soul’ of his reader on this journey, and he did this by using the poetic energy which he created to arouse the interest, emotions and imagination of his reader. He directed the course of these, to some extent, through the structures of the poem itself – his subject matter, images, words, rhythms and word patterns – all of which expressed, at the same time, his own meaning and intentions.

Through the imaginative and the musical power of his poetry, Hughes made repeated attempts to fly to the Source and return with healing energies: and the processes of death and rebirth, dissolution and renewal, which are the essence of the shamanic journey and of the world of Nature, are fundamental in his work. It is these processes, and the Universal Energies which drive them, which provided Hughes with his themes and subjects and they were, also, an integral part of his own questing journey towards self–knowledge, unity and ‘grace’.

© Ann Skea 2021

For permission to quote any part of this document contact Dr Ann Skea at ann@skea.com

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