The 1970 publication of British poet Ted Hughes’ (1930 – 1998) Crow released an almost unprecedented and unfathomable work upon the world. Dark, sinister at times, annihilistic, and full of subtle bereavement. Poems that introduced a crow as a metaphor for our torn complex selves.
From “Crow’s Theology”:
Crow realized there were two Gods –
One of them much bigger than the other
Loving his enemies
And having all the weapons.
The Crow, appearing in many but not all of the poems in this collection, served as a symbol, a character, and a wild force; simplistic about life, yet observant of its irony and pain. Hughes wrote most of the poems in the empty space and time created by the suicide of his estranged wife, Sylvia Plath, in 1963.
In Crow, themes like the futility of life abound. We will be claimed by death; nevertheless, we’re given a stay of execution. But it’s not forever and not for long and not under our control.
From “Examination at the Womb-Door”:
Who is stronger than hope? Death
Who is stronger than the will? Death
Stronger than love? Death
Stronger than life? Death
But who is stronger than death? Death
The idea of our fate (which is, of course, death) being sealed from the moment we exit the womb is chilling. Others (like Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov) have pointed out that the coda of our birth is death, but they don’t drop the words quite as harshly.
From “Crow Frowns”:
With signatures: We are here, we are here.
He is the long waiting for something.
To use him for some everything.
Having so carefully made him. Of nothing.
Perhaps because Hughes, born and raised in Yorkshire, uses a Yorkshire vernacular that lacks embellishment.
Throughout the work, there is a force outside of Crow, outside of Hughes. Something bigger, unknowable, yet present and extremely powerful. This unknowable divine, a theme given much attention by German poet Hermann Hesse in his less-known poetry.
Hughes became Poet Laureate of Great Britain from 1984 until his death and is widely regarded as one of the most important poets of the 20th century.1
I came by Hughes’ poems by way of the equally alluring work Grief Is a Thing With Feathers, a prose/poem by the imaginative English writer Max Porter about a crow that moves in with a family following the death of their mother and wife. Like Hughes, Porter uses a crow as a metaphor for post-grief emptiness and the savagery of life.