The Hawk in the Rain – Ted Hughes – Analysis

Looking in detail at one of Ted Hughes’ most famous poemsThe Hawk in the Rain – Ted Hughes (from The Hawk in the Rain 1957)

A line-by-line progressive commentary …

Hawk and Rain are the two operative words in the title.

I drown in the drumming ploughland, I drag up

I can imagine Ted Hughes walking along the edge of a ploughed field in Yorkshire on a rain filled day. The nature of the rain is clearly stated by the two alliterative words drown and drumming. It is heavy – enough to drown and persistent and dominating as the continual sound of a drum. There is no tin roof sound, but we don’t know what noise is being made against the clothing Ted might be wearing. There is a nice pause after I drag up, enjambment text, text which must flow on to the next line … to be continued … as the rain continues. It gives us time to absorb the on-going background to the poem.

Heel after heel from the swallowing of the earth's mouth,

We now have a picture of movement, of difficulty in walking and the earth becomes a mouth swallowing, what it is exactly swallowing besides water is not known at this stage.

From clay that clutches my each step to the ankle
With the habit of the dogged grave, but the hawk

It is now quite clear that the sodden ground is engulfing Ted. The alliterative clutching clay gives personification to the earth. If you say these two words it has a sticky feel and my each has an awkward construct.

Ted now extends his thoughts to the grave and the ground that will inevitably conquer him. The earth has this habit of taking or absorbing people. But the hawk … again we have enjambment text which must continue, this time to the text of the second stanza.

Effortlessly at height hangs his still eye.
His wings hold all creation in a weightless quiet,

Eye and height define the hawk. In great contrast to Ted who has been focusing on the ground. The hawk has the entire world below him and moreover it is effortless for him to hover in adverse conditions. His eye is still in contrast to the wind and rain.

Steady as a hallucination in the streaming air.
While banging wind kills these stubborn hedges,

We do not know what has drawn Ted to look at the sky but in doing so we sense a degree of envy for the Hawk while the wind destroys below. By choosing hallucination Ted wonders whether this is real and whether the hawk can resist nature in this way.

Thumbs my eyes, throws my breath, tackles my heart,
And rain hacks my head to the bone, the hawk hangs,

Emphasis is given to what is happening at Ted’s level, the wind and the rain taking on the dimension of a murderer, and then he returns his vision to the hawk. We must wait after hangs to go to the next line.

The diamond point of will that polestars
The sea drowner's endurance: And I,

The ability of the hawk to withstand the weather is emphasised by taking the diamond shape confronting the wind and that diamonds are used for cutting. Polestars is a wonderful choice of word it gives eye to the sky and the polestar is a guide and safety symbol. It is used as a verb giving action to the scene. The weather is such that anyone caught at sea is likely to have a most unpleasant time. Then returning to Ted’s predicament, the stanza ends with another pause. It is though the background rain continually interrupts.

Bloodily grabbed dazed last-moment-counting
Morsel in the earth's mouth, strain to the master- 
Fulcrum of violence where the hawk hangs still. 
That maybe in his own time meets the weather

The stanza splits in two again between the hawk and Ted. Ted is about to be devoured akin to the hawk devouring a morsel from the ground. The key word in this stanza is master fulcrum. Fulcrum – the support, or point of rest, on which a lever turns in moving a body.

In the last line consideration is given to the mortality of the hawk and a question is started with a pause at the end of the stanza.

Coming the wrong way, suffers the air, hurled upside-down, 
Fall from his eye, the ponderous shires crash on him, 
The horizon trap him; the round angelic eye 
Smashed, mix his heart's blood with the mire of the land.

In time the hawk will be caught by nature and meet the same fate and the earth will conquer. The ponderous shires crash on him. This bottom-up expression gives strength to the power of the earth to greet the fate of the hawk. Note how this links to the wrong way in the first line.

The angelic eye shows the beauty of the hawk and gives religious tones as of the falling of an angel – even the most perfect of creatures will meet the fate of all – a cry on the nature of nature from one who had so great an affinity with natural world.

