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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505

Wodwo is Hughes's 1967 collection of poetry, and draws its title from this poem. A "wodwo" is a "wild man," a creature somewhere between elves and fairies and actual humans. One way to understand the wodwo is to think of it as a representation of primal masculinity, or "maleness" in a state before civilization. Hughes's poem is told from the point of view of a wodwo and is an effort to answer the question posed at the start: "What am I?"

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Hughes's poem works on several levels. One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its evocation of the natural world. The wodwo's compulsive exploration of the natural world is described with potent sensory imagery: it is "nosing here, turning the leaves over, following a faint stain on the air"; this attention grants him knowledge of "the frog's most secret interior," but this causes him to wonder about his separateness from nature:

Do these weeds / know me and name me to each other have they / seen me before do I fit in their world?

This part of the poem seems to be to suggest that in posing the "What am I?" question, the wodwo already seems to have become self-conscious.

The poem then turns to considering the origin of the wodwo and the nature of freedom. When the wodwo notes that "I seem / separate from the ground and not rooted but dropped / out of nothing," he is articulating a basic paradox of existence: as a conscious being, he understands himself to be different from nature, but he cannot account for how this difference has happened. He seems to have been "dropped out of nothing"—there are "no threads / fastening me to anything I can go anywhere." In a way, it is this freedom that comes to define the woodwo; he finds that "if I go / to the end on this way past these trees and past these trees / till I get tired that’s touching one wall of me," as if his "shape" can be measured not by physical size but the degree to which he can move or shape the natural world. It is as if his growing consciousness of himself has become an organizing principle for all existence: "for the moment if I / sit still how everything / stops to watch me I suppose I am the exact centre."

It's hard not to read this poem—the centerpiece of Hughes's first collection after the death of his wife, Sylvia Plath—as a kind of response to the feminine energy in her posthumous collection Ariel, the publication of which was overseen by Hughes. The wodwo's supposition that he is the focus of attention while also helpless before his instinctive need to explore the natural world also sums up a particular view of masculinity: one that is supremely self-conscious and ego-driven, while at the same time, spurred on by unconscious desires. This poem, then, is perhaps less of a declaration of what it is to be "male," than a description of the poet's internal state.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 463

“Wodwo” is a poem of twenty-eight lines written in free verse. The poet is writing in the first person but in the persona of the Wodwo, which he describes in his essay “Learning to Think” (Poetry Is, 1970) as “some sort of goblin creaturea sort of half-man half-animal spirit of the forests.”

The Wodwo is not addressing the reader. Rather, the poem shows the stream of consciousness of the Wodwo. It mumbles to itself in the way that very young children or old people sometimes do, talking themselves through the processes of living and thinking. The poem begins with the Wodwo asking, “What am I?” The question is central to the poem and recurs in various modifications throughout. The reader sees the Wodwo rooting through leaves and following a scent to the river. It dives in, and one gains the first sense of how its exceptionally primitive consciousness experiences the world around it.

When it...

(The entire section contains 1423 words.)

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