Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
A reader coming upon Ted Hughes’s Crow for the first time will realize immediately its forceful, almost savage turning away from English poetic tradition. In its harsh treatment of human relations, religious and moral assumptions, and the function of consciousness in the natural world, Crow offers page after page of profoundly raucous poetic rebellion.
Hughes’s protagonist is Crow—omnivorous, homely, solitary, and ubiquitous. Borrowing from Celtic mythology, the Old Testament, and various aboriginal legends, the poet creates a rich, potent mythology of his own for this figure. “Two Legends” introduces the book’s central concerns. It is a litany of enigmatic statements focusing on muscle and on organ, on force as the origin of life: “Black was the without eye/ Black the within tongue/ Black was the heart/ Black the liver, black the lungs.” This incantation of the body’s tissues ultimately leads to the soul, black also, the sum here of the struggle to overcome or contain the Genesis-like void from which everything springs. Thus in the second legend of the poem, an “egg of blackness” hatches a crow, the figure that will for the rest of the collection symbolize alternately the life force and the primal element of chaos. He will speak for both intuition and deception and will be a preserver as much as a destroyer. An ambiguous semideity whose hoarse cry celebrates the cyclic processes of birth and death, the crow is “a...
(The entire section is 1801 words.)
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