Crow: From the Life and Songs of Crow – Ted Hughes
Hello hello hello all!
It is December and the weather is turning brisker, I fear. Thankfully, Christmas is nearly here and I’m hoping you’re all of good cheer! Today is the day that I must commend Ted Hughes again on his poetic strains, even if it may offend.
Bleurgh, that’s enough terrible rhyming for one day. So, Crow: From the Life and Songs of Crow is what I say you should sit down and read. Why, you ask? Well, because it is a masterpiece. Hughes held that opinion and I am happy to agree with him. It may not be full of Christmas merriment (the opposite in fact) but it is so unrestricted, thematically and creatively, that the words masterpiece and genius are often spoken in its presence.
The collection is gruesome, grotesque, brutal, vivid and at times disgusting. Here, Hughes sheds the aesthetic beauty of his previous and breakthrough collection ( The Hawk in the Rain), giving birth to an experimental phase in his poetic career. With this collection, Hughes continued to be interested in the natural world and combined that perpetual exploration with another fascination of his – that of religion and religious allegory. He alludes to religion and naturalism, and this drawing together of themes naturally encouraged Hughes to draw on William Blake and his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. The title of Crow is a clear indication of this.
This book is the summation of those interests, although in much darker and bleaker tones as Crow, and his doings, is an unattractive subject. He proves this to be the case when he vomits up white sharks, blueflies, tsetse flies, mosquitoes (by accident, mind) because God tries to teach him how to talk, beginning with the word ‘love’ (the poem is titled ‘Crow’s First Lesson’). Yet Crow also remains a philosopher of sorts. His journeys lead him to realize such things as God must love me because otherwise I would be dead and that there must be a god who loves lead and killing otherwise those things would not exist. Crow is a provocative character who seems to flit and dash from one event to another, learning along the way and often being stunned by what he experiences or discovers. Crow Goes Hunting is a good example of such a claim.
Crow Goes Hunting
Decided to try words.
He imagined some words for the job, a lovely pack-
Clear-eyed, resounding, well-trained,
With strong teeth.
You could not find a better bred lot.
He pointed out the hare and away went the words
Crow was Crow without fail, but what is a hare?
It converted itself to a concrete bunker.
The words circled protesting, resounding.
Crow turned the words into bombs-they blasted the bunker.
The bits of bunker flew up-a flock of starlings.
Crow turned the words into shotguns, they shot down the starlings.
The falling starlings turned to a cloudburst.
Crow turned the words into a reservoir, collecting the water.
The water turned into an earthquake, swallowing the reservoir.
The earthquake turned into a hare and leaped for the hill
Having eaten Crow’s words.
Crow gazed after the bounding hare
Speechless with admiration.
Every image he conjures up has the capacity to be violent and brutal. Yet, there is a remarkable energy and freedom to Crow’s character, which perhaps explains his universality. He is intriguing, captivating, charismatic.
Our moral and squeamish side may feel an initial desire to step away from the printed pages but our most human, hidden selves have no such feeling. To my mind, Hughes is able to capture the essence of a moment and the truthfulness of a thing – whether that’s human or animal. In this book he strips away whatever smooth or clean facade that man projects and uses Crow to give light to our inner, dark recesses. He is curious about the origins of right and wrong and examines this interest with a dark humour and unusual lightness (I say this as I know dark humour and light-heartedness do not often go hand-in-hand) which really makes this work unique.
There tend to be few books throughout your life which blow you away, completely astonishing you and crashing into your world with something so new and so unknown that your perspective seems to be shattered in its wake. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck are two of those books for me, but this collection of poetry was definitely another. Happy reading and Merry Christmas.