Going back to the first line and the first words … I drown in the drumming. This could be translated to life and time. And time is mentioned later in the poem when the hawk meets his downfall – in his own time meets the weather. A negative thought that we are all drowning or dying but drumming does have that repetitive nature like the ticking of a clock. Indeed, we will all be caught by nature and from nature return. There seems to be an emphasis on violence in nature, so again a negativity in the poem. But of course, there is beauty in nature even if the vase is shattered one way or another.

So, ending on a positive, it is good to appreciate beauty and have an angelic view of life. And a case of going back to whence we came giving thanks for existence.

Today the weathering of life has taken on a new dimension as we come to terms with our treatment of the environment and how nature adjusts. Rains and storms have certainly been a feature in recent months across eastern Australia.

Requiem – Robert Louis Stevenson

Requiem
Under the wide and starry sky, 
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894)

Requiem – an act or token of remembrance

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and was a sick child and lived with a debilitating bronchial illness for much of his life. In his last four years he lived in Samoa where he died at the early age of forty-four. And these are the lines he wanted on his grave – this be the verse you grave for me. Grave meaning to be indelibly written. So grave takes on a double meaning. And they are on his tomb at Mount Vaea, Samoa.

He was near death before when he was in California where he first thought out these lines. The last lines have become the most memorable.

He was glad to die at the same time equally pleased with his life – glad did I live and gladly die.

Looking at the last two poignant lines –

Home is the sailor, home from sea, 
And the hunter home from the hill.

Death is home and all that home represents a lasting place of convivial comfort. And like the sailor coming home to land after being at sea. Sea being equated to life. The sailor and the sea go together in the same way as being human and living. And it is a positive thought equating death to returning home. A sailor obviously comes home many times so return is appropriate. And RLS is returning.

And in the hunter home from the hill RLS equates life to hunting. There is a hill involved so there is difficulty to overcome in coming back with a catch. He is happy with his catch; what he has achieved in life and the difficulties he has overcome.

All the best in your hunting!

Robert Louis Stevenson on Wikipedia Robert Louis Stevenson – Wikipedia

And for a detailed analysis of this poem –

Analysis of Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson – Poemotopia

Piano – D. H. Lawrence – Analysis

Piano
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me; 
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song 
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour 
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
D. H. Lawrence (1885 – 1930)

The poem consists of rhyming across each double line. And much thought has gone into the choice of words … some key words …

appassionato is an Italian term used in music … telling the musician to perform with a great amount of emotion. A love duet in an opera is an example of music that is sung appassionato.

insidious – proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with very harmful effects.

vain – too proud of your own appearance, abilities, achievements

vista – sweeping view

cast – to form a particular shape by pouring ‘it’ = life, into a mold

Occasionally something happens in daily life to take us back in time to our childhood. Something that triggers a memory. In this poem it is a woman singing and her singing is the start of a trigger that leads to the piano. This is the object of childhood reflection and hence the title of the poem.

S1 … The memory comes at dusk in the fading of light. And here DHL is focusing on a different time, bringing light from the mind. The vista of the years is recalled. We do not know where the singing emanates but this is immaterial. We might assume that DHL is alone with his thoughts. And then we have that personal image of a small child at the foot of his mother while she plays the piano. The mother is happy and unperturbed by the pressing at her feet.

S2 … It is insidious how the singing and the music penetrates DHL. He cannot avoid owning up to his past. He would like to avoid this, but he is betrayed by the continuance of song and piano, so he succumbs to recollections of his childhood. The warmth of a convivial home life in winter is emphasised against the cold outside. And the strong personal link with his mother is evident, both physical and spiritual. And he weeps as his mind and heart relive the past. Tinkling and tingling are onomatopoeia.

S3 … DHL is overcome and weeps again and is so swamped by emotion that he has no regard for the singer and the presentation; vain for her to try. The great black piano appassionato is translated into a great black emotional recollection. Black because there can be no return. And the poem ends in this emotional state; DHL crying like a child – a pointless cry.

The present happenings in life can betray who we are and where we come from based on our own background. The past completes us as we drop away each day creating new dimensions and aiding and abetting the reshaping of the mold. DHL poses the question of how to deal with the past in on-going life. There may be times when we should allow the past to return with all the related emotion?

