Ted Hughes and Crow (Continued)

by Ann Skea

Trickster has never been restricted to one society. In European countries he appears in the guise of Jester or Fool, and his roots in the human psyche are deep. Alan Garner has collected Trickster stories from many countries in his book The Guizer and he writes:

If we take the elements from which our emotions are builtand give them separate names such as Mother, Hero, Father,King, Child, Queen, the element that I think marks most ofus is that of the Fool. It is where our humanity lies. Forthe Fool is the advocate of uncertainty: he is at oncecreator and destroyer, bringer of help and harm. He drawsa boundary for chaos, so that we can make sense of therest. He is the shadow that shapes the light. Psychologycalls him Trickster. I have called him Guizer.Guizer is the proper word for an actor in a mumming play.He is comical, grotesque, stupid, cunning, ambiguous. Heis sometimes part animal, and always part something else.The something else is what is so special. He is thedawning godhead in Man (36).

In these quotations from Radin and Garner we can see the characteristics of Hughes’ Crow and his connection with Man, but the psychological implications of Crow’s character are broader still. Radin writes that the Trickster cycle "represents our efforts to deal with the problem of growing up": that it is a "speculum mentis wherein is depicted man’s struggle with himself andwith a world into which he had been thrust without his volition and consent . . .an attempt by man to solve his problems inward and outward" (37).

On a similar psychological level, C. J. Jung’s commentary on Radin’s collection of Trickster Cycles equates the trickster figure with "all the inferior traits of character in individuals." and he accounts for its persistence in man’s stories by the explanation that "since the individual shadow is never absent as a Component of personality, the collective figure can construct itself out of it continually" (38).Crow, it appears was in many ways just such a self constructing figure, because Hughes has said that the poems:

 . . .were usually something of a shock to write. Mostly theywrote themselves quite rapidly . . .and several of themthat seem quite ordinary now arrived with a sense ofhaving done something . . .tabu (39).

By adopting and developing this trickster figure Hughes was, therefore, extending his exploration into his own mind and (if Jung is correct in his interpretation of Trickster)into the human mind in general. In so doing, Hughes extended the death/rebirth theme of his poetry to include the idea of spiritual growth and rebirth for Man, which is a most important part of the Trickster Cycle. This pattern has been traced in detail in the Crow poems by Sagar (40) and Hirschberg (41).

Mark Wagner Raven

"Crow and Woman" by Picasso

In Crow, Hughes not only redefined God, he adopted Biblical language and style, recreated the Biblical Genesis story, perverted the message of the supreme power of God’s love and cast Crow in the role of "crucified" and reborn hero ("Crow and the Sea", Cp.82) and survivor of the Apocalypse. Crow was subjected to teaching and to tests, he was meant to learn humanity and wholeness, to develop a soul, but only in poems published in a later poetic sequence (Cave Birds) did he achieve real progress on his quest. As Sagar noted, "Crow is Everyman who will not acknowledge that everything hemost hates and fears — The Black Beast — is within him" (42).

Crow’s interference in God’s work begins with "A Childish Prank"(C p.l9). God, Hughes explained in his story (43), is at first "rather indulgent" towards Crow. "He tends to show it the beauties and let it look on while he shows the marvels of the beginning." Having made Adam and Eve, however, God has problems getting their souls into their bodies. "The problem was so great, it dragged him asleep." Crow intervenes, and in so doing invents sex as an urge which man and woman cannot control or understand. Meanwhile:

God went on sleeping
Crow went on laughing

The Trickster element in Crow’s behaviour is obvious, but Hughes, too, is breaking tabus.

God tries to teach Crow human skills and human emotions — tries to change his amoral, selfish nature. In "Crow’s First Lesson"(C p.20), God attempts to teach Crow how to talk, but his efforts to teach him the word "Love" result only in the creation of horror. Crow gapes, and vomits up his own devouring versions of love — "the white shark"; "a bluefly, a tsetse, a mosquito"; and man’s bodiless head with woman’s vulva dropped over it and tightening around his neck. God, defeated, goes back to sleeping,leaving Crow to his own devices and Crow takes advantage of God’s slumber by inventing his own ‘communion’. This is a devastating parody of the Christian rite, in which Crow literally partakes of God’s body ("Crow Communes", C p.30). Nor is this all. Crow next invents his own Theology ("Crow’s Theology", C p.35) which includes a God who is

 . . .much bigger than the other
Loving his enemies
And having all the weapons.

This sacrilegious reconstruction of Biblical lore, which is responsible for the stunning impact of some of the poems, is a clear indication of the way in which Crow resembles the Trickster Cycles, for Trickster is traditionally a "breaker of taboos and destroyer of the holy–of–holies" (44). It also illustrates the extent to which Hughes has adopted the Crow "mask" in these poems, and how he takes on himself the role of Trickster. In Crow, Hughes is doing just what Jung describes when he says that "there is something of the Trickster in the character of the shaman and medicine–man, for he, too,often plays malicious jokes on people" (45).

Crow may well seem to some like a malicious joke, and those critics who were convinced that Hughes enjoyed wallowing in violence and "the eager pursuit of blood and thunder" (46) certainly felt vindicated when Crow was published. Crow, however, is a very modern version of the Trickster Cycle fitting well with the surrealist and absurd sentiments of other twentieth century writers such as Kafka; of artists such as Francis Bacon; and of some of the Eastern European Poets whose works Hughes has helped to make available in translation.In it he succeeds, as Calvin Bedient commented, in joining "the twin nihilistic themes of the century — the Id and the Void — with witty and enormous invention" (47).

Hughes himself, however, seemed to feel that the Trickster Cycle had, in a way, taken him too far, too fast. He described the writing of the Crow poems to Faas as being like "putting [himself] through a process," and when asked by Faas if he felt the process had come to a kind of completion, he said:

In a way I think I projected too far into the future. I’dlike to get the rest of it. But maybe it will take adifferent form. (48)

Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow ends with Hughes’ invocation to the creative/destructive energies of Nature which brought him Crow: "Sit on my finger, sing in my ear, O littleblood." Subsequently, he returns to the theme of the quest and of spiritual rebirth in Cave Birds and Gaudete, where he examined them again in two forms which are as different from each other as they are from Crow.