Ted Hughes’ ‘Capriccio’


The Meaning of ‘Capriccio’

In 1990, Ted Hughes, England’s Poet Laureate, published a collection of twenty poems, entitled Capriccio. The volume was illustrated by artist Leonard Baskin, and published by his Gehenna Press in a limited edition of only fifty copies. At $4000 each, and filled with richly coloured engravings by Baskin, the beautifully boxed leather volume was a collector’s copy.

Dictionary definitions of ‘Capriccio’ refer to a musical improvisation,or  a work full of sudden changes, a freak, a fantasy. Its derivation is from seventeenth century Italian, and is made up of ‘capo’ (meaning ‘head’) and ‘riccio’, (meaning ‘hedgehog’). Hence, ‘capo-riccio’ means ‘hedgehog-headed’, and describes a head with the hair standing on end. Leonard Baskin’s frontispiece features a ghostly genderless head, its expression terrified, its hair springing up in all directions.

Overall, the title of Hughes’ sequence ‘Capriccio’ suggests unmotivated, purposeless acts, as well as horror, and lack of responsibility.

Many of the poems in Capriccio were written in the second person; the ‘you’ was not identified, although there were hints here and there (as in Folktale: He wanted the seven treasures of Asia).   It is now generally agreed that each of these twenty poems refers to some aspect of Hughes’ relationship with Assia Wevill.


Ted Hughes. Photo Courtesy ‘The Guardian’


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  1. Yes. I love that sub-title. It suggests a structure for the whole novel, too. Such a lot of parallels between the two women, as well as polar contrasts, as if they were linked by fate. Haunting picks up on Hughes’ ideas of destiny being involved. Wikipedia: Synchronicity is a concept first explained by psychiatrist Carl Jung, which holds that events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related.

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  2. Thank you, Anne. Some say ‘Capriccio’ is too obscure for the title of my novel about Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath’s rival in love.Hopefully this post will explain why I chose this title. I’m thinking of adding a sub-title: The Haunting of Sylvia Plath – she was both haunter and haunted by Assia. What do you think?


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