I believe the first book of poems by Ted Hughes to be published was a small book titled The Hawk in the Rain. I picked up a copy of this at a book store a few weeks back and was reading through it this week and came upon a poem that I believe has to be one of my favorite Ted Hughes poems. It is titled Famous Poet.
I especially am fond of the third stanza:
First scrutinize those eyes / For the spark, the effulgence: nothing. Nothing there / But the haggard stony exhaustion of a near- / Finished variety artist. He slumps in his chair / Like a badly hurt man, half life-size. //
This poet, though famous it appears has seen better days. Effulgence is such great word here. We know a bit of what perhaps has been, but is now lost in this man who has sunken to something less by half of life-size.
The final stanza too is a powerful image:
And monstrous, so / As a Stegosaurus, a lumbering obsolete / Arsenal of gigantic horn and plate / From a time when half the world still burned, set / To blink behind bars at the zoo. //
So in the earlier verse Hughes uses the half life-size man - Shrinking the Famous poet down to something less then his once perceived stature. In the end, this same poet is the monstrous Stegosaurus - albeit beyond his better days - for public viewing behind the bars at the zoo. Both images work equally well.
The Hawk in the Rain was fist published by Faber and Faber in 1957. It won the New York Poetry Centre First Publication Award. The judges were W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Marianne Moore.