on 21 April 2001
There is the consensus that Hughes's early work is the best. There is the consensus that 'Crow', is the pinnacle of his achievement, or even 'Birthday Letters'.
What this volume reveals, is that though Hughes's reputation spent some time out in the cold between the publication of 'Crow' and 'Birthday Letters', he wrote many very fine poems in between those two sales high-points. Take the wonderfully vivid agricultural sketches of 'Moortown Diary', the spare, bony lyrics and elegies of 'Remains of Elmet', the near-Wordsorthian trances and epiphanies of 'River', the tender and gruelling portraites of his war-scarred father in 'Wolfwatching'. A sizeable reputation could have been made by skimming the best of these volumes alone, never mind the more universally lauded stuff. And you get that as well in this volume.
on 6 September 2000
A balanced and generous selection for the reader new to Hughes who isn't sure where to start. Although his best work is probably still to be found in the years before 1980, this selection at least doesn't pretend that everything after 'Crow' was anticlimactic or second-rate. It also tends to point up the startling inconsistency of Hughes's achievement in the early books (where some of his best poems sit alongside excruciatingly arch trivialities) by comparison with the greater evenness of tone in the later books, in which the poet appears to trade fewer highs for fewer lows. It's also interesting to see the way in which Hughes's attitude to nature changes over time, with the mythic amplifications reaching a peak in 'Crow' before being supplanted by a quieter, more observational tone in later years as the poet's personality imposes itself less roughly on his material.
Be warned: many readers will want the individual volumes after reading this.
on 21 April 2000
The sheer depth of thinking behind every placed word unlocks the low murmuring everydayness of thought and allows a flood of light to overwhelm the mind. This is not some God poet speaking in an uncommon tongue, but a rough big man with a talent to disect this life and all that it means, to spread out the beauty and filth for our perusal. This is wholesome and bloody and feral, writing that tramps on the banal, rips the flesh from safety and spurts out fear. This is a book to give yourself up to, to choke on and submit to. Astonishing, pioneering and unforgettable.