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Summary

From his remarkable debut The Hawk in the Rain (1957) to his death in 1998, Ted Hughes was a colossal presence in the English literary landscape. He was also admired as a performer of his own work.

Crow is one of his most significant collections, focusing on the central figure of the crow - predatory, mocking and indestructible. Crow is read here by the author in its entirety and with narrative links not included in the published text.

Ted Hughes (1930-1998) was born in Yorkshire. The Hawk in the Rain was published by Faber and Faber and was followed by many volumes of poetry and prose for adults and children, including Moortown Diary (1979). He received the Whitbread Book of the Year for both Tales from Ovid (1997) and Birthday Letters (1998). He was Poet Laureate from 1984, and in 1998 he was appointed to the Order of Merit.

©1970 Estate of Ted Hughes (P)1997 Faber Audio

Critic reviews

"Each fresh encounter with despair becomes the occasion for a separate, almost funny, story in which natural forces and creatures, mythic figures, even parts of the body, act out their special roles, each endowed with its own irrepressible life. With Crow, Hughes joins the select band of survivor-poets whose work is adequate to the destructive reality we inhabit." (A. Alvarez, Observer)
"Nobody will be able to read or write verse now without the black shape of Crow falling across the page." (Peter Porter, The Guardian)

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Masterpiece to Listen to and Read

Crow read by Ted Hughes himself. What more could you want? I loved the commentary between poems giving more of an insight into the purpose and meaning of each.

9 people found this helpful

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Ted Hughes, the king of carrion

Crow is born from the Creator’s nightmare as uneasily he rests having made the world, but is Crow truly the nightmare of its creator Ted Hughes?
The woeful labours, lessons and trials of the crow are certainly nightmarish - touching upon the blood-mud of war and the most perverse underbelly of sex, the hostility of nature and the great joke of mankind – but rather than presenting them as looming ghoulies or fevered visions, Hughes’ telling of the story is oddly pleasing, often humorous and rather matter-of-fact in its account of such primordial frights.
Hughes’ keen eye for detail is all that elicits the horror of Crow, it is only that his subject – as so often across his ouvre – happens to carry death in its claws, screams in its mouth and traverses a prickly world of frankly hyper-realistic violence.
More than a horror story, Crow is a kind of religion. It takes the prime tale of Christianity and challenges it in an arena of some very ancient earth worship. Where God and Crow collide, mythology is forged. And it is a myth at once strange and unsettling and yet relevant, applicable even, scattered through with whimsical fables and shamanic songs to delight as well as provoke.
Some see Crow and Crow himself as a reaction to Hughes’ wife Sylvia Plath’s suicide but this is not a fair assessment. If the crow was some analogue for the Grim of her depression I doubt it would be quite so open, quite so transformative, quite so communicative(!) and if the black of its wings is an expression of grief then surely the work would have doubled in its ferocity after the death of Assia Wevvil and Shura rather than been cut short entirely. Crow was destined to rise up and win the day, it was circumstance which left the story in mourning.
The fact that Crow is a half-told tale, and a fluidly changed and edited one at that, lends to its mythic quality. It feels like part of the aural tradition and that is aided by this audio recording. Hughes’ asides, inserts, commentary and narration of the narrative on which these poems hang is an invaluable well of interest and holds the giddy joy of being let in on secrets whispered.
Stylistically, some might find the collection challenging on the page but here brought to life by the thunder rolls of the author’s voice, this is a book without equal. My only criticism ever of Crow was that it must be read in mine own voice and lose some of its power for it, but now that wrong is put right and Crow caws at full power once more.

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‘There was no escape except into death’

This is serious, solemn stuff, read in Hughes’ mesmerisingly deep and portentous tones. Listening to him recite his own poetry gives it an extra dimension. In between readings he gives some preamble and explanation. Some of the content is abstract, and indeed slightly surreal. There are points when you’ll question the meaning, and may want to rewind. I listened for the musicality - and some phrases - like the one in the subject heading - stuck in my memory. You’ll probably want to go back and read some of these poems, or re-listen. But they work on different levels. There’s a certain joy just in hearing Hughes deliver them, even if meaning is sometimes elusive. Broadly, these are poems about the crow, envisaging him in many different contexts, from his birth to the battlefield. It’s hypnotic, and sometimes unsettling; and at times funny. I find Hughes a fascinating figure, and enjoy some of his work - though I find his life story of arguably more interest than the poetry. I’ll explore more after listening to Crow.