Animal Masks


Reading Hughes, one sees quite quickly that animals in his work continually appear as masks for other kinds of entities, and that he is extruding inner content onto the world, not describing it. The amazing thing is that he himself says, often, that that is exactly what he is doing, yet few, if any, have picked up on the fact.
‘Now it is the dream cries ‘Wolf!
…By day, too, pursue, siege all thought.
…Now, lest they choose his head,
Under severe moons he sits making
Wolf-masks, mouths clamped well onto the world.’
February p61 CP
And haunted by apparitions from tombs
…and bang the river grabs at me
…an electrocuting malice
….trying to rip life off of me…’
Earth-numb, p541 CP
This mute eater, biting through the mind’s
Nursery floor, with eel and hyena and vulture,
With creepy-crawly and the root,
With the sea-worm, entering its birthright.’
‘Mayday On Holderness’, Lupercal p60
‘His voice is drowned by the animals’ – stage direction in Wodwo
…I was standing in a valley
Deeper than any dream Ballad, p72 CP
‘Ghost Crabs’ is maybe the longest poem presenting demons as animals:
‘…Our walls, our bodies, are no problem to them.
…(They) press through our nothingness where we sprawl on beds.
…These crabs own this world.
…They are the powers of this world.
We are their bacteria.’ (p149, CP
‘ …… my god’s down
Under the weight of all that stone…
I do not desire to change my ways,
But now call continually
On you, god or not god, who
Come to my sleeping body through
The world under the world; pray
That I may see more than your eyes
In an animal’s dreamed head……
Crag Jack’s Apostasy, p84 CP


I haven’t felt the need to write commentary on the quotations above. If they are taken seriously, the evidence is all there in Hughes’ own words. Now, though, we can look at a well known, anthologised ‘nature’ poem. ‘Hawk in the Rain’, the first poem in Hughes’s first book, presents a portion of the psychic condition that persisted with him his whole life. (p19, CP)
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….
It’s true the rainfall in the Pennines is twice the national average, but the man is only out for a walk, for God’s sake. The fact is, as nearly always with Hughes, what is going on is something else. The earth, the Ahrimanic forces, are pulling him down. The grave is mentioned.
And what is the opposite pole to that, that operates from above? – the Luciferic forces. The hawk acts as symbol of them: it’s why it is in the poem. It is described as ‘steady as a hallucination’. You would think that someone might have noticed that phrase before, including its author. A hawk, a real live being, out there, – ‘steady as a hallucination’?

After the hawk Hughes refers to himself again: ‘and I / Bloodily grabbed dazed last moment-counting / Morsel in the earth’s mouth….’

Now the rain is forgotten. This is no longer a sodden walk in the mud but something even closer to spiritual facts. He is bloodily grabbed. We have ‘morsel’, ‘mouth’: he is being eaten by the earth. (See chapter Earth Swallowed following.)
But in this poem even that which is high, the world of imagination and ideas (also of illusion) has to be brought down, so strong is the downdrag. Even the hawk, ‘the diamond point of will’, Hughes says, will ‘maybe’ meet ‘the weather coming the wrong way’ and come crashing down (doesn’t seem likely, but then this is a ‘thought hawk’), his ‘round angelic eye smashed’, ‘his heart’s blood’ mixed ‘with the mire of the land’.
So, the high being (‘angelic eye’) and associated faculties are brought down to the earth. That is what the poem is about. I don’t doubt there was a very wet day or that there was a hawk about, but everything has disappeared into Hughes’ omnivorous interior. I don’t want this to pass by lightly; I take the liberty of repeating: the hawk has his round angelic eye smashed; its heart’s blood is mixed with mire. It is classic Ted Hughes.
Hughes’ supporters present him as a hero of the inner journey. I think a brave person would eventually have thought: ‘Oh my God, look what the writing reveals is going on inside me. I’ll have to do something about it.’ That is not what happened.

(Note: Already we have had references to Lucifer and Ahriman, spiritual powers given those names by Rudolf Steiner. Rather than attempt some prosaic ‘definition’, I have preferred to let their scope and meaning unfold as the book develops. Naturally, to some it will all appear either as madness or poetic fancy. There’s not much I can do about that.)


Ted Hughes actively sought access to the ‘non-human powers of the cosmos’. He had no protection against them, because he didn’t want protection. They were what he was after. Rudolf Steiner, a Christian initiate, had the ability to see in the spiritual worlds and had this to say about such voyages in the unknown:

‘The dangers are these. Instead of perceiving objective reality in the spiritual world we would perceive only the effect of the fantasies which we ourselves take into that world; we take into it the worst that is in us – everything that is not in keeping with truth. Hence any premature entry into the spiritual world would mean that instead of reality, a man would see grotesque, fantastic images and forms, said by Spiritual Science to be a sight that does not belong to his humanity… It is always a sign that what are seen are fantasies if on rising into the spiritual world, animal forms appear. …they appear because inwardly we have not a firm enough foundation.’ Background To The Gospel Of St. Mark p90

‘…it has been pointed out that a man sees these gods of the inner world according to his own nature… If… (a man’s) conceptions are bad, or ugly, or untrue he perceives a distorted image of this world of the gods; fearful demoniacal shapes and figures appear… if he saw them in images distorted by his own qualities, horror and terror might arise; he could be tormented, persecuted…’ The East in the Light of the West p94

‘At this point a dreadful possibility exists. A man may lose his experience and feeling of direct reality without finding any new reality opening before him. He is then suspended in a void. He seems to himself dead. The old values have disappeared and no new ones have taken their place. The world and man no longer exist for him. This is by no means a mere possibility. At some time or other; it happens to everyone who wishes to attain higher cognition. He reaches a point where to him the spirit interprets all life as death. Then he is no longer in the world. He is beneath the world, in the nether world. He accomplishes the journey to Hades. It is well for him if he is not submerged.’ Occult Mysteries Of Antiquity p53

‘……Contrast this with an Imagination of Ahriman: As he goes along he would like to capture space from time; he has darkness around him into which he shoots the rays of his own light; the more he achieves his aims the severer is the frost around him; he moves as a world which contracts entirely into one being, viz., his own, in which he affirms himself only by denying the world; he moves as if he carried with him the sinister forces of dark caves in the Earth. Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts p98

Note (AJ): ‘Imagination’ is almost a technical word in Steiner. It refers to a certain faculty of seeing in the spiritual world. It does not mean fantasy or loosely ‘imagining’.

‘…..there lives, in the greedy desire of the Ahrimanic powers, cold hatred against all that unfolds in freedom. Ahriman’s efforts are directed towards making a cosmic machine out of that which he allows to stream forth from the Earth into universal space. His ideal is ‘measure, number and weight’ and nothing else than these. He was called into the Cosmos that serves the evolution of humanity, because ‘measure, number and weight,’ which is his sphere, had to be unfolded.’ Ibid, p147

I realise that these passages from Steiner may be hard to deal with for many readers. Nevertheless I bring them in, in bulk, this early because they make sense of scores, hundreds, of things that appear in Hughes’ poems. Otherwise all we are left with is: Poets make up all this wild fascinating stuff we can read with a glass of wine.

Poetry , Prose and Sparkle, Assassin