‘I drown in the drumming ploughland, I drag up / Heel after heel from the swallowing of the earth’s mouth’. These vivid lines – an alliterative, evocative description of a man walking through a muddy field that is marked by heavy rhythm – open The Hawk in the Rain. Dominated by themes of elemental nature (animal, earth, air), competition and war, this is the first published collection of poetry by Ted Hughes. It remains one of Hughes’s most important and accomplished works.
In 1957, The Hawk in the Rain was awarded first prize in the New York City Poetry Center’s First Publication Award by judges W H Auden, Stephen Spender and Marianne Moore. It was published in the US by Harper & Brothers. Hughes dedicated the collection to Sylvia Plath, his first wife, who had typed out the poems and submitted the manuscript to the contest. The Hawk in the Rain received immediate critical acclaim for its imaginative force and innovations in language and rhythm. The 26-year-old Hughes was hailed as a new and original voice, an alternative to the dominant ‘Movement’ poets, whose tone was domestic and detached. In 1959 it won the Galbraith Prize.
Several poems, including ‘The Hawk in the Rain’ and ‘The Thought-Fox’, would make Hughes famous as a ‘nature poet’, although this label can be misleading. The presence of Hughes’s native Yorkshire – its landscape and language – is felt throughout.
With poems such as ‘Griefs for Dead Soldiers’ and ‘Six Young Men’, The Hawk in the Rain also established Hughes as a poet of war. Hughes drew on the experiences of his father, who had served in World War One and survived Gallipoli.
What is interesting about this edition?
This is the first edition of The Hawk in the Rain published by Faber & Faber, the prestigious British poetry publisher, in 1957.
It is a presentation copy that originally belonged to Leonard Baskin, a close friend and collaborator of Hughes. It contains a note written in Hughes’s hand addressed to Baskin and his first wife, Esther. 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.