Crow, A Few Crows, Crow Wakes, Eat Crow
a sequence of some sixty poems by Ted Hughes, published in 1970, which features the figure of Crow as the central protagonist. The actuality of the bird as a feeder on carrion and its sinister associations in legend inform Hughes's characterization of Crow as a mythical embodiment of the instinct of survival; the book's gnostic vision of ‘the horror of Creation’ postulates a metaphysical context in which God despairs, man suffers, and Crow alone enjoys the minimal triumph of ‘Flying the black flag of himself’; the bird is both the victim and witness of numerous episodes of extreme violence on cosmic and historical levels from which he emerges unscathed and indomitable. The violence of incident in many of the narratives and parables which make up the collection is matched by the reductively and forcefully functional syntax and diction Hughes adopts; the impact of the recurrent black humour and scatological references is increased by the harshly colloquial usages frequently employed. These qualities reflect Hughes's conscious effort in Crow to achieve a mode free of what he described as ‘the terrible, suffocating, maternal octopus of ancient English poetic tradition’; the result is a work of great imaginative scope constituting an original myth of ‘the war between vitality and death’, as Hughes termed the central concern of his poetry in 1971. Hughes subsequently extended the Crow sequence in the limited editions A Few Crows (1970), Crow Wakes (1971), and Eat Crow (1971); a revised edition of Crow with illustrations by Leonard Baskin, the American artist who partly inspired Hughes to produce the sequence, appeared in 1973.
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