Originality Verging On Eccentricity in The Hawk in the Rain.
Hughes’s use of language shows his marked preference for dense and tough vocabulary, for odd combinations of words to form pregnant and striking phrases, and for startling compound-words which strongly remind us of the poetic style of G.M. Hopkins. Furthermore, Hughes completely ignores the rules of punctuation. All these features in their totality create many difficulties for the reader.
It is true that in many of his poems he has employed the simplest possible language; but many of his poems, especially in the volumes entitled “The Hawk in the Rain.” “Lupercal”, and “Wodwo”, the vocabulary is very tough, and the phrases and compound-words so strange as to baffle us. The poem called The Hawk in the Rain is a conspicuous example of this kind of thing. Words have been used in unusual senses; and the similes and metaphors employed by the poet are such that we almost gasp with a sense of shock. The very opening line is of this kind: “I drown in the drumming ploughland.” Here the use of the word “drown” is obviously an example of a hyperbole. The word “drumming” to convey the idea of the rain falling with a big noise and din is again used in an altogether new context. Then there is the word “ploughland” which obviously means a field; and this compound-word is printed as one word without any hyphen between and land. A few later we read the following sentence: “His wings hold all creation in a weightless quiet.” Now, the phrase “weightless quiet” is again of the unfamiliar kind. This is followed by a line in which a fantastic kind of simile occurs: “Steady as a hallucination in the streaming air.” Is a hallucination really steady? We doubt it. Then the phrase “the streaming air” is supposed to mean air through which rain is falling in a torrent, thus producing an impression that a stream is flowing through the air. Next, the words used to describe the intensity or the violence of the wind are also unusual in this context. The banging wind “thumbs” the eyes of the speaker in the poem, throws his breath, and tackles his heart. Then comes a metaphorical use of the word “hack” in a manner which surprises us: “And rain hacks my head to the bone.” Yet another startling use of words occurs in the following lines:
Bloodily grabbed dazed last-moment-counting
Morsel in the earth’s mouth ……
Here, apart from the phrase “bloodily grabbed dazed, “we have three words used as an adjective by the use of hyphens for the noun “morsel”: “last-moment-counting morsel.” But a master-stroke of originality comes with the compound-word “master-fulcrum”, with “master” and a hyphen at the end of a line and “fulcrum in the next line. Anybody going through this poem would regard it as an example of an eccentric use of language.
A Most Forceful Expression of the Ferocity of the Thrushes
The poem Thrushes is one of the most remarkable ever written by Hughes. Nobody has succeeded better than Hughes has done in this poem in conveying to us the ferocity of the thrushes. The words and phrases used in this poem show not only Hughes’s perfect command of the language but also his acute sense of sight, sound, and aptness. The very appearance of the thrushes is indicative of their cruelty: “more coiled steel than living”, and having “a dark deadly eye.” When they attack a worm or insect, they do so with “a start, a bounce, and a stab.” Their readiness and swiftness in attacking a prey is most appropriately conveyed to us by the use of the following words: “No indolent procrastinations and no yawning stares.” Then their promptness is also conveyed to us by the use of the following effective words and similes: the shark’s mouth also possesses. Of course, the phrase “orgy and hosannah” in the last but one line is difficult; but the poem on the whole is a masterpiece so far as the use of language is concerned.
Hughes’s use of language is such that quite often the syntax in his lines puzzles us and renders the meaning obscure. In the poem The Thought-Fox, there is a single sentence running from the opening of the third stanza to the middle of the sixth stanza. In the poem An Otter, the syntax in the following lines in somewhat difficult to follow:
He keeps fat in the limpid integument
Reflections live on.
Similarly the syntax in the last two stanzas of the poem called Pike is very puzzling.
Examples of Lucidity and Simplicity of Style
Lucidity and simplicity in the use of language are by no means foreign to Hughes’s poetic style. The poem Hawk Roosting is a model of simplicity and lucidity so far as the language, and also the syntax, are concerned. The poem Cleopatra to the Asp is again very simple and lucid if we know the historical background and the facts of the case. The poem Gog also belongs to the category of simple and lucid poems. All the Crow poems possess these qualities of simplicity and clarity in the use of language even though the allegorical meaning of these poems is often obscure. Here the surface meaning of the poem is crystal-clear because of the simple language used in a simple manger.
An Example of Difficult Words and Their Thought-Content
Sometimes Hughes writes an allegorical poem which is tough not only as regards its thought-content but also as regards its style. Ghost Crabs is such a poem. This poem us characterized by dense and tough vocabulary; and its symbolic significance is also difficult of understand unless it is explained to us by a scholar. But this poem abounds in striking phrases and combinations of words, and in the use of forceful language which makes a powerful impact on our minds. Here are a few lines as a specimen:
An invisible disgorging of the sea’s cold.
Over the man who strolls along the sands.
Their bubbling mouths, their eyes
In a slow mineral fury
Press through our nothingness where we sprawl on beds.
Or sit in rooms.