Ted Hughes

Cat and Mouse by Ted Hughes

‘Cat and Mouse’ by Ted Hughes presents, as the title says, the relation between a cat and mouse. The poem reflects the worldview from the perspective of a mouse. There is no major reference to the cat in the poem however this creature is there as God. Its existence is the cause and the mouse’s fears are the effects. In this manner, the poet employs a God-like existence of a cat in a mouse’s tiny world. Moreover, the reference to the cat depicting the destructive face of the creator is at one hand ironic and interesting on the other.

Cat and Mouse by Ted Hughes


Summary of Cat and Mouse

‘Cat and Mouse’ by Ted Hughes explores the mouse’s fear of a cat in a thought-provoking manner.

‘Cat and Mouse’ by Ted Hughes is only a few lines long. In fact, the poet summarizes the emotional turmoil inside a mouse’s heart for the lurking fear of a cat in this short poem. However, in the poem, there is a reference to a mouse that is hiding near the “sheep-cropped summit” and finding a favorable moment to find food. For fear of the cat, its life comes to a standstill. According to the poet, the fear is justified and it’s the order of nature that none can alter. Moreover, the poet highlights the mouse has a long way to go to reach the farms. At last, the poet expresses his concern for the mouse as the cat never gives an ear to the death-prayers of a mouse. It is like God, that dictates the future of the mouse.

You can read the full poem here.


Structure of Cat and Mouse

‘Cat and Mouse’ by Ted Hughes contain a total of three stanzas and each stanza of the poem contains three lines each. The line lengths of the poem aren’t regular enough. There are some contractions at the end of the first stanza, the beginning and end of the second stanza, and at the beginning of the last stanza. As there isn’t any rhyme scheme in the poem, it is in free verse. The internal rhythm reflects an underlying tension in the poem. It is in the mouse’s mind for the cat. However, the poet uses both the iambic meter and the trochaic meter for creating a contrasting sound in the poem.

Moreover, there are some specific instances the poet uses a spondee and pyrrhic in juxtaposition. As an example, in the first two feet at the beginning of the poem, there is a pyrrhic foot and a spondee foot respectively. Apart from that, the first two feet at the beginning of the second stanza presents a falling rhythm and then a rising rhythm. However, the metrical composition of the poem is significant regarding the central idea of the poem.


Literary Devices

‘Cat and Mouse’ by Ted Hughes contains several literary devices that collectively uphold the artistic intricacy in the poem. Likewise, in “sheep-cropped summit” the poet uses a metonymy. Here the cause reflects the actual image of the summit and its surroundings. There is a personification in the second line of the first stanza. Here, the poet personifies the mouse.

The second stanza contains an epigram in the beginning. The epigram consists of the first line and the first half of the second line. An enjambment connects those lines. Here, the poet clarifies that the order of the world can’t be altered. In the third line of this stanza, there is a climax as well as an onomatopoeia. At last, “stupor of life” is a metaphor. Moreover, in the last stanza, the poet ends the poem using irony. There is also an implied comparison between the eye of God and the cat.


Analysis of Cat and Mouse

Stanza One

On the sheep-cropped summit, under hot sun,
The mouse crouched, staring out the chance
It dared not take.

‘Cat and Mouse’ by Ted Hughes introduces the subject of the poem in the first stanza. From the beginning itself, the poet uses a variety of images that makes the poem picturesque. Likewise, in the first stanza, there are a total of three images. The first one is of the summit that is sheep-cropped. Here, in sheep-cropped, the poet presents an unconventional image of the sheep. It is present as a modifier of the landscape. The sheep somehow distorts the landscape by eating the even grass cover on the summit. Such a representation is in stark contrast with the images of sheep used in the Christian perspective.

However, the second image of the sun heats the internal world of the poem. From this image and the following image, one can sense the tense mood and warmth of the poem. Apart from that, the last image of the mouse crouching and hiding symbolically represents humans. Here, the specific reference is for the god-fearing men. However, the mouse is waiting for a chance but can’t take it for an underlying fear. It is a symbolic reference to a man’s conscience.


Stanza Two

                      Time and a world
Stupor of life.

‘Cat and Mouse’ by Ted Hughes refers to the natural order of the world in the first section of the second stanza. Here, the poet refers to the food chain. In a biological sense, a cat eats a mouse and a mouse eats the grains. It’s the natural order. None can alter this order between food and feeder. Like time is unalterable, it flows at its pace. The order of nature is also like that.

Thereafter, the poet again comes to the mouse and talks about its “prospect”. The mouse has to cover five miles of distance from its hiding place to the farms. The versification of this section presents the chain of thoughts in the mouse’s mind. It thinks mechanically without recalling other aspects related to an object. For this reason, the mouse visualizes the three images in a flash, the “Woods, villages, farms”. The last image increases the desire in its heart for food. Here the poet uses an onomatopoeia by using the word “humming”. There is an alliteration in “heat-heavy”. However, it is also an example of consonance as the “h” sound gets repeated. In the last line, the metaphor, “Stupor of life” refers to the mouse’s immobility due to the fear of the cat.


Stanza Three

                      Whether to two
Whether in God’s eye or the eye of a cat.

In the third stanza of ‘Cat and Mouse’ by Ted Hughes, the god-like cat finally appears in the poem but ironically as the last word of the whole poem. However, in the first two lines of the poem, the poet clarifies why the mouse is in such a situation in the previous stanzas. It is for the terror of the cat. The cat can kill the little creature easily in the open field. There is no place for hiding. The line, “how are prayers contracted” contains an important metaphor. Here, the poet makes it clear that the mouse is just like other human beings. At the final moment before one’s death, all the desires vanish. What remains, is the strong urge for life. Moreover, the word “contracted” acts as a pun here and it can be interpreted in some other ways too.

In the last line, the poet ironically compares the cat to God. The mouse, captivated in the clutch of the cat, prays to the cat for its life. According to the poet, in this situation, the mouse treats the cat as God as if it has the power to give its life back. The last line can be a reference to the destructive side of God as the mouse symbolically represents the god-fearing humans.


Historical Context

‘Cat and Mouse’ by Ted Hughes captures a similar fascination of the poet with the animal world that was visible in the works of his early writing career. Likewise, in “The Hawk in the Rain” (1957) and “Crow” (1970) the poet tried to find the divine order in the animal world. Another important aspect of his works is stark naturalism. Ted Hughes was particularly influenced by the idea of “Survival of the Fittest” by Charles Darwin. Similarly, in ‘Cat and Mouse’ the poet exemplifies nature, a god-like representation of the cat, and at last the theme of naturalism.


Similar Poetry

Like ‘Cat and Mouse’ by Ted Hughes, the following poems also uphold the interplay of the animal world with that of humans.

You can read about 10 of the Best Nature Poems here.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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