Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In “Learning to Think,” Ted Hughes wrote of the Wodwo, “I imagine this creature just discovering that it is alive in the world. It does not know what it is and is full of questions. It is quite bewildered to know what is going on. It has a whole string of thoughts, but at the centre of all of themis this creature and its bewilderment.”

The Wodwo is reminiscent of the creatures of Anglo-Saxon mythology, such as the marsh-living monster Grendel in Beowulf (first transcribed c. 1000 c.e.). Hughes’s device of having the reader perceive the world through the Wodwo’s awareness exemplifies his belief that poets have a shamanistic nature. Their small, individualized self is unimportant; they can enter the awareness of another creature at will. The poem gives a glimpse into the very primitive consciousness of the Wodwo. The lines “I’ve no threads/ fastening me to anything I can go anywhere/ I seem to have been given the freedom/ of this place what am I then?” hint that the Wodwo is on the brink of beginning the journey to a human type of self-awareness. Since it is not tied to the earth as are the plants, it has freedom to pursue answers to its endless questions.

The Wodwo exists at a primeval level of evolution. Its powers of reflection are minimal; it can only focus on its immediate environment in the present moment. Everything it encounters—the weeds, the stump, the roots—is chaotic,...

(The entire section is 564 words.)