Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Insofar as the poem is about nature, it must be termed Romantic, but certainly not in the Wordsworthian sense of a creation that inspires through beauty or pathos and witnesses to some divine purpose. Rather, it is the “Nature red in tooth and claw” that the Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson noted—a post-Darwinian nature of the survival of the fittest. In some of Hughes’s poems in Lupercal, various humans are described as survivors through their animal-like energies or instincts. Here, however, Hughes seems more concerned to divide humanity from nature. As in a previous poem, “The Water-Lily,” humans live in two worlds: the suppressed instinctual world, which becomes for them “distracting devils,” and the disciplined, civilized world, symbolized by the “desk-diary at a broad desk.” In this Hughes echoes psychoanalyist Sigmund Freud’s dictum that the price of civilization is the suppression of sex drives, as well as Carl Jung’s awareness of the shadow side of humanity, which, if denied, becomes diabolical. More specifically, the man at the desk observing the thrushes becomes the poet himself, whose act of creating a poem is a disciplined act that “worships itself,” yet at a psychological cost for him.

The poem echoes not only Tennyson but also D. H. Lawrence, who was similarly fascinated by the instinctive life force in animals, as well as Gerard Manley Hopkins, who celebrated the “thisness,” the specificity, of...

(The entire section is 407 words.)