A Prologue to Capriccio

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Capriccio, Ted Hughes’s 1990 collaboration with Leonard Baskin, is a breathtakingly opulent, large-folio fine-book comprising twenty poems by Hughes and twenty-five engravings by Baskin. The book was originally published by Baskin’s Maine-based Gehenna Press in a limited edition of fifty copies, in which the regular edition (forty copies) retailed at $9000 and the special edition (ten copies, each including a second set of prints, a sheet of Hughes’s working manuscript and a watercolour by Baskin) retailed at $14,000. The broadsheet advertising Capriccio asserted that ‘the poems will not be published again in the poet’s lifetime.’1 The rationale for this statement is not difficult to discern. Capriccio was, at the time of publication, an unprecedentedly personal work for Hughes, addressing his explosive relationship with Assia Wevill; although the publicity for the book coyly avoided mentioning this, describing the poems more generally as being ‘revelatory of the human condition’.2 Hughes had hitherto seemed reluctant to write so explicitly and unguardedly about any of the women he had loved and the feelings of grief and guilt that he felt in relation to their deaths – the poems later identified as being about Sylvia Plath, Susan Alliston and his mother in the ‘Epilogue’ to Gaudete (1977) are so obliquely expressed that they conceal even as they reveal.3 This strategy of concealing while revealing also informs Capriccio – by publishing his first collection of overtly confessional poems in a prohibitively expensive limited edition, Hughes was able to fulfil an apparent compulsion to publish, and at the same time conduct a controlled experiment in ‘testing thewaters’ of audience reaction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-30
Number of pages19
JournalThe Ted Hughes Society Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


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