Friday, December 10, 2010

Bring out the main stylistic qualities of Hughes’s poetry.

Though Words Put Together in Unusual Combinations
Although Hughes’s poetic style shows unmistakably the influences of G.M. Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, and his own wife (Sylvia Plath), yet his is at the same time one of the most original styles in modern poetry. One characteristic that we note in his first two volumes of poetry (namely “The Hawk in the Rain” and “Lupercal”) is his tendency to use tough vocabulary and to put words together in unusual combinations, Indeed, the reader has to make a strenuous mental effort to get the meaning of the word-combinations which he employs, and which are strongly reminiscent of G.M. Hopkins’s talent in this respect.

Simplicity of Words and Syntax in Certain Poems
This does not, however, mean that Hughes is incapable of using simple vocabulary or of putting words together in simple combinations. He has written poems in which the vocabulary is absolutely simple, and in which he has made a truly felicitous use of words. The whole of the poem called Hawk Roosting is an example of this kind of style. Nothing could have been simpler than the following lines:
The sun is behind me
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change
I am going to keep things like this.
The poem called Six Young Men is another example of a simple and felicitous use of the language. In this case, we may take the following lines as an example:
This one was shot in an attack and lay
Calling in the wire, then this one, his best friend,
Went out to bring him in and was shot too;…..
An Abundance of Striking Similes and Metaphors
One of the most conspicuous features of Hughes’s poetic style is an abundance of similes and metaphors in his poems; and, what is more, these similes and metaphors are of a bold and daring kind which few poets would venture to use or even to imagine. There is an abundance of metaphorical writing also in Hughes’s poetry. In the poem The Jaguar, we have the following metaphorical statement. “The boa-constrictor’s coil is a fossil.” And in the same poem we have the following metaphors: (1) “the drills of his eyes on a short fierce fuse”; (2) “His stride is wildernesses of freedom.”
Graphic and Realistic Imagery
Graphic and realistic imagery is another striking feature of Hughes’s poetic style. Most of the examples of the use of simile and metaphor are themselves examples of vivid imagery. In addition to those examples, we may cite the poem Rain which is one long series of Nature-pictures. The very opening line of this poem presents several images at once: “Rain, Floods, Frost. And after frost, rain.” Then we have a number of other pictures, among them the following:
A pheasant looking black
In his waterproofs, bends at his job in the stubble.
From the poem November we may choose the following lines as an example of vivid imagery;
After long rain the land
Was sodden as the bed of an ancient lake.
Treed with iron and birdless.
The poem October Dawn again contains a series of Nature-pictures which are most vivid and realistic. The poem called The Horses is also remarkable for its vivid and realistic Nature-imagery.
The Use of Alliteration
Alliteration is one of the recurrent features in Hughes’s poetry. The use of this device by Hughes does not give us any impression that he is deliberately using it for the sake of effect. In his case, the use of alliteration seems not only to be spontaneous but inevitable. In the poem November we have the following line: “The hill where the hare crouched with clenched teeth.” Here first the h sound is repeated, and then the c(k) sound is repeated. And the alliteration here seems to have come directly from the poet’s pen without any effort or premeditation on his part. In the poem called The Jaguar, we have that oft-quoted phrase: “By the bang of blood in the brain.” In the poem Apple Dumps, we have the following alliterative and very effective phrase at the end of the poem: “A straggle of survivors. “ In the poem Ghost Crabs we have the following example of alliteration:
Sometimes, for minutes, a sliding
Thickness of silence
Presses between us.
In this example the s sound has been repeated very skilfully but without any apparent effort.
With alliteration goes another device, namely repetition of words and phrases. This repetition is intended to emphasize the idea. As two of the critics have pointed out, in Hughes’s poetry apparent re-statements are seldom repetitions of quite the same idea; and they have cited the poem Skylarks in this context. But such subtlety apart, repetition of words does serve to heighten., in our minds, the impression which the poet wishes to convey to us. An obvious example of this sort of thing occurs in the poem. The Horses in which these animals have been described in the following manner:
