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Pupil report: 'Crow on the page and Crow through the air'

There were six of us from Bryanston’s Literary Society gathered in the classroom very appropriately, or perhaps ironically, named Plath, assembled for Ted Hughes’ ‘Crow at Fifty.’ This was billed as a ‘webinar’ broadcast from Hughes’ alma mater, Pembroke College Cambridge, exploring ‘Crow on the page and Crow through the air.’

Barrie Cooke, Crow record cover II (1972)*

The broadcast was chaired by Dr Mark Wormald, Chairman of the Ted Hughes Society. The distinguished panelists were Dame Marina Warner, novelist, mythographer and memoirist, the poet Alice Oswald, naturalist and writer Mark Crocker and poet and musician Grzegorz Kwiatkowski.

I’d been encouraged to read Ted Hughes’ Crow prior to attending but was only able to read a few of his poems. Still, despite my lack of knowledge about Ted Hughes and his poetry, especially in comparison to the very esteemed intellectual keynote speakers, I found the lecture utterly fascinating.  

In English classes when we analyse poetry there is only so far we can go, digging into the different interpretations behind each piece of work. In contrast, being able to hear each speaker’s perspective on Ted Hughes’ Crow gave me an insight into writing that I have never really had before. One subject explored the musical and yet grotesque structure of each poem, filled with ‘harsh, grating’ consonants while also creating utterly beautiful lines. Then there was the topic of the Anthropocene in Crow, which both confused me terribly and excited me thoroughly. From what I could understand (and the definition I found on the internet) Anthropocene has to do with a new age that human beings have created on earth. Crow describes a crow, a mythological figure that seems connected to creation, that rises up, moves about, and meanwhile on earth so many animals and species are being forced to move due to climate change. In this sense, Crow seems to be very much to do with life and earth.

Another lecturer looked at Crow in terms of theology, despite being a priest and understanding that Crow is in many ways an attack on faith, this man felt inspired by the work of Hughes. He pointed out lines where the crow nailed God and Man together and “So man cried, but with God's voice. / And God bled, but with man's blood.” (Crow Blacker than Ever). We were even able to look at early sketches by Barrie Cooke, recently acquired by the College, depicting the crow, and we heard another person’s story of how Hughes helped him deal with the inherited trauma of the Holocaust.

I found it really astounding how easily two hours could be filled discussing this one book of poetry, and in fact, I think there was still so much that was left unsaid. While all of the ideas discussed were really interesting, what I enjoyed more than anything was the passion with which every speaker spoke. Something about their “childlike enthusiasm” (as Mrs Weatherby put it) was both invigorating and contagious. While it certainly helped that I found the topic interesting, I think any topic can be made worth listening to when the person talking about it is so utterly invested as the people who spoke in this lecture were. I’m not sure if I will ever appreciate Crow as truly and fully as these intellectuals did, but I hope that someday I will feel the same all-consuming passion, regardless of what I am feeling it for.  

 By IB1 pupil Josie L

*Copyright Barrie Cooke Estate, reproduced with permission of Pembroke College Cambridge and the Barrie Cooke Estate,  and image credit Cambridge Colleges Conservation Consortium.