Critical Appreciation of Earth Numb Essay

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Critical Appreciation of Earth-Numb, a poem by Ted Hughes

The language in Earth-Numb describes nature paradoxically – simultaneously literal and abstract. For example, Hughes uses the phrase “fizzled out” to describe daffodils that are wilting. This describes the way the flower has shrunken into itself, resulting in a flower-head that seems shrivelled and deflated – this imagery is paradoxical because the image conjured is exactly how flower appears when it is dying, and yet despite being literally what a human may see, the imagery is abstract as “fizzled” has no connotation to flowers. In fact, “fizzled” implies a flame being extinguished, following the theme of fire during the first stanza of the poem. Hughes mentions a “smouldering” dawn, a streak of “red-hot iron” in the sky and uses the words “earth-brim simmering” to describe bird-song. The image of “earth-brim simmering” suggests that the birds are so full of their song that it overflows from their throats, akin to a pot simmering over. This is also paradoxical – the bird-song is not literally bubbling from the throats of the birds and yet that is the way it sounds. Hughes often plays with his use of diction by joining words together with hyphens or simply creating new ones. For instance, he says that a pheasant emits a “glare-cry” and that a sycamore leaf is “out-crumpling”. These images convey the desired impression of a ruffled, irritated sharp noise and a scrunched, autumn-esque leaf respectively. Hughes’ use of hyphens result in a description of the precise idea he wants to communicate to the reader – had he used “shriek” to represent the pheasant’s cry it would not have translated the perceived annoyance behind the noise. He also creates words, like “purplish”, with the purpose of using them to convey ambiguity. He’s allowing the reader to define “purplish”, perhaps because Hughes wants the reader to imagine themselves in the poem and so wants them to use their own perspective. The theme then changes to electricity. It could be argued that Hughes is making a connection between the way fire intensifies over time, just as the struggle in the poem between the human protagonist and the fish does. He describes the sight of briefly seeing the fish’s mouth as a “flash” and an “electrocuting” malice, indicating his quick, jarring moment of realisation that the fish sees him as an adversary. This use of language means we affiliate the imagery with the suddenness of an electric shock. The electrical theme continues throughout the next stanza with “a piling voltage hums”, “gleam-surges” and “current”. Hughes uses electrical imagery to represent the energy pulsing between himself and the fish. “A piling voltage hums” refers to the force that is building between them, as both are pulling in opposite directions increasingly desperately. The word “piling” also implies that the force will soon reach a breaking point and so we being to anticipate the climax of the battle of wills. Unusually for a poem depicting humanity, the human is terrified at the unknown entity of the fish – its size, its shape and whether it is actually a fish at all. The form of the poem is arranged to reflect the acts described within it. Each stanza reflects how the protagonist feels as time elapses. The first stanza is slow and still. Four out of five lines end with a dash and an elaboration, for example “Dawn – a smouldering fume of dry frost”. The narrator seems to be examining the landscape around him and musing on its details, and is therefore relaxed and unrushed. Then, a single line stanza appears, starting with a “pheasant cock’s glare cry”. This one line breaks up the stanza, indicating how the scream pieced the silence and broke the narrator out of his reverie. The next two stanzas are again slow and unhurried, reflecting the lack of disturbance felt when the