Ted Hughes’ Capriccio and the Kabbalah




Notes found in Ted Hughes’ loose leaf notebook in the British Library summarise the story of a Jewish Talmudist, Rabbah bar Hannah, who set down  his life story of perilous adventures,etching them onto a rock.

Kabbalah (Hebrew קַבָּלָה‎)  literally mens “receiving/tradition”. It is an ancient series of spiritual teachings originating in the twelfth century BC, in the town of Safed in Palstine.

Originally written in the ancient languge of Armaic, the Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings explaining the relationship between the eternal and the finite universe. Kabbalah seeks to define the nature of the universe and the human being, the nature and purpose of existence, and various other spiritual questions. It also presents methods to aid understanding of the concepts and thereby attain spiritual realisation.

Throughout Capriccio, Hughes also references the thirteenth century Kabbalistic text,the  Zohar, particularly in such poems as Shibboleth and The Mythographers. The Zohar is the story of mystic’s ascent through the seven sacred halls,  towards the ultimate ‘Holiest of Holies’, where perfect peace and unity reign. No doubt it is from the Zohar that we get the phrase ‘in seventh heaven’.

In the mystical union with the Divine Feminine, did Hughes see something of his life with Assia, which failed to achieve the fulfilment he sought?  In such poems as ‘Lilith’ and Folktale, in fact throughout the whole Capriccio sequence, Hughes portrays Assia as a mythical being, part she-devil, part goddess.