Analysis

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 516

Published in 1970 and consisting of poems he composed in the late 1960s, Hughes considered his volume of poems Crow: from the Life and Songs of the Crow to be his masterpiece. His Crow is a mythic bird, seeking his female creator. The crow is also a trickster figure who must use his wits to survive. A trickster in folk literature is a creature who hones his intelligence to offset other weaknesses and who often subverts the rules of society. He serves as both the hero and antihero of the tale. However, ironically, Hughes's Crow often fails in his quests. For example, in "Crow Goes Hunting," Crow employs his words (his wit), saying his words have "strong teeth" to try to catch the hare, but in the end, the joke is on Crow, for the hare leaps away to a hill "having eaten Crow's words."

Hughes stated he wished for his poems to be read apart from the context of biography, primarily because his biography was so explosive. He is often best known, though this was not his desire, as the husband of poet Sylvia Plath, whose Ariel exploded on the scene after her suicide as one of the greatest and most important works of poetry in the last half of the twentieth century. Yet it is to Hughes's credit that we have Plath's poems, as he shepherded them through publication with Faber. Nevertheless, her poems and her death threatened to overshadow his own work as a poet.

Many critics believe that Crow reflects Hughes’s reckoning with his wife’s death in a biographical and mythological sense. Pain is evident in the poems, which often use violent imagery, and in which Crow often ends up in a bad situation: "charred," "crashed on the moon," or up against a God who holds all the "all the weapons." 

Such aggressive imagery emerges frequently. Crow is often in battle, reflecting in part, according to Neil Roberts's introduction to Crow, the influence of Eastern European poets such as Vasko Popa, who wrote of witnessing the “atrocities” of the twentieth century. Images such as "mama" crow with "blood her breasts her palms her brow all wept blood" or "shock-severed eyes watched blood/squandering as if from a drainpipe" may be more about shock value than great art, but they convey a strong impression of pain and anger and describe the psychic as well as the physical landscape in which Crow, Hughes's alter ego as well as mythic creature, must engage in what can seem an almost incessant battle to survive. It is difficult to separate Hughes’s difficult life experiences from Crow’s own struggles.

Crow as a collection marks a departure for Hughes from works centering on the natural world. Drawing on Roberts’s analysis in the book’s introduction, Hughes abandoned some of the typical features of his poetry—like a focus on humanism—in favor of Crow’s more experimental style. The vulgar language utilized at times, specifically in instances like the creation of male and female genitalia, signals that this poetry is deeper than its aesthetic value.

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