The Jaguar: Ted Hughes

The Hawk in the Rain (1957) is Ted Hughes’s first, and widely acclaimed, book of poetry. The title poem sets the stage for what is to follow. His poems are replete with animal imagery and mythological reference. Through nature themes of violence, competition, war*, and struggle dominate the book.

In ancient Celtic mythology, the hawk was an omen carrying messages from beyond. It meant beware and be aware. A circling hawk foretold both victory and death.

Here the soaring hawk lends hope to a beleaguered ploughman, only to both be crushed by the forces of nature. The elements are more powerful than man and beast.  

The Hawk in the Rain

I drown in the drumming ploughland, I drag up
Heel after heel from the swallowing of the earth’s mouth,
From clay that clutches my each step to the ankle
With the habit of the dogged grave, but the hawk

Effortlessly at height hangs his still eye.
His wings hold all creation in a weightless quiet,
Steady as a hallucination in the streaming air.
While banging wind kills these stubborn hedges,

Thumbs my eyes, throws my breath, tackles my heart,
And rain hacks my head to the bone, the hawk hangs,
The diamond point of will that polestars
The sea drowner’s endurance: And I,

Bloodily grabbed dazed last-moment-counting
Morsel in the earth’s mouth, strain to the master-
Fulcrum of violence where the hawk hangs still.
That maybe in his own time meets the weather

Coming the wrong way, suffers the air, hurled upside-down,
Fall from his eye, the ponderous shires crash on him,
The horizon trap him; the round angelic eye
Smashed, mix his heart’s blood with the mire of the land.

A jaguar in his cage at the Sofia city zoo, Bulgaria. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

A jaguar in his cage at the Sofia city zoo, Bulgaria. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

In his second poem, the animals at a zoo are institutionalized to life in a cage. They could represent most of society itself. The crowd is mesmerized by a fierce jaguar uncaged in spirit. Hughes may consider himself to be the jaguar who “over the cage floor the horizons come.” For him indeed they tragically would.  

The Jaguar

The apes yawn and adore their fleas in the sun.
The parrots shriek as if they were on fire, or strut
Like cheap tarts to attract the stroller with the nut.
Fatigued with indolence, tiger and lion

Lie still as the sun. The boa-constrictor’s coil
Is a fossil. Cage after cage seems empty, or
Stinks of sleepers from the breathing straw.
It might be painted on a nursery wall.

But who runs like the rest past these arrives
At a cage where the crowd stands, stares, mesmerized,
As a child at a dream, at a jaguar hurrying enraged
Through prison darkness after the drills of his eyes

On a short fierce fuse. Not in boredom—
The eye satisfied to be blind in fire,
By the bang of blood in the brain deaf the ear—
He spins from the bars, but there’s no cage to him

More than to the visionary his cell:
His stride is wildernesses of freedom:
The world rolls under the long thrust of his heel.
Over the cage floor the horizons come.


*Hughes was affected profoundly in his youth by World War I. His father was one of 17 in a regiment of 1,000 who survived the Turkish massacre at the Battle of Gallipoli.

NOTE: Among other poets, Hughes was inspired by Yeats. The Horror of Yeats and Hughes is a comparative analysis between “The Hawk in the Rain” and “The Second Coming,” which Yeats wrote in the aftermath of World War I.




Plath’s panther

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes met in 1956 at a drunken party for the launch of a Cambridge literary magazine. Hughes had graduated a couple of years earlier and had few poems in it.

Upon her arrival at the party, Plath spotted what she later described in her diary as a “big, dark, hunky boy.”  It was Ted Hughes. When he introduced himself to her, she recited a few lines from one of his poems, The Casualty, published earlier that day.

The music was loud making it difficult to converse, so he invited her for a brandy in another room. They joked about one of his editor friends who had written an unfavorable critique of Plath’s poetry in a different literary magazine. At 23, she was already a fairly accomplished author, having her poems and short stories published in a national magazines, including Harper’s and Atlantic Monthly.

Suddenly he kisses her “bang, smash on the mouth,” ripping her headband with such force her earrings popped off. As he moves to kiss her neck she bites his cheek “long and hard.” Blood was gushing down his face as they left the room.

She composed Pursuit two days after the encounter.

Dans le fond des forêts votre image me suit.

There is a panther stalks me down:
One day I’ll have my death of him;
His greed has set the woods aflame,
He prowls more lordly than the sun.
Most soft, most suavely glides that step,
Advancing always at my back;
From gaunt hemlock, rooks croak havoc:
The hunt is on, and sprung the trap.
Flayed by thorns I trek the rocks,
Haggard through the hot white noon.
Along red network of his veins
What fires run, what craving wakes?