D. H. Lawrence on Wikipedia – D. H. Lawrence – Wikipedia

Performance – Les Murray – Comments

Performance
I starred that night, I shone:
I was footwork and firework in one,
a rocket that wriggled up and shot
darkness with a parasol of brilliants
and a peewee descant on a flung bit;
I was blusters of glitter-bombs expanding
to mantle and aurora from a crown,
I was fouéttes, falls of blazing paint,
para-flares spot-welding cloudy heaven,
loose gold off fierce toeholds of white,
a finale red-tongued as a haka leap:
that too was a butt of all right!
As usual after any triumph, I was
of course, inconsolable.
Les Murray (1938 – 2019)

fouéttes = a pirouette performed with a circular whipping movement of the raised leg to the side
haka = a ceremonial dance in New Zealand Māori culture, with quite an aggressive end-shout

Well, it is approaching the year end and a time to reflect on goals achieved. How have we performed. Although in this poem we probably think of performance in relation to stage and audience.

It is a list poem, a list of superlatives in self appraisal in terms of originality in word expression. Brilliance and fire feature throughout with a nice butt ending as in the throwing away of a cigarette.

I do like that word inconsolable in the last two lines. It has a certain ambivalent mind feel. It usually refers to a person unable to be comforted. Perhaps inconsolable because of the immense empty hole that follows such flaming achievement that can never ever be repeated. And perhaps comfort is needed to bring down from the heights of self-emotional gratification.

My advice is to have a succession of goals to keep you on your toes. And I will in no way elaborate on my successes over the year!

I am reminded of a wonderful poem by Thomas Hardy concerning a superb church performance by an Anglican Minister – In Church – Thomas Hardy – Analysis | my word in your ear

Irrespective of his quick minded erudite nature there is a certain irony about this poem in that I attended several readings by LM and from the recipient end I found his readings and repour with attendees not akin to justify such extravagant words.

Les Murray was arguably of that standing in Australian Poetry to be considered a de facto Australian Poet Laureate but Australia does not have a ‘Poet Laureate’ as such. In 1998 LM received the Queen’s Medal for Poetry.

Les Murray on Wikipedia – Les Murray (poet) – Wikipedia

The Moon and the Yew Tree – Sylvia Path – Comments

The Moon and The Yew Tree
This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary 
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility
Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky --
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.

The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness -
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars
Inside the church, the saints will all be blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness - blackness and silence.
Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

This poem was composed in October 1961 when SP was living at ‘Court Green’ cottage North Tawton, Devon. At that stage her marriage with Ted Hughes was still intact. The cottage was close to St Peter’s Church which was visible when she was writing. And at some stage she would have ventured inside.

A carefully designed poem of four seven-line stanzas with distinct sentence punctuation.

S1 … Clearly written at nighttime where SP invokes a ghostly graveyard presence. And there was a mist evident to add to such a scene. The moon has that association with the mind and lunacy. The griefs being the gravestones in rows. As if I was God – well, SP is not God and cannot perform miracles on the dead. The trees stand out black and the light from the moon blue. She cannot see the path through to the Church

S2 … This stanza has two distinct parts. SP personifies her emotional state on to the moon – white as a knuckle and terribly upset. I like the image of the moon dragging or sucking up the sea like a thief. It conjures up a rain squall coming off the sea. SP says this is where she lives, and she knows the sound the church bells make every Sunday morning.

Christianity and resurrection then come to mind in relation to the dead and the gravestones. But the bells only bong out their names – the names on the gravestones. SP is clearly dead to the thoughts of any resurrection to an afterlife.

S3 … The yew tree points up. Gothic shape implying dark and morbid.  It is worth considering the symbolic representation of the yew tree –

Christian stories of resurrection led the tree to become a symbol of eternal life. As the trunk of the tree begins to decay, a new tree can form. This represents the cycle of life that makes Yew trees a symbol of rebirth as well.

But there is no tenderness, sadly only a Mother Moon image associated with a wild nature represented by seeing bats and owls fly up unleashed against the ghostly blue light.

How SP would like it to be otherwise.

