Ted Hughes Represents
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Saying Hughes represents animals as alien and opposed to the civilised human consciousness is not a satisfactory answer or complete analysis of the seventeen poems that have been studied. It is only a generalisation. It is true that most of the poems do have animals represented as opposed to this human outlook in that the animals are shown to display cannibalism, extreme brutality, no remorse, a total lack of maternal grief as in Ravens, and, as in The Hen, the repeated killing of weak hens by the stronger. Though some portray animals with human qualities like a jaguar yearning to be back, with its freedom, in the ‘wilderness’ that was once its home. Saying that Hughes represents animals as alien and opposed to the civilised human consciousness is also taking things too far. He very frequently portrays animals as opposed to the current civilised human consciousness because animals, as humans did, rely more on their baser instincts and just have not evolved as far mentally, but is it then acceptable to call them alien? Maybe so, but only because the current human race is unable to relate to animalistic acts of cannibalism or brutality. Hughes also describes the emotions, nature and instincts of an animal in his poems instead of using appearance to portray it as opposed to the civilised human consciousness.
In Pike, The Jaguar, Ravens, The Horses and Roe-Deer Hughes has seemingly tried to give the reader the impression that the animals live in a different place to modern mankind with different morals and ideals, being able to rely on instinct to survive.
In the poems, by Hughes, that we have studied there are many similarities between them and many of these can be linked to the title statement. For example in Pike and Jaguar references are made to the single mindedness of both animals. The pike, driven by its killer instinct, choking to death on a larger pike and the jaguar, even while caged, blinded from everything else by only thinking about being back and free in the jungle. Hughes also uses uncommon emotions, cannibalism for example, in humans to portray the difference between the two. For instance in Pike an instinct to kill and keep on killing is shown and in Ravens a stillborn lamb is left by its mother who, we are told, could not be distinguished from the other ‘quietly nibbling sheep’ around it. Hughes constantly emphasises the very basic instincts of the animals in his poems from the killer instinct of the cannibalistic Pike to the protective and cautious instinct of the deer. It seems that in these poems Hughes is highlighting differences between animals and humans but ultimately we are one and the same.
It was Sigmund Freud who determined that there were three stages of the human psyche, the Id which is the basic level that humans have now evolved out of but, as shown by the ability of animals to commit acts that would make most humans cringe such as relieving themselves in full view of everyone and in leaving weaker animals to be killed by predators or their own kind gives the impression that animals are still very much stuck in this basic survival instinct. The Ego and the Superego are the two higher forms of intelligence as determined by Sigmund Freud. He stated that it was the Id that controlled our functions and tells us, as humans, that the body wants something. It is then the action of the Id to do this as quickly as possible, even to relieve oneself in public.
The reason that we do not do this is because of the Ego, which makes us wait until the time is right or stops us if the action is morally wrong like cannibalism. This is why we get animals doing things that humans would never do, if sane. This is also why we hear stories of people driven to cannibalism because, in times of extreme emotions the will to survive, provided by the Id, takes over and stories of famine struck Russians eating their own children are heard or people being able to flee from danger more quickly that they ever have before because the Id (and adrenal gland) allow themselves to be pushed beyond the limit of normal human exertion.
Although similarities abound throughout Hughes’ poems he makes a variety of contrasts within the poems themselves. One particular contrast that Hughes makes in quite a few of his poems is changing from the animal world that has been the focus of the whole poem to describing the human world in the last few verses. In The Horses, for example the ‘woods in the hour-before-dawn dark’ is contrasted with ‘the din of crowded streets’ and in Esther’s Tomcat from killing a medieval knight to leaping ‘among ashcans’ in the back alleys of some city.
In these poems Hughes uses language excellently to convey the differences between humans and animals and to describe the animal he is portraying.
In The Jaguar, Hughes uses many few-syllabled words with ‘hard’ sounds like ‘short’ and ‘bang’. Hughes also makes good use of alliteration like ‘fierce fuse’ and ‘bang of blood in the brain’ to describe the anger felt by the jaguar. In The Horses Hughes gives us the impression that the horses are almost age-old royal giants by using words that are more commonly used to describe the stones in Stonehenge – ‘megalith’ for example. The use of ‘megalith’ gives a two-fold image. That of a huge, ancient and unchanging object and of a total lack of motion. This is also strengthened in line thirty when the horses are said to have ‘draped stone manes’. In Pike Hughes’ respect for the creature he is describing is very apparent. He uses words commonly associated with the aristocracy like ‘grandeur’ and ‘delicacy’ to paint a picture of the ‘king of freshwater predators’. Hughes also belittles the regal status of the pike somewhat by offsetting words like ‘delicacy’ with ‘horror’ to portray the pike as the evil ruler of the lakes, ponds and rivers. The regal, dignified and even snobbish nature of the pike is again repeated in the ninth verse when the pike is described as ‘too immense to move, so immense and old’.
In Ravens, he describes the sheep (because Ravens is actually about sheep, not ravens) as ‘kneeling to nibble’. The word nibble seems to be used and constantly repeated over the next two lines because it seems to emphasise the emotional detachment that the sheep have for a stillborn lamb and the fact that it was ‘impossible to tell now which in all this field of quietly nibbling sheep was its mother’ also show a lack of maternal instinct for something that it is mother to even if it is ‘born dead’ and ‘twisted like a scarf’. In Roe-Deer Hughes creates impression of the skittish deer, not oft seen by humans by using words like ‘alerted’ and ‘secret’ to describe their movement. As this poem is based on a real event he also describes the encounter as ‘abnormal’ suggesting that the worlds of deer and men seldom intertwine as they did then. He also shows how easily they can conceal themselves because, after they move off, they are taken by the snow and ‘soon their nearby hoofprints also.
