PoetryTed Hughes

Animal Imagery in Ted Hughes Poetry

3 Mins read

Ted Hughes is considered as a famous modern poet. He is most profoundly concerned with the subject matter of his poetry. The major theme of his poetry as well as short stories is existence of man in relation to the universe. However, he’s also famous for his use of animal imagery in his poetry such as in one his poem “Thought Fox”. The poetic style of Ted Hughes is influenced by Sylvia Plath, Hopkins.

If talk about the significance of his animal imagery, that are highly symbolic. These animal poems are the best collection of his poetry. The use of imagery has its own appeal and highlights the enormous power of Hughes’ keen observation. The emphasis in the imagery is on the vitality of animals concerned and also about the violence and cruelty of such animals.

Animal Imagery in “The Jaguar”

Almost every poem of Hughes has a vivid picture of particular animal. Similarly, in the poem The Jaguar, the concerned animal is depicted as brimming with energy which gives us contrast to other animals. The eyes of Jaguar are sharp and penetrating, he is deaf of ear because of “bang of blood in the brain”.  He whirls in his cage which is no cage for him. This stride is indicative of the feelings that he is absolutely free even though he is in cage. Here, the imagination of Hughes is so strong and full of energy that no other poet has ever used in this context: “by the bang of blood in the brain”.

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Animal Imagery in “The Hawk in the Rain” and “Hawk Roosting”

The two poems of Ted Hughes depict hawk as perched effortlessly at a height with his still eye and in his wings, all creation is weightless. This hawk, in “The Hawk in the Rain”,  is steady as “a hallucination in the streaming air”.  In the final stanza of this poem the ultimate fate of hawk is described in different kind of language: “the ponderous shires crash on him.”

In the second poem, “Hawk Roosting”, the hawk can kill where he pleases because the world is now in his domain. He is an arbiter of death and life as in, “The allotment of death”  is his privilege. The one path of his flight is now directly through the bones of living.

The symbolic significance of the Animal Imagery:

The symbolism in the imagery cannot be ignored and for Hughes, certain qualities are found linked to human life. Hughes believed that animals have strength which lies in their instincts. Animals are more adaptable to environment than humans.

Thus the hawk of the poem “The Hawk in the Rain”, sits effortlessly at a height and where the poet cannot bear the strong winds like the hawk and the rain hacks his head to the bone. Hughes also believed that animals were not, like man’s false morality. A hawk will be always in his own element even when it dies an elemental death.

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Similarly, in the poem, The Jaguar, it is represented as an instinct who is in prison by the humans but its spirit and energy cannot be imprisoned. Like the jaguar remains energetic in the poem. For Hughes, human beings are more imprisoned in their domestic and social environment.

The Thought Fox also presents the animal imagery of fox where the poet’s inspiration is compared to a fox making a sudden and silent entry into his head. Here it replaces the instinct with intellect. Similarly, in the poem The Horses, the ten horses are timeless who inhabit in their own environment. The speaker presents his inability to cope with those elements which are capable to horses. In Hawk Roosting, the hawk is seen as vastly superior to man who is unable to accept nature for what it is.


By analyzing the use of animal imagery in Ted Hughes poetry, we can simply say that his unique observation makes it superficial in the modernist English Literature. Ted Hughes, through his animal imagery, has compared animals with men through former’s instinct as well as intellect. He considered animals the best in this regard and concluded that men cannot reach at this instinct, like in the poem The Jaguar.

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