S4 … It looks like clouds are causing the firmaments to be seen and not seen. The inside of the church is the scene of fixed figures and maybe the stained-glass windows can record saints seen above the pews. Again, a cold dead image of being stiff with holiness as in no resurrection. The moon is wild and full of life unknowing of such human quandaries concerning death. The message of the Yew tree is black. SP is displaying her view on religion and the resurrection. The poem ends with a dark depressive feeling.

See this link for a video of Court Green and the Church – Sylvia Plath Video & Picture Post: Court Green (sylviaplathinfo.blogspot.com) … and courtesy of this Site –

Court Green – from the Church of St Peter’s
at North Tawton, Devon

Surprised by Joy – William Wordsworth – comments

Surprised by Joy

Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
William Wordsworth (1750 – 1830)

This sonnet is based on Wordsworth’s daughter Catherine, who died in 1812, aged just three. The poem reflects on a moment of happiness that instinctively came to him in relation to the joy brought to him by his daughter. And it could be a moment long after the death based on long buried.


Looking at that memorable first line – Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind. It appears that something has triggered remembrance and a joyful remembrance. It could have been an object associated with the infant or a word spoken by someone; but whatever it was it brought instant joy. And whatever it was love was at the core – love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind. And the effect was a need for an expansion of this feeling. The Wind is personified; and the wind is impatient. It often comes rattling at your door demanding recognition. In the same way Wordsworth is impatient for an expansion to his joy. And then he states emphatically that it is impossible to forget his daughter – But how could I forget thee? Indicating perhaps that it is a renewed reflection, suggesting a little guilt.

The last six lines promote the grievous thought on never ever seeing Catherine again; and never ever being able to share again. And time does continually distance us from those we love and have died. And, like Wordsworth, we all must come to terms with this as time minimises the gold in our own personal life.

Metaphorically we collect gold coins over the years and quite often we forget we hold them in our pocket. However, from time to time we take them out and look at their face value.

vicissitude = change in circumstance or fortune


William Wordsworth on Wikipedia

Watercolour of Grantchester Meadows – Sylvia Plath – comments

Watercolour of Grantchester Meadows

There, spring lambs jam the sheepfold. In air
Stilled, silvered as water in a glass
Nothing is big or far.
The small shrew chitters from its wilderness
Of grassheads and is heard.
Each thumb-sized bird
Fits nimble-winged in thickets, and of good colour.

Cloudrack and owl-hollowed willows slanting over
The bland Granta double their white and green
World under the sheer water
And ride that flux at anchor, upside down.
The punter sinks his pole.
In Byron’s pool
Cattails part where the tame cygnets steer.

It is a country on a nursery plate.
Spotted cows revolve their jaws and crop
Red clover or gnaw beetroot
Bellied on a nimbus of sun-glazed buttercup.
Hedging meadows of benign
Arcadian green
The blood-berried hawthorn hides its spines with white.

Droll, vegetarian, the water rat
Saws down a reed and swims from his limber grove,
While the students stroll or sit,
Hands laced, in a moony indolence of love —
Black-gowned, but unaware
How in such mild air
The owl shall stoop from his turret, the rat cry out.

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

King’s College Cambridge owns Grantchester Meadows, a riverside beauty spot south of Cambridge. This area would be familiar to SP when at Cambridge. There may have been a Watercolour at the University. Apparently, it was written when she was in America in 1959 after returning there with Ted Hughes after their marriage.

The Granta is a tributary of the Cam.

Byron’s Pool is a well-known beauty spot where Byron used to bathe.

It is an ekphrastic poem before that word had poetic coinage. According to the Poetry Foundation, “an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art.”. You can appreciate the text without needing a sighting of the Watercolour. And it is an SP poem which is easy to understand.

Students would be familiar with punting on the Cam. It is a nursery plate image; a quintessential image associated with England by those overseas.

Nimbus – a luminous vapor, cloud, or atmosphere about a god or goddess when on earth. I do like that line – bellied on a nimbus of sun-glazed buttercup – it conjures up bright summer meadow flower sunshine relevant to my England heritage.

And we learn that water rats are vegetarians. I am always impressed by SP in how she uses her wide vocabulary in the choice of appropriate words. In the case of the water rat the verb saws = rapid two and throw motion, and the adjective limber = lithe. Implying skill in movement in the water.

