Friday, December 10, 2010

“His mature work is a kind of anthropological allegory of ambitious dimensions.” Discuss this view of Hughes’s poetry.

The Meanings of Archaeology, Anthropology, and Allegory
At Cambridge, Hughes had taken up archaeology and anthropology as his subjects of study. Archaeology is the study of primitive or ancient cultures, modes of life and thought, beliefs and rituals, and also of art and architecture. Anthropology is the science of the study of mankind and of the history of mankind since its very origins. An allegory is a mode of literary writing by means of which an author expresses or states his ideas, views, and beliefs in veiled or disguised manner, so that the writing has a twofold meaning; the literal or surface meaning, and the hidden or deeper meaning. Some of the finest examples of allegory written in prose are John Bunyan’s book. The Pilgrim’s Progress, and Herman Melville’s book, Moby Dick; and one of the greatest examples of allegory written in the form of a poem is The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser.

Examples of Allegorical Poems By Hughes
The volumes entitled “The Hawk in the Rain” and “Lupercal” may be regarded as poetry in the making, even though the poems in these two volumes are nearly perfect of their kind, and the animal poems in both these volumes have definite anthropological and allegorical dimensions to them. Hughes’s mature work begins with the volume of poems entitled “Wodwo”. A large number of poems in this volume are examples of anthropological allegory. The poem Thistles is evidently anthropological because here human qualities have been attributed to the plants. Thistles are depicted as growing in a revengeful spirit, and as having in them the war-like and bloodthirsty feeling of the warriors who, after being killed in battle, were followed by their sons who again showed the same destructive spirit. The idea here, expressed in an allegorical or veiled form, is that the destructive and revengeful instinct in man is a permanent trait. The poem Ghost Crabs is an allegory depicting the havoc which the unconscious or the sub-conscious mind of man works. Here the frustrations, the repressed desires, the secret phobias, and the hidden anxieties of human beings have been personified as crabs, giant crabs, and ghost-crabs who are the “powers” of this world while we, human beings, are their “bacteria”. In the poem Second Glance at a Jaguar, Hughes does not regard the jaguar simply as an animal, but as symbolically much more. The jaguar here is a criminal “muttering some mantrah, some drum-song of murder.” In the closing lines of this poem, the jaguar is described as coming from the criminal underworld. While the jaguar in this poem symbolizes terrific energy, he also symbolizes criminality and gangsterism, which are among the traits of human beings too. The poem called The Bear symbolizes inertia being transformed into consciousness; and the rat in Song of a Rat is a symbol of the suffering in the universe. In the poem called The Howling of Wolves, the wolves are depicted as symbols of pain, at the mercy of the steel traps, and crying like a baby. The poem called The Green Wolf symbolically describes the destruction of one’s old self as the necessary prelude to a recognition of the sleeping “atman” (or soul) within us. The poem reveille identifies the destructive serpent as the Biblical snake who destroyed the innocence of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis. Here the serpent, “this legless land-swimmer with a purpose” aims to destroy trust and love. This serpent, therefore, becomes an embodiment of the force of evil. In the poem Theology, the evil serpent is shown to lie within man himself: “This is the dark intestine.” The second part of the poem Out tells of the birth of a dead man and is, therefore, an image of a generation of children born for a precise function which is to die. The birth in this poem is also the birth of a child like Hughes for whom innocence was impossible because of the consciousness of death. Such a birth is like a “re-assembled infantryman” who is “blasted to bits,” and subsequently totters out of the hospital with the eyes of an exhausted clerk. The final part of this poem takes the image of the birth of death a bit further. Here the poppy is the myth of the grave, may be of the womb searching. Hughes felt cheated by the war’s destruction of his childhood because World War I not only wounded his father seriously but clung on to the four-year-old Hughes. The poem called Wodwo is another allegorical poem. A Wodwo is a sort of half-man, half-animal spirit of the forest. Hughes in his poem speaks about a Wodwo becoming conscious of the world for the first time, and asking himself who he is, and if the weeds around him know him or have seen him before. The Wodwo also asks himself if he can fit into this world. In fact, his question “what am I then?” haunts every poem in the volume entitled “Wodwo”. The poem Gog depicts the dragon who finds a mention in the Bible. This dragon cannot be killed, and he wages continual war against God who is the God of light. In the poem, Gog is awakened from his sleep by God’s shout of omnipotence: “I am Alpha and Omega.” A battle begins, and the beast Gog, who cannot be killed, becomes a darkness, a living darkness and a perpetual challenge to the God of light. Thus, this too is an allegorical poem which depicts the endless strife between the forces of good and the forces of evil in this universe.