Grey silent fragments
Of a grey silent world.
The Use of Paradox
Then there is the use of paradox. A paradox is a statement two parts of which seem to contradict each other without, however, actually nullifying the statement. In other words, a paradox, though seemingly a self-contradictory statement, yet has a meaning, in the poem called The Horses, we have the following paradoxical line: “The frost showed its fires.” Frost and fire do not go together and, therefore, make no sense in this line. But the idea is that the frost was extremely hard, intense, and cruel in its effect on all living creatures, and also on all the vegetation. In the poem The Jaguar we have the following line: “The eye satisfied to be blind in fire”.
Obscurity and Ambiguity
As pointed out in the very beginning, it is not always easy to understand Hughes’s poetry. Some of the lines and passages in his poems are really very obscure and, therefore, puzzling; and some of the lines are ambiguous so that we find it difficult to decide what the poet really means. The following lines may be cited as examples of obscurity or ambiguity.
Nightfall collects the stars
Only in a manner of speaking
(Root, Stem, Leaf)
Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
(The Thought-Fox)
Nothing escaped him. (Nothing could escape)
(This is an example of ambiguity. Nothing could escape the Crow’s notice or nothing could escape from the world as Crow saw it.)
He saw the stars, fuming away into black,
mushrooms of the nothing forest, clouding their
spores, the virus of God.
(Crow Alights)
The wet star melting the gland
(Apple Dumps)
The Structural Unity of Hughes’s Poems: Every Poem an Organism
Hughes’s technique of writing poems includes one very striking and highly commendable quality which is to be found in almost every poem that he wrote. This quality is the structural unity of his poems. Almost every poem by him is well-knit, compact, and self-sufficient even if it belongs to a long sequence like the one called “Crow” or the one called “Cave Birds”. The poem called The Horses aims at depicting the spirit of endurance of a number of horses in the face of the freezing cold; and this poem is a remarkable example of the unity of structure. November and October Dawn are largely Nature-poems, and each of them is characterized by a structural unity. The poem Ghost Crabs, though consisting of three distinct parts, has one governing idea; and the idea here is that human beings are haunted in their dreams by their repressed desires, their frustrations, their phobias, and their hidden anxieties which, during the day, remain in their subconscious minds.
Rhythm, Rhyme, Stanza, Etc.
Hughes’s poetry relies on not only diction and rhythm but also on the sound of words. To Hughes, the appeal of the sound of words was even more important than their visual impact. This preference for the auditory effect of poetry links Hughes with the Elizabethans like Shakespeare and Webster on one hand, and with G.M. Hopkins and T.S. Eliot on the other. Thus he is partly a traditionalist and partly an innovator. As a traditionalist he shows a preference for the four-line stanza; and as an innovator he lets his lines run frequently on into the next stanza. He even uses a full stop in the middle of a line. Furthermore, he has written a number of poems in free verse (vers libre). He handles half-rhyme and assonance with much skill. The poem called The Thought-Fox is a good example of this sort of thing. The Jaguar also furnishes examples of half-rhyme and imperfect rhyme.
The view of Two critics
No discussion of Hughes’s style and technique can be complete without taking into account the view expressed by two highly analytical and penetrating minds, namely the minds of Terry Gifford and Neil Roberts. Speaking of the opening lines of the poem called The Horses, they observe that the deployment of rhythm, simple diction, and sound-effects to evoke the freezing stillness is “expert.” These critics have also drawn our attention to the visual imagery in Hughes’s poetry, and to the astonishing metaphorical fertility and boldness in this poems. Hughes, they say, has the ability to capture the reality of things in words; and he has displayed this ability in his poem The Though-Fox. The style of Hughes’s Crow poems may be super-simple and super-ugly; but this simplicity is not without its rhythm and music, and this ugliness is not unrelieved by the presence of music. Furthermore, Hughes has, in these poems, made a deliberate use of crude colloquial and journalistic language without going to an extreme in this respect. Thus, in the opinion of these critics, Hughes’s poetic style shows a vast and complex range.

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