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Ted Hughes: The Teeth Bearing Man


Published on December 14th, 2019 at 01:17 am

By Ben Baak

As humans in a modern society, people are often burdened with the realities of their mind. Greed, hatred, egocentrism, and self preservation are pursued at the expense of our fellow societal peers. In animals, it's possible to see many of these same traits that are present and can be viewed in human kind and those that reside in the society them. In Ted Hughes’ early life, we can see these themes stemming from his experiences. Ted Hughes was born in Yorkshire in 1930, a period of great societal change and conflict. Coming out of the second industrial revolution, he was subject to the effects of monopolies and political machines, to human suffering from poverty and war. His father, a carpenter injured in the First World War, was a direct medium for Hughes as he perfectly dictated the harm humans were capable of doing to their own kind. Furthermore, Hughes grew up during the Second World War. Death, destruction, and murder became themes in his life. Aggravation and aggression became the world around him, creating a dog-eat-dog environment. Neglected by the generations above him (due to the war) Hughes was subject to abuse from friends and peers at school, furthering his descent into a poetry style reflective of the dark side of the human psyche. Throughout Hughes’ work, there is a recurring theme of material gain and self preservation at the expense of the “lesser” beings. The aggressor in each poem, usually the animal perceived as dominant or the more aggressive, always takes advantage of the lower species, or members of its own species in some cases, for material gain (food, pride, etc.) or takes part in destroying the environment surrounding them. The poems that consist of a theme similar to the one stated above are as follows; Hawk Roosting, Pike, and View of a Pig. All three poems showcase brutality towards nature, towards order, and show a superiority over a class or type of animal. This spreads to be a general theme through all of Hughes’ poem, but showcases itself most clearly in these. Perhaps the most distinctive and famous of Hughes’ is ‘Hawk Roosting’ and for good reason. It is this poem that accurately depicts all emotions and trains of thought that Hughes sought to portray.

It is through this first poem where the egocentrism and hollow nature of man is clearly demonstrated. The true nature of man’s inferred dominance over the lessers, the inference that the world was created for the individual, the powerful. In the poem, a Hawk reflects on his surroundings as he perches on a tall tree. He comes to understand that the world was built for him. He is the apex predator, his “manners are tearing off heads” (Hughes 16). The hawk reflects that he holds “Creation in… [his] foot,” a sure sign that he believes he is dominant over nature and all that surrounds him (Hughes 12). The hawk is the king in his own mind, made so through his vicious means. In a way he portrays himself as God, further inflating his ego and sense of self entitlement to all that surrounds him. All in all the theme reflects the human psyche, the emotions that make one feel that they have power over everything, that they are the sole purpose of the universe and all that surrounds them. This theme grants enlightenment to the human condition. It brings to light the notion that many feel after gaining any slight power. May it be a gun in a war or money in a business transaction, many feel that the world becomes theirs, that everything they see or touch was created just for them. People naturally cannot see outside of their own bubble as it is very difficult, we are programmed to be self sufficient. But does this in a way conform us to a nonevolutionary standpoint? Can we not progress from this system of absolute self indulgence into our own ego? This poem seems to reaffirm that standpoint, a standpoint that humans naturally isolate themselves much like a wild apex predator. Other sources reinforce this stated theme such as Volume 7 Issue 1 of the International Journal of English and Education written by Fazal Hayan and Muhammad Ali Khan. The journal states that “Hughes presents disorder, harshness and inequality of nature; he does not romanticize and idealize the nature” (Hayan & Khan, 34). This further shows that Hughes indeed does not fantasize about the possibilities of the perfect individual. He knows man is naturally selfish, naturally self centered. Furthermore, the journal goes deeper into analysis, stating that “Hughes’ prolific depiction of the nature prophesies towards a deep and stagnant issues prevailed from the very past to the modern era of science and technology” (Hayan & Khan, 34). This directly correlates to the theme and also the historical context in which this poem was written. During this period, great power was gained but a few elite over the standard working class or soldiers. These few elite became the roosting hawk; safe from the dangers below the tree, a sole task of ripping off heads and eating.The poetic devices used in this poem, mostly metaphors, are vast and powerful in relation to the general theme of the work. When the Hawk dictating that he is “in the top of the wood” (Hughes 1) is indeed a metaphor for the Hawk being in a position of power. He can see everything, far and wide, much like a king would from a tall tower of his castle. The forest becomes his domain which he rules, totally in control. When the Hawk goes further to explain that he “hold[s] creation in… [his] foot” (Hughes 12), we can again see a metaphor relating this back to a person’s feeling of total power. Not only does he own the forest (society) and all his surroundings, he truly believes that he owns Creation, the entire world around him. Imagine yourself for a moment in a position of ruthlessly high power, perhaps a dictator. Everyone can imagine themselves as one that could never commit such an act, but once the power of life and death is granted to us how can one be so sure? When one has total power why would they not feel that they are God, the one who deems who lives and who dies? This is exactly what Hughes is conveying by utilizing this quote. This is further emphasized when the Hawk states, “I kill where I please because it is all mine” (Hughes 14). This is a metaphor for a person in power feeling that they are above all others. The law, society, and even god, they selfishly use their place of power (whether it comes from money or status or perhaps even both) to take advantage of the lesser people whenever and wherever they choose. This just goes to deepen the theme within the poem, the absolute selfishness and greed that comes with the slightest inclination of power. In the last stanza of the poem, Hughes uses powerful imagery to drive his point home. The Hawk states that “The sun is behind me” (Hughes 21) which creates a visual that even the sun follows the Hawk, nothing can escape his power. If the Hawk believes that he has power even over the sun, how is one to take him down from his (literal) high perch? He is simply too powerful in his own mind. This self-God image creates a superiority complex, an idea that nothing can stop him, something which can be seen in the modern dat and especially Hughes’ time. Hughes witnessed, firsthand, Hitler’s reign. Hitler achieved an almost God like status that must have had some impact on Hughes. This man who killed millions was so far into his superiority complex he must have felt like this Hawk, even the sun following him. It is this kind of utter internal and external power that Hughes capitalizes by using these vivid literary devices.

