Hughes’s Concept of a Good Poem
Ted Hughes, in common with poets like R.S. Thomas, regarded a poem as a psychic or even organic event before it became a conscious artefact. It was because of this view of his that Hughes compared the writing of poetry to capturing animals and to fishing. For him the purpose of writing, as of fishing, was “to bring up some lovely solid thing like living metal from a world where nothing exists but those inevitable facts which raise life out of nothing and return it no nothing.”
His book Poetry in the Making (in which this comparison was made by him) is almost entirely about techniques of imagination bordering on meditation, hardly at all about linguistic skills. Hughes would have agreed with the view expressed by another poet (Seamus Heaney, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature for the year 1994) that a poem is “alive in animal, mineral, and vegetable way.” A poem comes out of a creatures, out of man’s mind and feelings, and it lives and it clothed in the substance of words . This conception of poetry is closely akin to that of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, and Shelley. It is also related to the influence n Hughes of shamanism and Jungian psychology.
The Unity of Structure in The Thought-Fox
In the quotation before us the stress is on the organic quality of a poem and on the single spirit which should animate all its parts. Almost all Hughes’s best poems show these qualities. Each of his best poems is an organism and an assembly of living parts moved by a single spirit. Taking up the poem The Thought-Fox first, we find that it fully corresponds to Hughes’s conception of a good poem. Here Hughes is describing the process by which a poem is written. A poet needs perfect solitude, and he needs a perfectly quiet environment when he is composing a poem. A poet might have been meditating upon or pondering over the idea for a poem long before he actually composes the poem; but he writes it all of a sudden when the inspiration comes. Poetic inspiration is not something which a writer can summon at his will. It may come to him at any time, and in the present case it is at that the inspiration comes to Hughes. He personifies poetic inspiration as a fox, or we might say that he personifies his idea for the intended poem as a fox. He can perceive the fox coming to him through a forest and leaving its foot-prints in the snow between the trees; and then with a sudden, sharp movement, it enters the “dark hole” of the poet’s head. At the end, the sky is still starless, the clock is still ticking, but the page on which the poet strictly keeps to the point throughout the poem. Without in any way deviating from the central idea of the poem. The whole poem is compact and well-knit.
The Poem The Jaguar, Truly an Organism
The same is true of Hughes’s famous poem The Jaguar. In the beginning of this poem, Hughes depicts the indolence and sluggishness of some of the animals (the apes, the tiger, the lion, the boa-constrictor) in the zoo; and then, in the middle of the poem, he turns to the jaguar who is hurrying enraged through the darkness of his prison with his eyes on fire. Then the poet depicts the sense of freedom which the jaguar seems to experience despite his being a prisoner in a cage. Thus here the central idea is the fierceness, the vitality, and the sense of freedom of the jaguar who is actually a prisoner in a cage. There is nothing surplus or superfluous in this poem also. Indeed, this is a miracle of economy so far as the use of words is concerned. This poem is surely an organism with its various parts uniting to produce a single impression.
A Single Trait of the Thrushes Brought Into Focus
The poem Thrushes shows a unity of structure which is even more striking than that of the other poems. Here the poet concentrates on just one trait of the thrushes; and that trait is destructiveness or the instinct to kill. A thrush attacks its prey – a worm or an insect in the grass-with a start, a bounce, and a stab. There are no indolent procrastinations and no yawning stares to delay a thrush’s action. A thrush has a bullet and automatic purpose which is comparable to the quickness of Mozart’s brain and to a shark’s mouth. There is s a slight shift from the main idea in the third stanza when the poet turns to the hesitation which a man experience and the forethought which prevents a man from taking a hasty action. But even this reference to a human tendency to pause and reflect before embarking upon a course of action is integral to the main idea because this human tendency brings the promptness of the thrushes into a still clearer focus.