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The Poet as a Rebel

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Essay title: The Poet as a Rebel

The Poet as a Rebel

Ted Hughes (1930-1998) is regarded as one of the most accomplished British poets to emerge since World War II. He is a versatile poet who is best known for his wildness, his unique point of view to the role of a poet just like a shaman and his powerful poems that feature violent and bloody themes, symbolic and mythical images, bold metaphors and resonant language. Though he is a major Post Movement poet, he is often presented as the great rebel against the movement cause.

Hughes Himself

Hughes, as a man and as a poet, frequently does not conform to the conventions which society expects of him. Having grown up in a working-class background, Hughes left High School with a scholarship to Cambridge University, where the literary set came mostly from the upper-class. He quickly established a reputation for being rather wild, and someone who was at Cambridge when Hughes was there commented that for a while there was some question as to whether it would be Hughes or Cambridge which would survive the experience.

Physically, Hughes is tall and dark. He likes to wear black clothing, and he is often careless of his appearance. One critic has called him “Heathcliff”. Another described him as “The Incredible Hulk of English literature” (Feinstein 43).

The Role of the Poet

Hughes has some very definite ideas about poetry and its functions, and about his own role as a poet. Hughes believes that poetry is a magical and powerful way of reaching our feelings and emotions—our subconscious, natural energies. He believes that these energies have been repressed by an emphasis on the scientific approach to life and teaching. We are taught he says, that emotions are dangerous, can distort our judgment, should not be relied upon when we have decisions to make, and that they have nothing to do with truth.

He suggests that the poet can be a reunifying source by employing such creative energies as imagination and emotion, as well as rationalization, to probe the mysteries of nature and life. In Hughes’ poetry, according to Seamus Heaney, “racial memory, animal instinct and poetic imagination all flow into one another with an exact sensuousness” (Witte 261).

Often, Hughes sees himself as a shaman, a kind of tribal medicine man who makes symbolic journeys to the underworld of the subconscious to bring back lost souls and to cure sick people. The words, the symbols, the images and the musical rhythms of the poetry, are, for him, like the shaman’s magic drum which helps him on his journey. It is these which stir our imagination, and the effect is a magical release of emotional energy.

The Characters of His Poetry

In the 1950s, Hughes’ poetry signaled a dramatic departure from the prevailing modes of the period. The stereotypical poem of the time was determined not to risk much: politely domestic in its subject matter, understated and mildly ironic in style. By contrast, Hughes marshalled a language of nearly Shakespearean resonance to explore themes which were mythical and elemental.

In 1957 Hughes’ first book of poetry, Hawk in the Rain, was published to immediate acclaim and placed him as a leading exponent of what the critic A. Alvarez called the “new depth poetry” (Bentley 184), not least because it constituted such a profound shift away from the restrained language and ironies of the Movement generation of poets that preceded Hughes. With its harsh rhythms and diction, influenced by Anglo-Saxon, and its vivid, grandiose imagery, The Hawk in the Rain showed Hughes was prepared to risk greater claims for poetry and to celebrate what the Movement poets thought should be repressed: primitive energy and the power of the unconscious.

Ted Hughes is one of those few poets who have taken animals to play the lead role in his poems. Hughes’ attitude to animals was a direct and self-conscious one, and he did not see them as strange and alien creatures and as representatives of mysterious hidden forces. In many ways his description to animals was a brutal and violent depiction of struggle and a Darwinian interest in the survival of the fittest.

Hughes is frequently described as a poet of blood and violence. Violence is a central theme in Hughes’ works; he writes of violence in nature and of violence in human affairs. As A. E. Dyson comments: “For Ted Hughes power and violence go together: his own dark gods are makers of the tiger, not the lamb. He is fascinated by violence of all kinds, in love and in hatred, in the jungle and the arena, in battle, murder and sudden death” (Dyson 220). But, on the other hand, violence, for him, is the occasion not for reflection, but for being: it is a guarantee of energy,

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