Thursday, December 16, 2010

Discuss Hughes’ use of Dreams and occult Symbolism

Ted Hughes is a highly symbolic and mythical poet who dreams and animal imagery have been traced with symbolic notes. Almost each and every thing mentioned in Ted’s poetry is symbolic. A symbol is an object which stands for something else as Dove symbolizes Peace. Similarly, Blake’s tiger symbolizes creative energy; Shelley’s wind symbolizes inspiration; Ted Hughes’s Hawk symbolizes terrible destructiveness at the heart of nature. There is a difference between an image and symbol, the former evokes a picture and the latter has wide range of connotations. Hughes’ poetry permeates with animal imagery which serves as a symbolic purpose. Ted’s poem ‘Thought-Fox’ is the best example of symbol.

            “I imagine the midnight moments’ forest:
            Something else is alive
            Beside the clock’s loneliness”
The Thought-Fox describes, in an indirect or oblique manner, the process by which a poem gets written. What a poet needs to write a poem is inspiration. A poet waits for the onrush of an idea through his brain. And, of course, he also needs solitude (loneliness) and silence around him. Solitude and silence are, however, only contributory circumstances. They constitute a favourable environment, while the poem itself comes out of the poet’s head which has been invaded, as it were, by an idea or thought. The idea or thought takes shape in his head like a fox entering a dark forest and then coming out of it suddenly. The fox embodies the thought which a poet expresses in his poem. The fox here serves as a symbol. Hughes’s sensibility is pagan in the original sense; and his poetry is as suggestive of the lair as it is of the library. He feels greatly attracted by ancient mythologies, Oriental as well as Western, though he makes use of those ancient myths for his own purpose. He certainly does not believe literally in the ancient myths, but he finds a great value in them and, throughout his poetry, tries to show his readers where the value of these ancient myths lies.

            “As if we flew slowly, their formations
            Lifting us toward some dazzle of blessing”

As a poet, Hughes believes that he must make “secret flights” to go back in time in order to be able to probe his own mind through his knowledge of the past consciousness of the human race. He believes that the principal method of making such secret flights is through dreams which provide an insight into the unconscious mind and which have a collective meaning when they have mythical contents. Hughes invests his poem with a dream-like quality because dreams reveal the unconscious mind just as the shamanistic procedures do that. The Thought-Fox is a dream-like poem, a reverie on a cold winter’s night. The same is the case with the poem called ‘That Morning’. What is even more remarkable is his ability to adjust his style to the purpose. Sometimes, as in “The Thought-Fox” he can convey his meaning and tone through the use of diction. At other times, he uses animals as symbols; but his symbols are occult and perceived only through senses. This occult symbolism is pronounced in the following lines:

The subjects he prefers to write on are, however, several: man in relation to the animal world, man and nature, war and death. Hughes’s animal poems are among the best in his work, and among the finest in the whole range of English poetry. The imagery in these poems has its own appeal. The imagery in these poems is at once graphic and realistic; and the language which Hughes has employed in describing the various animals shows a striking originality and felicity. The emphasis in this imagery is on the vitality or energy of the animals concerned and also on the violence, the fierceness, and the cruelty of most of those animals.  The Thought-Fox is also partly an animal poem, in which the poet’s inspiration is compared to a fox making a sudden and silent entry into his head. In this case, instinct replaces intellect. In the poem ‘Chaucer’ Ted says:

            “You declaimed Chaucer
            To a field of cows”

Where the image of ‘cow’ symbolizes the so-called critics and those scholastic critics whose only purpose is to find faults with or find pleasurism in literature. The cows have similar resemblance to the Hawk. In the poem ‘Hawk Roosting’ the poet does not praise the hawk so much as he denigrates man by comparison. The hawk is here seen as vastly superior to man who is unable to accept Nature for what it is and, instead, tries to tame it by giving it philosophical names.  Elsewhere, cows are the symbol of nature and the purity one may wish to enjoy:

            “Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm wreaths of breath”

Thus, he uses images, metaphors and realistic imagery for a symbolic purpose; but purpose seems to be more and more occult. Alliteration and syntax structure are one of the devices for Ted to achieve the purpose.  The paradoxical situations are in the hawk are also vividly presented.  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 as the poems discussed above.  Hughes has the ability to capture the reality of things in words; and he has displayed this ability in his poem ‘The Though-Fox’ and ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’.

 Conclusively, it is established that Ted Hughes’ is a highly symbolic poet who uses an individual style and technique. Although, his symbols are occult, yet they are unique and cinematic. Especially, the symbolic use of Hawk and that of Fox gets so much stamped on the mind of the reader that it is difficult to forget it.  No wonder that his poetry, like the poetry of every modern poet, is a tough nut to crack, because the modern poet tends to be more subtle and more elusive in the expression of his ideas than the traditional poet (like Thomas Hardy). But otherwise too, poets are the seers, sages, philosophers, and Magi of the world, and their techniques of expression, like their modes of thought, are often complex, involved, intricate, and sometimes even baffling and bewildering. In any case, Hughes’s work has considerably enriched English poetry and enlarged its scope and its bounds.

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