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The dark is a key motif within many of Hughes' poems; however, it is particularly obvious in 'The Thought-Fox.' As this poem uses the fox as a symbol representing the thoughts and ideas of the speaker and the process of deciphering and recording them, the darkness represents the struggles of writer's block, of thinking deeply and of being lost in the darkness of one's own mind, without illuaniation by inspiration. However, the darkness also contrasts with the light of creativity and productivity, which is shown in that the page is finally printed. A fox seems to thrive in the darkness, which perhaps is a message telling the reader to persevere, as the greatest writing or ideas comes in a moment, when the mind is not busy with many things, but silently focused in the dead of night. The line, 'Something more near / Though deeper within darkness / Is entering the loneliness,' associates darkness with isolation, which plays into the character of the fox as a relatively solitary animal. The writer is seen to follow the same path, being secluded from the world and working at night, in order to focus and produce their best work. The simile, 'delicately as the dark snow,' brings a sense of impurity surrounding the fox's touch, perhaps symbolising the blots of ink on the printed page, as something beautiful, but yet potentially ignited by its curiosity whilst on a lonely path. Finally, the phrase, 'It enters the dark hole of the head,' emphasised by alliteration, shows the potential of a mind free o cluttered thoughts to be enlightened by what is truly significant and creative.
The image and character of the moon is a poignant and important motif in numerous poems by Hughes, particularly in those that have a title depicting its significance in the poem, such as 'Earth-Moon,' 'Full Moon and Little Frieda, and 'The Harvest Moon.' In the poem, 'The Harvest Moon,' the very words of this title are repeated throughout the poem, along with many words which internally rhyme with 'moon,' such as 'doubloon,' and 'bassoon.' This creates a focus on the moon itself as the subject of the poem. It isn't just any moon though, as its appearance around harvest time symbolises prosperity and fertility of the land, as the harvest will soon be gathered. The free, natural spectacle strikes an awe in the people, but also has a religious reminder attached, being a reminder of the harvest and the blessing and provision of God.
In 'Earth-Moon,' the moon also symbolises a relationship between the earth and the heavens above, however, not in the same way that the harvest moon connects humans and nature through the celebration of the harvest. In this instance, although the moon is spectacularly presented, it is the 'person,' that attacks and deflates the moon that is of equal importance. The moon symbolises part of the earth's need to be connected with nature, as when it loses its shape, identity and purpose, the night sky loses its main feature also. Whilst the person appears to be rewarded with a trophy, there is a stale tone to the ending of this poem, as if this victory is bitter-sweet and cruel, which reveals the importance of respecting nature.
The presentation of the moon in 'Full Moon and Little Frieda,' is slightly different than in these other two poems, as the focus on the moon only really comes at the end of the poem, when frieda apparently notices it, and the speaker relays the relationship between the moon and a human-being. This is, however, a motif that represents further the relatonship between the people of the earth and the nature of the sky. As, 'The moon stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work / That points at him amazed,' relayed in a simile, the awe of 'Little Frieda,' is mirrored in the awe of the moon at the sight of her. This emphasises the importance, significance and magnificance of God's creation. It includes both the natural elements and human elements, revealing the need to appreciate and respect both aspects of creation.
In the poem, 'Theology,' the allegory of the Creation story is used to present the hypocrisy and manipulation of the truth that can be present when a theological discussion moves away from the Biblical text. The idea od, 'Corruption of the facts,' is ironic, as the following statements are indeed just that, twisting the Bible's meaning and sometimes even adding bits to it. The Creation story as an allegory in this poem represents the sinfulness of man, even when they are judged or thoght of as "relgious" or Christian. This blatant sin and manipulation of this famous Biblical example is both dangerous and wrong, as it could potentially affect church teachings or the understanding of others when reading the Bible. This message is pointed out through this allegory by the satirical tone.
The cow seems a strange animal to pick as a motif, but it is a symbol presented throghout many of Hughes' poems, becoming a motif in itself. In 'The Harvest Moon,' it speaks of, 'all the moonlit cows,' and in 'Full Moon and Little Frieda,' the reader sees the, 'cows are going home in the lane there,' and actually feels their breath as they pass the hedgerows. This woud indicate an association of the cow with normality, with a tranquility of night, and with a reflection on the comfort and steady nature of the moon. A cow is an everyday animal, mundane and irrelevant in the lives of most, as they pass by fields full of them However, this is symbolic in Hughes' poems, giving a universal or generic outlook in these particular poems. It is normal life being described, not fantasy of mythical proportions, but reality. In 'Pied Beauty' the 'skies [are] of couple-colour as a brinded cow,' which presents the wonders of the sky in parallel with the mundane image of a cow. This actually puts the cow in a different lens, making it appear more beautiful thn before, being intricately designed and painted. Therefore, the symbol of the cow also highlights the great beauty and special aspects of nature that God has presented on earth.
In Hughes' poem, 'Work and Play,' the swallow as a motif is presented in each stanza, giving an element of grace to each one. Interestingly, the swallow, although on one hand representng the beauty of nature, and contrasting with the horrid effects of different human aspects on the lives of nature, is also a symbol of hard work and the worth of toil and dedication to a task.
The beautiful descriptions of the swallow and her work, as well as the feminization of this creature create an elegant picture of nature and birds in particular. Her elegance is juxtaposed against the harsh reality of humanity's laziness: driving crs that poison the world around them and plaing man-made, artificial objects to obscure and hassle the work of the swallow, which is natural and diligent.
The life of the swallow seems so much more appealing than the descriptions of the people at their "play," perhaps on their day off or during the holidays. The swallow is a symbol of joy within work, and that paly and work can be intertwined. It is also a motif that makes the reader aware of the effects of their own lives and activities on nature.
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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.”
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)”