The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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 dives into water, it is actually upside down looking at the river bed, but it can only conceive that it is the river bed which is upside down above it. It is unable to connect the way things appear with the vantage point from which it is looking at them. As soon as it is under water, it forgets that fact and asks what it is doing “here in mid-air.” The Wodwo notices a frog and asks itself why it finds the frog interesting “as I inspect its most secret/ interior and make it my own.” This may be a chillingly intimate reference...

(The entire section is 463 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Many of the poem’s verbs are in the present continuous form—“Nosing here, turning leaves over/ following a faint stain on the air”—conveying the Wodwo’s limited perception, confined to the object right in front of its nose at any point. The run-on lines, in which a sentence or phrase runs from one line to the next without significant pause, as well as the lack of punctuation emphasize the stream-of-consciousness form of the poem. The bewildered Wodwo’s impressions follow one after another without reflection other than its bewilderment at what it is.

It is significant that the only form of punctuation is the question mark, as the Wodwo questions its own nature and the reasons it does what it does. It never gives itself time to find any answers, however, as immediately after it has asked the question, its attention passes back to a frog or to the roots or weeds in its environment.

Ted Hughes acknowledges the influence of Anglo-Saxon poetry on his work. “Wodwo” is a typical example, both in terms of its language—short, concrete words of one or two syllables are favored above longer, abstract, Latinate ones—and in terms of its patterns of alliteration (repetition of initial consonants). The Anglo-Saxon poets divided lines into two parts, with one pair of similar sounds in the first half and one pair in the second. The result was a vigorous narrative style that carried the listener along for substantial periods of oral...

(The entire section is 455 words.)