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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 522

Crow: from the Life and Songs of the Crow by Ted Hughes is a poetry volume that was originally intended to be an anthologized folktale history of the crow from the beginning to the end of the universe. Drawing from various world mythologies, Hughes created poems about this crow figure and the various roles he plays.

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The first episode in the volume is called “The Quarrel in Heaven.” In this short prose piece, God has finished creating the world, but he has a recurring nightmare. This nightmare includes a Hand and a Voice, which appears each night, kidnaps God, drags him through the earth, and then drops him back in heaven in a cold sweat. The nightmare mocks God’s creation, particularly mankind. Meanwhile, man sits at the gate of heaven waiting to speak to God, so he can beg God to take back life from everything because it is far too difficult. God challenges the nightmare to “do better,” and as a result it creates the crow on earth from an embryo. The crow becomes God’s companion, and God instructs the crow to perform various tasks and trials, some of which are intended to destroy the crow. However, the crow survives each of God’s tests, often interfering with God’s own activities, sometimes for mischief and sometimes to learn.

What follows is a series of poems and prose episodes that describe the life, experiences, and functions of the crow as outlined above. Because it is difficult to summarize every poem, I will discuss several notable ones from the volume.

In another episode, the crow searches the universe for his female Creator. While he is out, he is met by a hag who asks him to carry her across a river. As he completes this task, the hag asks the Crow questions about love that are difficult to answer. When they reach the other side of the river, the hag transforms into a beautiful young woman. Some of the poems in the text attempt to answer the hag’s questions.

The Crow is often depicted as a Trickster figure throughout the volume, doing things for his own merriment or to create chaos. For instance, in “A Childish Prank,” the Crow describes how he had the idea to create man and woman’s genitalia by biting a worm in two and “stuffing” the different ends inside their bodies. This crass poem represents the crude, mischievous side of the Crow.

Another important aspect of the volume is the series of poems that address Biblical themes. In “Crow Blacker than Ever,” the Crow says he is responsible for the crucifixion by nailing heaven and earth together. In “Apple Tragedy,” Hughes rewrites the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, which happens because Eve lets the serpent have sexual intercourse with her. Each of these examples shows how throughout the text, Hughes often mocks Christianity.

Overall, the volume traces the crow’s journey to find his true purpose in life, though he never quite discovers or achieves it. Critics often suggest the crow represents mankind itself and his somewhat disordered existence on earth.


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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1801

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 entire section contains 2323 words.)

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