Insatiate, he ransacks the land
Condemned by our ancestral fault,
Crying:  blood, let blood be spilt;
Meat must glut his mouth’s raw wound.
Keen the rending teeth and sweet
The singeing fury of his fur;
His kisses parch, each paw’s a briar,
Doom consummates that appetite.
In the wake of this fierce cat,
Kindled like torches for his joy,
Charred and ravened women lie,
Become his starving body’s bait.

Profile of Ted Hughes.  Illustration by Sylvia Plath 1956.

Profile of Ted Hughes. Illustration by Sylvia Plath 1956.

Now hills hatch menace, spawning shade;
Midnight cloaks the sultry grove;
The black marauder, hauled by love
On fluent haunches, keeps my speed.
Behind snarled thickets of my eyes
Lurks the lithe one; in dreams’ ambush
Bright those claws that mar the flesh
And hungry, hungry, those taut thighs.
His ardor snares me, lights the trees,
And I run flaring in my skin;
What lull, what cool can lap me in
When burns and brands that yellow gaze?

I hurl my heart to halt his pace,
To quench his thirst I squander blood;
He eats, and still his need seeks food,
Compels a total sacrifice.
His voice waylays me, spells a trance,
The gutted forest falls to ash;
Appalled by secret want, I rush
From such assault of radiance.
Entering the tower of my fears,
I shut my doors on that dark guilt,
I bolt the door, each door I bolt.
Blood quickens, gonging in my ears:

The panther’s tread is on the stairs,
Coming up and up the stairs.


 FORESHADOW: The pair married after a four-month steamy romance.



Field of Poppies

One hundred years ago today, Great Britain declared war on Germany beginning its involvement (militarily) in the Great War. The centennial is not necessarily arts history but its commemoration will be, especially for the Tower of London. 

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red 5 August to 11 November 2014.

An evolving installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, with setting by stage designer Tom Piper, will be unveiled on Aug 5, 2014. I don’t how many poppies are there now, but it will continue to grow throughout the summer until the moat is filled. Each poppy represents a British or Colonial military fatality during the war. The last poppy will be placed in the mote on Nov. 11th – Armistice Day.

Photographs courtesy of the Historic Royal Palaces

Photographs courtesy of the Historic Royal Palaces

Canadian physician Lt. Colonel John McCrae wrote In a Flanders Field to honor a friend who had fallen in the Second Battle of Ypres. The poem was published by Punch, a London-based magazine, in December 1915.  As a result of its immediate popularity, parts of the poem were used to recruit soldiers and raise money to sell war bonds. 

In a Flanders Field

John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


More Breathtaking Photos via PetaPixel

Photographs courtesy of the Historic Royal Palaces

Photographs courtesy of the Historic Royal Palaces


The remembrance poppy is one of the world’s most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.


Antique Fables

I started a new WordPress blog last week after I returned from New York. As of today, I have three posts on KargardeniaEclecticisms and Airy Nothings, all biographic memorabilia. Ooh. I like that. I don’t know where Kargardenia is going but I may change the subtitle to Biographic Memorabilia.

WordPress had a cute start-up page. It’s relevant here because it uses a partial quote from Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. You can read Theseus’s whole speech to Hippolyta below the Romani girl.

Cute start-up page…

You haven’t written anything yet, but that’s easy for you to do later! Here’s your chance to get your site looking just the way you want it to before the words start flowing. Some inspiration from someone who knew a thing or two about writing:

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

– William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

"Polish gypsy girl early 20th century" via Scarch

“Polish gypsy girl early 20th century” via Scarch


More strange than true. I never may believe
These antique fables nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold—
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven.
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy.
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!
NOTE: Midsummer post inspired by Shakespeare. Photo inspired by Helen of Troy.

Water’d Heaven

I don’t have anything planned for this week’s post. My grandson has been visiting for the past few weeks so I’ve been somewhat preoccupied. We went to Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, I think on Wednesday, a dread hot day.

I took these two pictures in Land of the Tigers with a Canon Power Shot SX130.

Tiger, Karen Gardner 2014

Tiger, Karen Gardner 2014

THE TYGER – William Blake (1794)
Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
Thirsty Tiger, Karen Gardner 2014

Thirsty Tiger, Karen Gardner 2014

What the hammer? what the chain, 
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp, 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 
When the stars threw down their spears 
And water’d heaven with their tears: 
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night: 
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
NOTE: To hear THE TYGER read by Tom O’Bedlam of Spoken Verse, please refer to Dost Thou Know, the April 23, 2012 post on this very blog.  


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