Please provide an analysis of the poem "Swifts" by Ted Hughes, including commentary, meaning, images, and metaphors.

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A poetic analysis with commentary is a complex task, and eNotes is not able to provide one for you but can help you along your way.

Poetic analysis considers both poetic elements and poetic techniques. Poetic elements are non-optional aspects of a poem including:

  • structure
  • theme
  • tone
  • poetic speaker
  • mood
  • characters (if there are any)
  • narrative (if there is one: story with start, middle, end)
  • point of view

Poetic techniques are optional aspects of language and imagery a poet may opt to choose including figurative language. Some figurative language and other techniques are:

  • irony
  • metaphor, like "Gnat-whisp frail" comparing swifts to gnats
  • simile
  • personification, like "Creation’s / Still waking"
  • idiom
  • symbols
  • sensory imagery
  • abstract or concrete imagery
  • hyperbole
  • word order changes

As to poetic elements, the structure is minimalist free verse. It's minimalist because sentences are incomplete, missing one or two words, and are oddly divided through the technique of enjambment (lines with no end-punctuation; the thought continues to the next line):

Missing an article "the": "Suddenly flickering in sky summit,"
Divided by enjambment: "And they’re gone

On a steep

"Controlled scream of skid"

The theme is expressed in the three lines about "summer": the swifts are an oracle of renewal and refreshing foretelling that the best of life, "our summer," is coming in full. The conventional symbol for summer is "youth": the summer of life, the summer of the year, a summer season conventionally mean a person's youth. Hughes uses it here however to mean "renewal": the globe is annually renewed and yearly refreshed. Hughes is saying that people, therefore--you and I and Hughes--can have renewal and refreshing of life, mind, spirit always: youth is not the beginning and end of the summer of life; summer comes cyclically in the globe's "work":

Which means the globe’s still working, the Creation’s
Still waking refreshed, our summer’s
Still all to come

One technique of particular interest is Hughes' use of imagery synaesthesia. This is the combination of different sensory experiences in imagery. For instance, it is describing something you see in terms of taste or in terms of texture, e.g.,

  • The pink sky is vanilla in my eyes.
  • The pink sky feels like cotton wisps around my arms.

Synaesthesia applies to any combinations of any of the five sensory experiences. Hughes uses this technique in this example: "they’re gone / On a steep / Controlled scream of skid." This is synaesthesia because flight and "skid" (checked forward momentum) are tactile while "scream" is vocal.