Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541
Ted Hughes’s “Wodwo” is about a mythological "wood-man," or wild man, discovering his own nature as he explores the natural world. The creature contemplates his existence, the natural ecosystem around him, and ultimately reckons with the meaning of his life. It was published in a book of the same name in 1967.
The poem begins through the perspective of the wild man himself. The Wodwo is primal, with animal-like senses and instincts. He is found sniffing his way to the water's edge at the beginning of the poem, immediately wondering what exactly he is. He is “nosing” and following a smell to the river’s edge. He enters the water. He then curiously investigates the reflection of the river bank in the water, wondering how it could be turned upside down so it seems he is in “mid-air.” The creature wonders who he is to disturb the stillness of the water, to interfere with the softness of the scene. He discovers a frog in the water, and "inspects its most secret interior" (or dissects it). The primal man is obviously curious and intellectual, a scientist capable of wondering about his world. The wood-man wonders if the plants and animals around him perceive him the way he perceives them—he wonders if he takes up space in their communications with one another, or in their general understanding of the world.
His studies soon turn philosophical as he wonders at the nature of his own existence. Pondering his mobility, he considers that he can go anywhere he likes. He has the ability to move wherever he wants; this freedom puzzles him and prompts him to ask, again, what he is. The wild man has noted a difference between himself and all that he has been examining, noticing that he has an individualism that the other elements of nature and animals do not seem to have. This appears to be because of the ecosystem they are so tightly knit into. He mentions the concept of having roots or threads tying you to something. Unlike the plants around him, he has no roots holding him in place. He pauses for a moment to pick at some bark and wonders some more about his existence: about the implications of "doing," or his ability to exercise free will to take action. He wonders if he is the first of his kind and what his form looks like. He also wonders if he has an "owner," (a God or someone to give him purpose). He continues to explore the natural world, as through exploration he discovers more and more about the nature of his own existence.
The wild man’s size, too, is in question. He considers running until he can’t anymore, reaching a natural stopping point that represents one “wall” of him, as if he does not know where he ends and the world begins. However, it is when he pauses to sit still that he notices he is the center of everything, as if everything around is watching him. Even though all of the world around him seems “rooted,” he is in the middle. Thus, exploration and introspection teach the wild man he is simultaneously part of nature and an individual, separate consciousness.