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Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow : Summ

“Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow” : Summary and Response

Ted Hughes, “Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow”, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1971.

Ted Hughess Crow is as vivid and terrifying a trip to hell as the artistic antecedents conceived by Dante, Milton and Hieronymus Bosch. The book, a poetry sequence with the character Crow at its center, is fraught with grotesque scenes of dismemberment, evisceration, castration and disembodied and exploding body parts. Hughes writes in a very sparse manner, with no surface sense of poetry. Its lines are brutal, ugly, and deceptively simple, but closer examination reveals the overwhelming presence of alliteration and assonance as an alternative to rhyme in verse.

The character Crow appears as a trickster figure the like of which appears in oral traditions worldwide. It is plain Hughes was inspired by the epic tales of old in the writing of Crow for these poems are filled with references to mythological and heroic figures such as Proteus, Ulysses, Hercules, Beowulf, and most strikingly Oedipus, whose legend Hughes shows hasnt lost its ability to horrify in Song for a Phallus.

The majority of the poetry cycles symbolism, however, is Judeo-Christian. Fitting Crows overall sense of distortion, Hughes inverts the standard images in shocking fashion:

In the beginning was Scream

Who begat Blood…

Who begat Adam

Who begat Mary

Who begat God

Who begat Nothing…(Lineage)

So on the seventh day

The serpent rested…(Apple Tragedy)

And rather than God as the Word, Crows word is one of death and destruction:

There came news of a word.

Crow saw it killing men…(The Disaster)

Words swamped him with consonantal masses

Crow took a sip of water and thanked heaven.

Words retreated, suddenly afraid

Into the skull of a dead jester

Taking the whole world with them

But the world did not notice.

And Crow yawnedlong ago

He had picked that skull empty.(The Battle of Osfrontalis)

God is a physical presence in several of the poems in Crow. While Hughess God is powerful, he is not all-powerful, and while his intentions are good, he is often inept. Within Crow, Gods attention tends to wander, often with devastating effects, as in A Childish Prank. At times God even abandons his creation outright:

When God, disgusted with man,

Turned towards heaven,

And man, disgusted with God,

Turned towards Eve,

Things looked like falling apart.(Crow Blacker Than Ever)

Hughes, with the mocking Crow as his alter ego, dwells on themes of disenchantment and alienation from the modern world in which he does not fit, finding its pervading culture and religion distasteful and essentially bankrupt. What should be the worlds saving graceLoveis presented as something painful and perverted as well. While it is a force that binds the sexes together, its nature is seen as obsessive and suffocating, as in Lovesong, Crows First Lesson, and Notes for a Little Play:

They sniff towards each other in the emptiness.

They fasten together. They seem to be eating each other…

They do not know what else to do.

Ted Hughes pens Crow like a dark shaman viewing a world on the brink of apocalypse, hemmed in all around by death:

Who owns the whole rain, stony earth?Death

Who owns all of space?Death

Who is stronger than hope?Death

Who is stronger than will?Death

Stronger than love?Death

Stronger than life?Death

But who is stronger than Death?

Me, evidently.

(Examination at the Womb-Door)

But like that reviled bird which surrounds our own world, Hughes survives not by grace but by his indomitable will,  the sharpness of his clawed pen and the sharp eyes of his poetic vision, with Crow as his sinister muse:

Grown so wise grown so terrible

Sucking deaths mouldy tits

Sit on my finger, sing in my ear, O littleblood.(Littleblood)

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