Lancashire Times
A Voice of the North
Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
7:20 PM 22nd November 2020

Poem Of The Week: 'Snowdrop' By Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes
Ted Hughes

Now is the globe shrunk tight
Round the mouse’s dulled wintering heart.
Weasel and crow, as if moulded in brass,
Move through an outer darkness
Not in their right minds,
With the other deaths. She, too, pursues her ends,
Brutal as the stars of this month,
Her pale head heavy as metal.

The weather, for the arse end of November, might be a mizzly occlusion wrapped in a blanket of indifference, but there is a promise of something colder and more seasonally apt coming in over the hills. And as I say this, I concede that my hope is informed neither by forecast nor soothsayer, a triumph, most likely, of hope over expectation.

I take my lead, instead, from Ted Hughes, whose depiction of late winter is as concise as it is austere. For here, in an octet as withering and shrunken as the tableau he describes, the poet returns to his hunting ground of anthropomorphism and instinct, envisioning the iron brutality of the season and the natural retreat it precipitates.

Time is frozen in Hughes’ recreation: the ‘dulled’ heart of the mouse reduced in scale and temperature to accommodate cryogenic inertia. But the sense of foreboding, enacted in the disorientated but implacable impulses of the weasels and crows who move in shadows, is reinforced by a muffled suggestion of Richard III’s ‘Now is the winter’, as though the animals were the harbingers of discontent, the dramatis personae of an unforgiving and moribund landscape. The gentle assonance of the poet’s claustrophobic vignette lulls the unsuspecting visitant lethe-wards.

And in this ominous terrain, we imagine light as spectral, even the light of the snowdrop, a relentless animus in a forest of sterility and dark. The flower sustains but in suspension, obedient to invisible organic purpose and gendered to within an inch of irony.

‘Snowdrop’ is taken from The New Poetry, Selected and Introduced by A. Alvarez, and is published by Penguin Books.