Image  Faber & Faber/ Caroline Forbes

This page is not intended to be comprehensive; rather, it is to be used as a revision guide which mentions some, although certainly not all, of the aspects which you will need an awareness of for the examination. You must provide the detail in order to achieve higher grades.

Work and Play

This poem explores one of the main themes in the poetry of Ted Hughes: Man and Nature. It presents a contrast between holidaymakers on a hot summer's day and a swallow. Overall the swallow is shown in a more positive light.

It is set out in four stanzas. The first three are similar in that they start with three longer lines about the swallow and then end with shorter lines about the humans. The forth stanza alters this pattern as it ends with the swallow.

There are several striking images, particularly in relation to the swallow. Through metaphors such as 'the seamstress of summer' and 'A blue-dark knot of glittering voltage' Hughes creates an impression of an active, bright, hard-working creature. In contrast the people are described as if tortured and uncomfortable, despite being 'at play' (on holiday). The difference between the humans and the swallow is also highlighted through Hughes' use of rhythm.

The Warm and the Cold

This poem is another that uses contrasts. It describes the extreme cold of a particular landscape and the persistent, resistant warmth of the living creatures within it.

The structure of the first three stanzas is used to focus the reader's attention on this comparison by first offering an image of extreme cold and the contrasting this with the animals. Lines 37-43 can be seen as symbolic of the link between the warm and the cold. Firstly the moon is described which creates an impression of utter cold ('space-cold' is a description used in 'Tractor'). There is then an image of a falling star, which serves to link space to earth through its motion. It brings us to the image of a hot farmer, showing that like the animals he too is an important aspect of the landscape described.

A central feature of the language in this poem is the use of simile. The similes used in the poem describe both the farmer and the animals. They are easy to identify owing to the use of the word 'like'. For example:

The snail is dry in the outhouse
Like a seed in a sunflower.
Here the snail is compared to the dryness and compactness of a seed in a sunflower. It also suggests a sense of warmth and radiant heat. Such an image is used to create an atmosphere or mood, which is a key intention in this poem.

Tractor

This poem is another that considers Man and his interaction with Nature. It describes a man who struggles to start a tractor which has been out in the freezing weather. The poem presents this difficulty as a kind of battle. A key theme of this, and some other poems written by Ted Hughes, is the place people have in Nature and how they behave in relation to it.

The poem uses many poetic techniques to explore this relationship, particularly personification of the tractor. This is done to show the farmer's intense feelings during the struggle to start the tractor. By the end of the poem the tractor is shown to be a powerful, newborn creaure, which perhaps reflects the triumph of new life against the difficulties of Nature.

This poem also uses a number of violent images, which serve to highlight the extreme weather conditions, and the opposition that the man faces in attempting to do his work.

Wind

As the title suggests, this poem is about wind and the effects it has on both the landscape and people. Like 'Tractor' it is a poem about a person struggling against an extreme of weather which is shown to be powerful and even violent. The people in the poem live in a house which has become isolated owing to its position in the landscape and the terrible wind and rain:

This house has been far out at sea all night,
...
Winds stampeding the fields under the window. (lines 1 + 3)

The poem has a very strict stanza pattern: each of the six stanzas has four lines. Also the lines are of a similar length. One explanation of this is that it is written in the safety of the house and so the poet can impose some sense of order on the wildness of nature.

The imagery in the poem is central to how it shows the weather - and the wind in particular - to be so powerful: 'the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes' (line 11). Here it affects the man, but it also influnces the animals:

a black-
Backed gull bent like an iron bar (lines 15-16)
This simile suggests that the wind is very strong and that it has the capacity to shape whatever it comes across.

Hawk Roosting

This poem is different to the other four in a number of ways. It is written from the point of view of a hawk, and owing to this we get a sense of its personality. What comes across is the complete self-belief of the hawk. It feels that it rules over all it sees ('it is all mine') and that it is the ultimate being; that it is the perfect creature.

It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather (lines 11-12)
We might say that the hawk is arrogant, but to the hawk what it says is the truth, therefore there is nothing wrong in asserting itself.

The language in the poem reflects the personality of the hawk. It is very direct and powerful: 'My manners are tearing off heads' (line 16). The language is also very straight-forward and imagery is rarely used. This shows the reader the simplicity and honesty of the hawk; it is a pure force.

The poem does have connections with some of the other Ted Hughes poems in the Anthology. Most notably it is about Nature and about the power and violence it contains. It is also useful when considering the poems that are about humans in relation to Nature; in this poem the perspective is altered and the hawk is superior rather than a person.

Preparing for the exam

  • Make sure you have read each of the poems as many times as possible; ideally you should know the poems without having to look at them.
  • Use this familiarity with the poems to make links between them, concentrating on themes and use of language.
  • Make sure the notes in your Anthology make sense to you; read them carefully so you know where the important parts are to be found.

Examination Tips

  • When writing about the poems, you will be expected to cover at least two poems. If you can, refer to more, even if in just one sentence. This will impress the examiner and show you can make appropriate connections between the poems.
  • When you make a point always try to support this with a quotation. When you have given the quotation show that you understand (a) what it means and (b) how the language in it contributes to the meaning (metaphors, similes, rhyme etc.)
  • Try to structure your response as follows:
    1. Give a main point about the poem in relation to the question
    2. Then a quotation which is short but supports your point
    3. Finally you should write about the language in the quotation - how does it get the meaning across?
  • Although you should only spend thirty minutes writing about Hughes' poems, you should aim to write about 1 1/2 to 2 pages in your answer booklet.