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1981
Volume 13, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2042-8022
  • E-ISSN: 2042-8030

Abstract

Two of the books Ted Hughes took with him when he worked as a Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter plotter during his two years of compulsory national service, were Robert Graves’s and . Both, he read closely and often. He was already familiar, through his interest in the magical preoccupations of W. B. Yeats, with the philosophy of Hermetic Neoplatonism which had made its way to England during Shakespeare’s time and influenced the work of poets like Sir Philip Sidney, Gabriel Harvey and Edmund Spencer. All of these poets believed in, and used, the alchemical power of poetry which, as Sidney wrote in his , could ‘hold children from play, and old men from the chimney corner. And pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue’. This, and his immersion in Shakespeare’s work (which as Sylvia Plath told her mother, he ‘knew by heart’) led Hughes to discern a developing pattern, based on the transformative powers of the Goddess, through which he believed Shakespeare was performing a complex alchemical process. He expounded this theory in detail in , but almost twenty years earlier he had written the poem ‘An Alchemy’ for a limited edition anthology published in 1973 by the Globe Theatre Trust. ‘An Alchemy’ is a difficult and allusive poem in which nothing is spelled out. In this article, I look at just one section of the poem in which Hughes created his own alchemical matrix through which he sought to reveal the underlying alchemical theme that he saw as the ‘Gold’ in Shakespeare’s work.

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2023-08-31
2024-07-12
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