Students and tourists often travel from Cambridge by punt to picnic in the meadows or take tea at The Orchard tea-rooms. But do the students really listen to the environment; especially when minds are locked in thought or otherwise engaged in romancing with a lover. And today locked in mobile use while walking.

Sylvia Plath on Wikipedia.

The Thought-Fox – Ted Hughes – Analysis

The Thought-Fox
I imagine this midnight moment’s forest: 
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.
Through the window I see no star: 
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:
Cold, delicately as the dark snow 
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now
Sets neat prints into the snow 
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come
Across clearings, an eye, 
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business
Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox 
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.
Ted Hughes (1930 - 1998)

This poem was included in ‘The Hawk in the Rain’ publication (1957) which brought prominence to Ted Hughes as a poet.

Animals, especially a fox, were significant to Ted Hughes. As a boy he spent many hours with his older brother hunting and shooting animals. When he was preparing an essay late at night he fell asleep and had a dream involving a fox.

This is how he described that moment – ‘the door opened, and a creature came in with a fox’s head and a long skinny fox’s body – but erect and with huge hands. He had escaped from a fire – the smell of burning hair was strong and his skin was charred and in places cracking, bleeding freshly through the splits. He came across. and set his hand on the page and said “Stop this. You are destroying us.” He lifted his hand away and the blood-print stayed on the page. The hands, in particular, were terribly burnt.’

Hughes listened to this dream and immediately stopped writing ‘teacher-pleasing’ essays. In a way this poem is a partial recollection of that fox dream. He clearly states the nature of the creative process. The fact that a poem cannot be summoned or controlled but awaits the arrival of the words from the forest of the mind. And when Hughes gave a talk, he compared the writing of his poetry to the capture of animals.

Looking at each stanza …

S1 … The midnight dark is equated to his imagination, this is equated to his mind as he processes his thoughts. Thoughts are the initial keys to the creative work. They are alive and he is searching through the forest for something. There is little else happening apart from the lonely tick of a clock. And the blank page awaits. Well, you do need full focus and time to yourself to release that internal creativity.

S2 … Through the window of his mind something is happening. There is a stirring albeit of an imperceptible intuitive feeling within. The fox or the words are about to break into the loneliness. When TH was writing these words his dream above must have come alive again.

S3 … What is this animal? That is the question – what is this poem that is being formed? It comes out of the cold slowly making movement. The touches twig, leaf mirrors the soft pad of the paws. And the fox’s nose touches snow or should we say the blank paper is touched with its invisible inking. From his thought the words will eventuate. But there is much repetition in this creative process as seen in the repetition in the last line of the stanza. And the ‘eyes seeing’ can be likened to his mind in realising the full extent of his creative thought. Seeing or expanding what he wanted to convey.

S4 … And then there are prints in the snow. There are actual words on the blank sheet. And something bold takes place. A poet must be bold and address the wild nature of the animal.

S5 … Out of the black dark of night there is a greenness. Green indicating growth in the materialisation of the poem. And it is coming out of its own business. The visitation of this animal, this poem, has now to be articulated in the form of transference to words. A poet tries to capture such visitations when they occur. And if they occur at night while in darkness and in bed, the morning light often dissolves the once promising thoughts.

S6 … This hot stink creative happening occurs. It indicates something dramatic and something immediate, something impressive hopefully. There is a sense of completion – the page is printed. The initial wording often takes much work in finalisation.

Footnote …

Later in his life, in 1960, a fox cub came into his life. At the time he was still in his marriage with Sylvia Plath. He was walking in London over Chalk Farm Bridge when he saw a young man with a fox cub under his coat. The man had brought it into the city to sell. TH could have bought it for a pound but there was no place for it in the home. In fact, Sylvia had recently given birth to their daughter Freida.

The last lines from the poem Epiphany in Birthday Letters (1998), where this event is described, show the difficulties at that time in blending his domestic family life with that of creative writing as a poet.

If I had grasped that whatever comes with a fox 
Is what tests a marriage and proves it a marriage –
I would not have failed the test. Would you have failed it?
But I failed. Our marriage had failed.

Epiphany – a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.

In these lines a fox can be equated to many other activities that are compromised in relationships – would you have failed it?

Ted Hughes on Wikipedia