If Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Stevie Smith, and William Trevor were nominated for a literary award for one of the poems listed below, who should win?
Criteria used to evaluate the winnner of award are as follows: use of imagery and figurative language; musicality and lyricism; subject matter; emotional content; theme; and overall impact.
Poems to be reviewed are "Digging," by Seamus Heaney, "The Horses," by Ted Hughes, "The Frog Prince" and "Not Waving but Drowning," by Stevie Smith, and "The Distant Past," by William Trevor.
Which work would be the winner if one were asked to judge an imagined literary contest involving "Digging," by Seamus Heaney, "The Horses," by Ted Hughes, "The Frog Prince" and "Not Waving but Drowning," by Stevie Smith, and "The Distant Past," by William Trevor? Which work would be chosen if the criteria involved use of imagery and figurative language; musicality and lyricism; subject matter; emotional content; theme; and overall impact?
The award, if I were judge, would go to “The Horses,” by Ted Hughes, which would beat Heaney’s “Digging” by a nose (pun intended). Trevor’s “The Distant Past” seems to be a short story, rather than a poem, and is thus ineligible. The two works by Smith seem either too plain (“Not Waving but Drowning”) or too whimsical (“The Frog Prince”). Heaney’s poem is a very admirable piece but seems too rooted in the particular experience of one person in one place (Seamus Heaney in Ireland). Hughes’s poem, on the other hand, seems to satisfy all the criteria listed and seems more universal in its appeal. Here are some brief comments on the Hughes poem in relation to the specified criteria:
Imagery and figurative language.
Hughes’s poem is full of striking imagery, yet it is imagery to which most people can relate. A good example is the reference to a “world cast in frost.” Most people who have lived in climates that have falls and winters will be able to relate to this image, but the idea of frost as creating a kind of sculpture is striking and original, and so is the idea of frost as a kind of white cast used to stiffen injured limbs. Similarly memorable are the references to “tortuous statues” of frozen exhaled breath, and also to valleys “draining the darkness.” Many more examples might easily be given.
Musicality and lyricism.
Hughes’s poem makes great use of a number of sound effects and musical techniques, including alliteration (as in “draining the darkness”), assonance (as in “draped manes”), and various kinds of metrical patterns, such as anapests (example: “Not a leaf; not a bird”); iambs (example: “I climbed through woods”); and trochees (example: “Making”). There is no obvious or regular metrical pattern, so that the poem sometimes reads like prose, but individual lines are often powerful in their rhythms.
The poem’s subject matters – sunrise, the beauty of nature, the beauty of horses as symbols of nature, and the contrasts between urban and rural and between past and present – are all subjects to which most people can easily relate.
Emotional content and overall impact.
The poem evokes various emotional reactions: appreciation of the beauty of nature (including sky, land, sea, and animals); wonder at the way the landscape can be transformed by cold and by light; and a strong, almost Wordsworthian sense that memories of past beauty can sustain us even when we are distant from that beauty in both time and space:
In din of crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place
The poem deals with themes likely to appeal to most people, including the relationship between humans and nature and the powerful impact that memories of beauty can have on our lives, especially our everyday lives, in which beauty is often hard to discern.