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Originally the medieval bestiary or book of animals set out to establish safe distinctions – between them and us – but Hughes’s poetry works always in a contrary direction: showing what man and beast have in common, the reservoir from which we all draw. Alice Oswald’s selection is arranged chronologically, with an eye to different books and styles, but equally to those poems that embody animals, rather than just describe them. Some poems are here because, although not strictly speaking animal, they become so in the process of writing; and in keeping with the bestiary tradition there are plenty of imaginary animals – all concentratedly coming about their business.
The resulting selection is subtly responsive to a central aspect of Hughes’s achievement, while offering room to some wonderful overlooked poems, and to ‘those that have the wildest tunes.’
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