Below, you’ll find an L9/A Grade Poetry Comparison Example Essay on Ted Hughes’ poems ‘Roe Deer’ + ‘The Horses’.
THE ESSAY QUESTION
‘Hughes’s poems about the natural world show a sensitive, detailed observation.’ In light of this comment, discuss the effects Hughes creates in his presentation of the natural world. Refer to two poems in your answer.
|PLAN (5-7 mins)
Poems: The Horses + Roe-Deer
1 Horses – Hughes shows his keen ability to observe the natural world in detail, at unusual moments
2 Horses – The experience is more symbolic and mystical, not just a description of nature but a reflection of the poet’s own mind
3 Roe Deer – Hughes has a similar encounter, this time with deer in the snow
4 Roe Deer – However, the deer are also mysterious and secretive, as if they have some hidden knowledge that Hughes will never understand
Thesis: Hughes often draws inspiration from direct, precise observation of nature, particularly in poems such as ‘The Horses’ and ‘Roe-Deer’, where the speaker is a lone figure placed in direct contact with the natural world. However, for Hughes, nature is not simply a fascinating world that is there for humans to study; he has a personal, spiritual connection with it as, in his opinion, it demonstrates the wider forces of the universe itself.
Hughes often draws inspiration from direct, precise observation of nature, such as in ‘The Horses’ and ‘Roe-Deer’, where the speakers are lone figures placed into direct contact with the natural world. However, for Hughes, nature is not simply a fascinating world that is there for humans to study; he has a personal, spiritual connection with it because, in his opinion, it demonstrates the wider forces of the universe itself.
In ‘The Horses’, Hughes’ speaker experiences a beautiful moment when he encounters the silhouettes of horses, standing on a ridge in half-darkness at the break of dawn. A stark atmosphere is created through the ‘world cast in frost’ and ‘iron light’ with ‘blackening dregs of brightening grey’; Hughes uses pathetic fallacy to set an cold, wintry and menacing mood for the poem. However, the tone shifts with a volta in the centre of the poem: “And I saw the horses: //Huge in the dense grey –ten together –”. The stanza break creates a moment of suspense, mirroring the shock and awe of the speaker at this moment as he describes this encounter. The adjective ‘Huge’ implies that the encounter with the horses is more powerful than the cold, grey blackness of the winter morning – it shocks the speaker out of his state of numbness. This allows for light and warmth to enter the scene – the ‘sun / Orange, red, red erupted’ – these new colours symbolise the energy and importance of the encounter, and the way in which it was a turning point in the speaker’s own life, as it was such an unforgettable moment which he remembered in precise, yet also abstract, detail.
However, the horses represent more than the beauty of nature and animals; for Hughes, the moment is like an inner psychological turning point, as much as it is an important memory. The phrase ‘grey silent fragments / Of a grey still world’ uses parallelism where he repeats the motifs ‘grey’, ‘still’ and ‘silent’ to convey a sense of stillness to the scene, as if it is an image that is burned into the speaker’s memory. This draws on the tradition of modernist and Imagistic poetry, which developed around the beginning of the 20th century as a response to photography and film, where poets started to capture ‘images’ and ‘scenes’ in their works. Modernism also was interested in psychology and the processes of the mind, so it could be argued that Hughes is not merely writing a straightforward nature poem here – in fact, he is using modernist themes and techniques to comment on the way in which this experience left him a changed person.,
Roe-Deer describes a natural encounter in a similarly detailed way: the speaker sees ‘Two blue-dark deer’ in the ‘dawn-dirty light’ of a winter morning. The compound adjectives ‘blue-dark’ and ‘dawn-dirty’ lend more detail to the scene’s visual images, with the plosive ‘d’ and ‘b’ sounds suggesting a lack of clarity and purity, as if the deer are half-hidden by the darkness of the morning. The speaker further describes his own ‘snow-screen vision’, a term which compares the blurriness of the snow and darkness to the idea of a fuzzy old tv screen, with static that distorts the image. This may symbolise the speaker’s own confusion and surprise as he tries to interpret the meaning of the moment.
The speaker’s confusion in Roe-Deer is not only about the blurriness of his vision – he seems to feel that there is a deeper significance to the encounter, which is beyond his understanding. A semantic field of the supernatural is created through terms such as ‘abnormal’, ‘dimension’, and ‘secret deerhood’. These imply that the deer are beings from another world, the secret world of nature with all its deep mysteries and ancient rituals. The speaker appears to feel disconnected from this world, as if he needs to remember the ‘password and sign’ to gain access to this mysterious otherworldly ‘dimension’. Additionally, the poem’s rhyming couplets perhaps convey the two different layers of reality – the physical world, which humans observe, and the spiritual world which exists beyond our direct ability to measure it. Hughes is likely drawing on the traditional of Romantic poetry, which depicts the idea of ‘The Sublime’ – the sense of awe and wonder that humans feel when they encounter nature, which is also an embodiment of divine power. Though Hughes feels as though he imperfectly understands that power, it still provides him with ‘inspiration’ which lifts him, for a moment, out of the ‘ordinary’ and regular routines of life. Therefore, the poem also demonstrates that deep observation and understanding of nature can lead to creativity and new ways of being.
Overall, Hughes is clearly a keen observer of nature, who is inspired by memorable encounters in the natural world. However, he doesn’t just document these factually – instead, he draws on Romantic and Modernist traditions, using nature to explore deeper truths about the mind and soul, as well as viewing it as a source of creative and divine inspiration.
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