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Apr 6, 2011

Animal Imagery: Ted Hughes

Famous for his animal poetry, ted Hughes earned the reputation of being the first English poet of the “will to live.” His choice of animals as the themes of his poems is, of course, not without the reverse side of his desire, as he revealed: “my interest in animals began when I began. My memory goes back pretty clearly to my third year, and by then I had so many of the toys lead animals you could buy in shops that they went right round our flat topped fore place fender nose to tail.”
In his poetry, animals are presented, not as playthings, but as lords of life ad death—they assumes the status of mystical gods. They are presented superior to men, with their lack of self consciousness and sickness of the mind. They are found free from inhibitions, fears; and full of the courage and concentrations. With their focused life, with all their innocence of men’s corruption, they emerge, like Adam and Eve in paradise, in state before the fall.  Hughes first volume of the poems, “The Hawk in the Rain (1957), illustrated all these ideas, and made him famous as a poet. How a man is placed below the animal in the hierarchy Hughes builds up in his poems:          
                        I drown in the drumming plough land. I drag up                  
                        heel after hell from the swallowing of the earth’s mouth    
                        from clay that clutches my each step to the ankle   
                        with the habit of the dogged grave, but the hawk                
                        effortlessly at height hangs his still eye.       
Thus, Hughes is vehement and brutal, sometimes reminiscent of Donne and Hopkins, but endowed above all with a spontaneous violence that tends instinctively towards the parallel between the nature of man and the ferocity of wild beasts and the birds of prey.
Usually written contrary to the prevailing style, Hughes's work has always been controversial. "Critics rarely harbor neutral feelings toward Hughes's poetry," observed Carol Bere in Literary Review. "He has been dismissed as a connoisseur of the habits of animals, his disgust with humanity barely disguised; labeled a 'voyeur of violence,' attacked for his generous choreographing of gore; and virtually written off as a cult poet. . . . Others admire him for the originality and command of his approach; the scope and complexity of his mythic enterprise; and the apparent ease and freshness with which he can vitalize a landscape, free of any mitigating sentimentality." 
To read Hughes's poetry is to enter a world dominated by nature, especially by animals. This holds true for nearly all of his books, from The Hawk in the Rain toMoortown, an examination of life on a farm. Apparently, Hughes's love of animals was one of the catalysts in his decision to become a poet. According to London Timescontributor Thomas Nye, Hughes once confessed "that he began writing poems in adolescence, when it dawned upon him that his earlier passion for hunting animals in his native Yorkshire ended either in the possession of a dead animal, or at best a trapped one. He wanted to capture not just live animals, but the aliveness of animals in their natural state: their wildness, their quiddity, the fox-ness of the fox and the crow-ness of the crow." 
 Animal images are the central focus for Hughes's important mythic presentations: metamorphosis as an image of the indestructibility of life, and the god-animal as symbol for creative and destructive forces in nature. In Ted Hughes, Keith Sagar commented that in Crow he finds an "Everyman who will not acknowledge that everything he most hates and fears—the Black Beast—is within himself. Crow's world is unredeemable." Newsweek's Jack Kroll called Crow "one of those rare books of poetry that have the public impact of a major novel or a piece of super-journalism," and summarized the effect of the character, noting that "in Crow, Ted Hughes has created one of the most powerful mythic presences in contemporary poetry." 
 Comparing Hughes’s animal imagery to D. H. Lawrence’s animal imagery, it would be possible to say that Hughes was deeply inspired by D. H. Lawrence and that both their animal imageries are based on the same theme of man’s ignorance and animals’ wisdom. Especially in one of D. H. Lawrence’s most famous poems The Snake, the poet adopts a similar attitude to Hughes’. Roughly speaking, in the poem The Snake, the poet comes across a snake and harms him and later feels regret for having done this. He puts the blame on his education for being a human being and describes the snake as a king at the very end of the poem. Here, the theme of animals’ superiority to human beings is once more seen similar to Hughes poetry. The similarity of the theme in animal poems links these two poets together.  One other similarity that these two poets use pathetic fallacy which is the treatment of inanimate objects or animals as if they had human feelings, thought, or sensations. Both of the poets use their empathicall power to reveal the feelings of their animals through this technique. However there are also some differences which can be mentioned about these two poets. While Hughes draws the picture of his animals in a spiritual and a supernatural manner, D.H. Lawrence’s animals appear in a more natural form. One other difference can be regarded as the destructive and aggressive appearance of Hughes animals, while D. H. Lawrence chooses to use a mild and soft appearance for his animals.
Thus, Speaking in general terms, it can be said that Hughes animal poetry is based on the Shamanist idea that animals are more powerful and spiritual beings when compared to man, since they live a totally instinct based life. Animals are far from limits and social values, thus they are capable of living their own self true nature and that specialty makes them powerful and wise. Man, on the other hand, is far from living its own true nature due to the limitations and social values which block the instincts.  Thus, man is not free, confused, ignorance and lost. As Hirschberg stated,
“What Hughes admires about animals is their single-mindedness and self centeredness. For him, they have substantiality, a realness about them that conveys qualities of security, stability and permanence that human beings simply do not have. (11)”


  1. Awesome discription on Ted Hughes as an animal poet. it helped a lot me in writing my project paper...Thanku so much

  2. the blog should give the source so that we can cite it
    I am also confused as to how to cite it

  3. the blog should give the source so that we can cite it
    I am also confused as to how to cite it

  4. Source is probably the cambridge companion to Ted Hughes- more specifically Chen Hong's essay on Animal Imagery in Ted Hughes...As far as I can make out, i.e. Obviously i do not presume to have absolute knowledge of the source.
    hope it helps :)

  5. That's exasperating !!! we can't even copy the text.

  6. Imagery from the animal world is always captivating for its terrific details. Poems such as Thrushes are stunning for this particular feature. Hats off to the poet.
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