From all of his poems it can be seen that Hughes knows quite a bit about each animal and also respects them. In some poems like Ravens and Roe-Deer the poems are even describing personal experiences. This can be seen through the way he describes their appearance, nature and movement. In The Horses, for instance, he describes them as having ‘draped manes and tilted hind hooves’, in Roe-Deer the deer are said to move ‘upright, riding their legs’, in The Jaguar it is said that ‘the whole world rolls under the long thrust of his [the Jaguar’s] heel. Comparisons between the described animal and others in the animal world are also easily found because in Pike Hughes describes the pike as ‘green tigering the gold’ giving it the impression that the greatest freshwater predator, the Pike, could be related to the greatest land predator, the tiger.
He is also quick to show the filth that animals can live in, again showing us another digression that animals have from civilised human life. The fact that animals will put up with such conditions in bad enough but, as portrayed in this zoo, is the fact that the cages have not been cleaned well enough by the zookeepers suggesting that they are both the same as the animals when it comes to their living conditions and welfare, uncaring? In The Jaguar he describes the cages as stinking ‘of sleepers from the breathing straw’ Hughes also seems fascinated with blood and animal’s innards and uses it very well to emphasise anger like ‘the bang of blood in the brain’ as in The Jaguar or to shock, with explicit images like,
‘a lamb of an hour or two
Its insides, the various jellies and crimsons
And threads and tissues pulled out.’
as in Ravens.
In the poems that we have studied many examples of how animals are alien to the civilised human consciousness can be found. In The Jaguar, for example, the idea of the jaguar being different from all the humans around it is shown by the way that ‘the crowd stands, stares, mesmerised’ as if the crowd are seeing something for the first time, something that is, in fact, alien to them. On the other hand in The Horses the poet describes him stepping into the ‘grey silent world’, an ancient, natural world that belongs to the horses, unlike the artificial, mechanised ‘din of crowded streets’ that is a common sight for mankind. The Horses differs from The Jaguar because the jaguar has been taken from its natural habitat and pushed into the human world for all to stare at whereas a man has stumbled into the world of the horses as in The Horses or into ‘the secret deerhood’ as in Roe-Deer. In Pike the differences shown between the human world and the animal world are done by focusing on the pike’s lack of any instinct apart from its basic instinct to kill and to survive and how its urge to kill is so great that it is killed while attacking another pike.
This is obviously totally alien to current human beliefs as can be seen by the numerous animal rights activists that try to ban hunting and killing animals totally, even though they are necessary to humans for a balanced diet. It is Ravens which, in my opinion, best displays Hughes’ attempts to highlight the differences between animals and humans. In the first five verses of the poem we see a mother nursing her healthy new-born lamb, but this is just as in the human world. In the seventh to tenth verses of the poem we are given the picture of a lamb that has been born dead and has been left alone by its mother, having no need for a broken lamb ‘twisted like a scarf’. It is then that we see how different humans are from animals when instinct is pushed to the recesses of the mind or left at its forefront. A human mother would be heartbroken that her little child had lost its life before it had ever begun but the mother sheep knows that a dead lamb will bring predators and knows that there is nothing further that can be done for it. This may seem harsh and extremely brutal but, in a cold, clinical way makes perfect sense because out in the animal kingdom the ‘survival of the fittest’ phrase is still very meaningful. In the last half of the poem we are given a very obvious display of how animals are different from humans when a child and a man (most likely Hughes himself) are introduced to this calm field of death.
They are both so fascinated with the dead lamb that the man picks ‘up the dangling greasy weight by the hooves soft as dogs’ pads’. His morbid fascination with death shows us that death is quite alien, or at least very uncommon, to him, but the fact that it’s now ‘impossible to tell now which in all this field of quietly nibbling sheep was its mother’ means that the sheep are not intrigued by death and shows death as a common occurrence that doesn’t bother them in the slightest. The naivety of the child asking ‘did it [the stillborn lamb] cry?’ is excellently contrasted and interspersed with information about another lamb being born and how this lamb, from its first minutes alive is ‘testing the note it finds in its mouth’ and ‘inching its new points towards its mother’ showing that a just born lamb can do many of the things it needs to survive while a three-year old child does not know that a still born lamb will not cry before it dies. The exaggeration and ‘overthinking’ of the man is also increased in the last verse when he contemplated that the lamb was lucky because the day it was born there was ‘a warm wind’ and ‘its first day of death was blue and warm’. These two quotations show that the humans are dwelling much more on death now, as civilisation has made it more uncommon than back then when wild animals and diseases were as much feared as a nuclear or chemical war is feared today.
It is my considered opinion that Hughes has tried to show the reader that animals are opposed to the current civilised human consciousness and are alien to this consciousness but I think that he is trying to say that both humans and animals have started from the same point, but animals have not evolved as far mentally because they seem to possess no Ego or Superego, only the Id and so we should not, and for the most part, in reality, really take notice of their behaviour because it is, quite simply, natural.