Perhaps it is our natural motivation to benefit ourselves at the expense of others. The poem Pike regards just this, it’s vicious description of cannibalistic fish fitting of the natural state humans are born into. This poem depicts viciousness within humans, a self centeredness at the absolute demise, even death, of others. This poem depicts the natural state one is born into, a natural instinct if you will. This instinct is to metaphorically (or perhaps not) kill those in the surrounding environment in hopes of gaining self preservation or material gain, something that perhaps will be of no use to us in the long run. In Ashik Istiak’s journal Human Animals in Ted Hughes’ Poetry we can see this fact reaffirmed. It is stated that “Humans not only kill for survival but also out of malice, aggression and even without any reason,” (Istiak 3). This goes to show that humans do not have to have a reason to kill. It could be survival of course, but who will be the judge of that? Why is one not to say it was simply in the pursuit of aggression? There seems to be no clearly defined borders, but there does seem to be one clear standout. Humans were born to kill from the very beginning. Hughes goes further to emphasize his point through the use of rhetorical devices in his poem. This is demonstrated when the Pike is said to be “stunned by their own grandeur” (Hughes 5). This is a hyperbole used to show the Pike as arrogant and self involved. The pike, obviously is not stunned to see itself but it is this over dramatization that solidifies it as self centered, that solidifies humans as self centered. A further point is emphasized after a Pike is killed but retains “The same iron in this eye” (Hughes 27). Hughes uses this metaphor to compare a human to a fish. Even when a human dies, that person is still seen as what they were. And since humans are natural born killers, they remain natural born killers even after they die, the perfect killing machines. Death is simply a wall that separates the beast, whether it be fish or man, that prevents it from killing. As can be seen, humans are reaffirmed as natural born killers. Hughes states that the Pike is “three inches long, perfect” (Hughes 1), but what implications does this have? This is another metaphor comparing the fish to man. Both are the perfect hunters, the perfect killer. One on land, one on water, both dominant of their areas. But most importantly, both were born to kill either for sport or survival.

In conclusion, Hughes’ experiences growing up deeply shaped his poem’s theme. The human form to him is one of greed and killing, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. Growing up in a war town world shaped this view, but perhaps Hughes was aiming to educate as well as portray, an attempt to bring to light the cutthroat nature of humankind that in reality keeps us from achieving a more peaceful society.

Works Cited

Hayan, Fazal, and Ali Khan, Muhammad. “Analyzing the Nature of Extropianism in Ted Hughes’ Poetry.” International Journal of English and Education, vol. 7, issue 1, January 2018, http://ijee.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/4.5125157.pdf. Accessed 13 November 2019.

Istiak, Ashika. “Human Animals in Ted HughesÕ Poetry: A Thorough Study of the Animal Poems of Ted Hughes.” International Conference on Language, Literature, Culture, and Education, 30, and 31 Jan. 2016, https://www.academia.edu/23474163/Human_Animals_in_Ted_Hughes_Poetry_A_Thorough_Study_of_the_Animal_Poems_of_Ted_Hughes. Accessed 13 November 2019.

Hughes, Ted. “Pike.” The Poetry Archive, 1955, https://www.poetryarchive.org/poem/pike. Accessed 13 November 2019

Hughes, Ted. “Roosting Hawk.” All Poetry, 1960, https://allpoetry.com/Hawk-Roosting Accessed 13 November 2019

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