Amulet by Ted Hughes

Amulet” is a simple poem with profound thought by Ted Hughes. Hughes is remembered and celebrated to-date for the effective use of animal imagery that pervades his body of work. His excessive love for animals from a very young age is evident from the titles and the use of animal images that one cannot miss while reading most of his works, particularly in acclaimed poems like “The Thought-Fox”, “The Jaguar”, and others.

“Amulet” is no different from any of the aforesaid poems. It is because this poem follows Hughes’ tradition of using animal imagery. And in this poem, he has used it to depict the prevalence of wolf-nature in our surroundings.

Amulet by Ted Hughes

 

Summary of Amulet

The poem “Amulet” is full of cues that predominantly appeal to one’s sight. Starting from the inside of the wolf’s fang which is purple as heather. The inside of the heather looks like the wolf’s fur. The inside of the wolf’s fur is reminiscent of the old and grotesque forest resembling the wolf’s foot. Its foot, in turn, calls for a comparison to the stony horizon (marks the path of the wolf that it has to tread along until it chances upon its prey in a doe), for the wolf’s foot is as hard as stone (Thanks to the long walks!).

The stony horizon besides looking like the foot also looks like the tongue of the wolf. Its tongue is as hard as stone (this is one hungry wolf!). The wolf’s tongue salivating looks much like the doe’s tears. And the doe’s tears are hard like the frozen swamp (wolf sure won’t fall for tears and won’t give up on treating itself to a doe dinner!).

The frozen swamp, suggestive of the wolf’s inconsiderate and cold attitude, has in it the doe’s tears. The blood only next to the attitude of the wolf is chilled. It is chilled by the snow wind as the wolf marches through its habitat for food. As its walk progresses, the wolf looks at the North star hoping it would guide him to his next prey. As he looks at the star one could see his eyes gleam like the star. It may be just a reflection of the star on the eyes of the wolf or it could be the passion of the wolf accelerated by its appetite. Like the wolf’s eye reflects the North star, the star has inside it, the wolf’s fang.

You can read the full poem Amulet by Ted Hughes here.

 

Analysis of Amulet

Amulets are believed to hold supernatural powers that can protect their possessor from evil besides serving as a lucky charm. Maybe Hughes is of the opinion that his poem can serve as an amulet and keep the predatory wolf-nature from catching up to him. He seems to concoct a spell through this poem. With it, maybe he wants to prevent himself from sponging the predatory wolf-energies contained by his atmosphere.

In the poem, the wolf does have intact: its fangs, fur, foot, tongue, blood, and eye but there is no mention of its heart, for its heart is as cold as the snow-windy night.

Inside the ragged forest, the wolf’s foot. (…)

Inside the stony horizon, the wolf’s tongue. (…)

The wolf is relentless in its pursuit and nothing can stop it from preying on another creature. This holds true to mankind too, for when strong passion drives a man, he is unstoppable, and they go to any extent to get what they want despite knowing full well that their gain would mean a great loss to somebody else. Men are cold and heartless like the wolf, that way.

Inside the frozen swamp, the wolf’s blood.

Inside the wolf’s blood, the snow wind. (…)

The connection between the lines depicts the invisible chain of nature that ties everything together. This is suggested by the first and also the concluding phrase: “the wolf’s fang” which brings to the fore not only the thought of the poet to a full circle but also the fact that everything is interconnected and that everything ends where it begins. Therefore, everything comes to an end marking the beginning of a new cycle. The wolf will forever go on with his prey-hunting.

 

Form and Structure of Amulet

Firstly, “Amulet” bears enough proof to Hughes’ unparalleled talent at establishing contradictions in human nature through animal imagery through the way of the use of language. In spite of it being a short poem of 13 lines, Hughes, at the structure level has experimented a lot in this poem.

Secondly, the poem has got a peculiar yet interesting structure with each line beginning with the same word “inside” and comprised of two parts separated by a comma and end-punctuated with a period. And the interesting part though is when reading aloud they sound like incantations with the second part of one line forming the first part of the following line as seen below,

Inside the wolf’s fang, the mountain of heather.

Inside the mountain of heather, the wolf’s fur.

Thirdly, as one can see, each line gets the standalone-line treatment irrespective of the obvious connection the line shares between and amongst the lines that follow. Besides, every line of the poem has a period punctuating it to indicate closure. This pushes the reader to wonder if the poet is deliberate in establishing the connection between and among entities. Therefore, maybe the poem acts as a representative of mankind and acknowledges the disconnect which most of us are more than ready to acknowledge.

Inside the wolf’s fur, the ragged forest.

Inside the ragged forest, the wolf’s foot.

 

Poetic Devices in Amulet

In “Amulet,repetition of the chunk “inside the” at the beginning of all the lines of the poem is Anaphora. The use of anaphora suggests the emphasis laid on the idea of one entity being a part of another. And also the emphasis on the interconnection between and among entities.

One can come across alliteration (possibly unintentional on the part of Hughes)  in the following lines;

Inside the wolf’s fur, the ragged forest.

Inside the ragged forest, the wolf’s foot.

The poem does not convey any of its action through verbs, the nouns convey everything. The nouns suggest the ensuing actions for the poem to find itself a course until it reaches the finish line. In fact, there are no verbs at all in the poem. Besides, none of the lines contain a verb in them, not even a ‘be’ or ‘modal’ verb.

One can trust Ted Hughes with the radical expression of thoughts like the animal images he uses in his works. With the case of the poem at hand, names convey actions (how less radical is that!). He effortlessly puts together a poem with nouns doing the job of verbs whose absence is not conspicuous at all. There lies the genius of Ted Hughes.

 

Animal Imagery in Amulet: The Wolf

The wolf to Hughes is an embodiment of contradictions. Every line in “Amulet” has the word ‘wolf’ in it. Hughes has used the wolf image in many of his other poems as well. In fact, he has written a collection of poems entitled Wolfwatching to depict the contradictory nature of nature’s products that are part of the ecosystem. The “Amulet” has the wolf at its center, and all the way until the closing line of the poem one can feel the cold aloofness of the night. The wolf being guided by its passion to victimize its prey is tangible.

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