Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow is a poetic sequence by Ted Hughes, first published by Faber & Faber in 1970. Built around an ambitious mythological narrative, Crow represents a significant shift in Hughes’s work.

This stylistically experimental folk epic depicts Crow's creation and journey through the universe in search of his Creator. The language and form are vivid, primitive and emotionally powerful. Originally, Hughes intended to end the sequence with the marriage of Crow and his female Creator. The first edition was published two thirds finished after the deaths of Assia Wevill and their daughter Shura in 1969. In 1972 Crow was published with additional poems and it continued to evolve, much like a folk tale alters over time. Crow’s quest is completed in Cave Birds (1975).

What are the influences for the character of Crow?

For this epic narrative Hughes drew on folk tales, contemporary Eastern European poetry, Christianity, and world mythologies. The provocative character of Crow is influenced, in particular, by Trickster mythology. Variations on the figure of the Trickster are found in many cultures, such as Anansi the spider which originates from the Ashanti people of Ghana. The Trickster is characteristically male, a hero and anti-hero, who can change shape between human and animal at will. He is clever and inventive, full of anarchic energy, and has a large appetite for pleasure. As such, he is ultimately a disruptive figure, who mischievously interferes with Creation and God’s work.

Collaborating with Leonard Baskin

The work developed out of an invitation from Leonard Baskin, the American artist and Hughes’s friend and collaborator, to supply poems for his crow drawings. Baskin’s arresting drawing of a human-like bird appears on the book’s front cover.

What is unique about this edition?

This edition of Crow is a presentation copy sent by Hughes to Baskin and his wife, Lisa. Hughes has inscribed it with a handwritten dedication, illustration and two lines relating to crow figures. It is from a special collection of books by or about Hughes that was acquired by the British Library from Baskin’s widow in 2004.