The Ambitious Nature of Hughes’s Purpose in His Poems
It is evident, then, that Hughes has used his anthropological knowledge to express himself in his poetry, and that he has employed the allegorical mode of writing to convey his ideas and beliefs in the hope that, after reading his poems, mankind may feel an urge to repair the damage it has done to itself in modern times through materialistic agreed, through an over-emphasis on the ego or self-hood, through a denial of the basic virtues of human nature, and through a failure to understand the true meaning of culture. Hughes thinks of the poet as a healer or a medicine-man like the “shaman” of olden times. And he has endeavoured to play this role throughout his work which thus becomes monumental in its scope and design and which, despite all its diversity and variety, shows a fundamental unity.
Anthropology and Allegory in the “Crow Poems
It is not only in poems like Thistles and Fern that Hughes shows his anthropological bent of mind. Even in the poem Pibroch, he attributes a human consciousness to a pebble which is depicted as dreaming that it is the foetus of God. And the whole sequence of poems in the volume entitled “Crow” shows both Hughes’s anthropological learning and his allegorical mode of writing. The poems in this sequence are Hughes’s version of the Biblical account of the beginnings of the universe as given in the Genesis. The bird Crow in this sequence allegorically represents the evil side of human nature. The whole sequence of poems here is one long allegory based upon a large number of ancient myths relating to the bird Crow who has always been regarded as wicked and evil. The Crow has always symbolized destructiveness and malice. These poems are Hughes’s most impressive performance in the field of allegorical writing, and also a conspicuous example of his anthropological knowledge. The poem Crow’s First Lesson shows Crow’s and therefore man’s failure so far as Christ’s gospel of love is concerned. In the poem Crow Alights, Hughes has depicted not only the horror of Creation but also the horror of a nuclear holocaust, thus warning mankind in allegorical terms of the total annihilation which waits for him if he persists in pursuing his false aims and goals. The poem Apple Tragedy allegorically shows that evil dwells within men and women themselves though they do not acknowledge this fact. The Crow poems show Hughes’s interest in anthropology because here Hughes traces the descent of man from his original ancestors (whether they were Adam and Eve or they were monkeys and apes).
Hughes’s Shamanic Role; and His Allegorical Method
From all this it becomes clear that Hughes’s interest in the primitive, including the ancient myths, does not mean that he has lost touch with modern culture or that he has withdrawn himself into the world of antiquity, becoming forgetful of what is happening in his own times. Actually it is his deep interest in the modern man that has prompted him to summon the primitive beliefs and superstitions to his aid with the object of drawing the attention of the modern Western man to the blunders being committed by him. And he had chosen the anthropological-allegorical medium for the accomplishment of his task and his aim. As in the case of the “Crow” poems, so in the case of the subsequent volumes, Hughes’s real aim is to expose the futility of the modern way of life which the modern man regards as a sign of advancement and progress but which is, in Hughes’s eyes. Something disastrous for true culture. The modern man’s self-exaltation, his callousness and lack of campassion, his complete ignorance of the evil that lies within himself, his loss of contact with Nature and, above all, his denial of the instincts are all opposed to true culture; and Hughes’s poetry is an allegorical attempt to rectify the modern Western man’s thinking. Hughes’s method in his poetry is to make use of the primitive beliefs and myths to achieve this end. He has attempted a modernized version of a shaman’s role.

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