Crow’s Fall by Ted Hughes

‘Crow’s Fall’ by Ted Hughes belongs to his famous poetry collection, “Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow”. Hughes uses the crow as a symbol to attack orthodox Christianity and the basic ideas of humanism. In the poem, the poet describes the character of a crow in a mythical manner and portrays the cause of its downfall.

 

Summary of Crow’s Fall

In ‘Crow’s Fall’, Ted Hughes presents the hamartia of the mythological crow for his act of presumption.

In ‘Crow’s Fall’, Ted Hughes illustrates the reason how the crow became black in color. The story of the crow also illustrates the effect of transgressing one’s limits. According to the poet, once the crow’s feathers were all white in color. One day he thought that the sun was shining brighter than him. He became envious of its radiance and decided to attack it. His ambition made him temporarily blind. Without thinking about the outcome he flew close to the sun to defeat it. This event led to the crow’s downfall. As he went near the sun, he “returned charred black” and lost his white feathers.

You can read the full poem here.

 

Structure of Crow’s Fall

Being a poem of the modern period, ‘Crow’s Fall’ hasn’t any specific structure. It is in free verse. It contains 17 lines with uneven line lengths. Some lines are extremely short having only two syllables in them while some lines are comparatively long. The poem has no rhyme scheme. Though there are some lines that rhyme together like line 5 and line 7. The metrical composition of the poem is also irregular which is one of the chief characteristics of modern poems. The majority of the lines are composed of trochaic feet with some spondees. Spondee is a foot having two stressed syllables. In a trochaic foot, the first syllable is stressed and the second one remains unstressed. The poet uses this meter to heighten the tension in the poem. This “falling rhythm” is also relevant to the overall theme of the poem.

 

Literary Devices in Crow’s Fall

‘Crow’s Fall’ by Ted Hughes is a plain and direct poem. It doesn’t have too many literary devices lingering here and there. Actually the poet isn’t in a mood of convincing someone by using ornamental epithets. There are some devices that are used only to maintain the flow of the poem. Readers can find such a literary device called anaphora in line 3–8. All these lines begin with the same word, “he”.

In this poem, the crow is personified from the beginning of the poem. It is an example of anthropomorphism. Readers come across another instance of personification in the line, “trees grew suddenly old.” The poet uses the color “white” as a metaphor. It is compared to the purity of the heart. In the last line, “Where white is black and black is white”, is an example of chiasmus.

 

Analysis of Crow’s Fall

Lines 1–4

When Crow was white he decided the sun was

(…)

He decided to attack it and defeat it.

In the first four lines of ‘Crow’s Fall’, Ted Hughes is referring not to any ordinary crow. This mythological crow is not black. It has white feathers. The metaphorical use of the word “white” hints us that it was in a pure state. One day the crow thought that the sun was beaming brighter than its feathers. He became frustrated and decided to beat the sun in a battle. Thus he could prove that he was more powerful than it.

The thought of defeating the sun echoes the story of Satan. In this poem, Sun is a symbol of God. Like Satan, the crow defied the limits and tried to be as powerful as the sun. It gradually led to his downfall like the fate of fallen angels in the Bible.

 

Lines 5–11

He got his strength up flush and in full glitter.

(…)

Shadows flattened.

The crow was full of conviction that he could defeat the sun. He started to get himself ready for the battle. Ted Hughes writes this section in a manner that brings a sense of humor and irony in the poem. The crow’s activity primarily seems humorous. It also brings out his hollowness. His arrogance had made him ignorant of the fact that the sun couldn’t be defeated. In his frame of vision, the sun seemed smaller than him and it encouraged him to challenge the power of the sun. According to Hughes, “He laughed himself to the center of himself” as he wasn’t aware of what he was doing. He was under the spell of a temporary but powerful emotion called “overambition”.

The crow pointed his beak towards the sun and flew with full force to replace its position. He cawed his battle cry in the sky. As it flew closer to the sun, his body temporarily hid the sun. The trees looked old for the shadow around them. In ‘Crow’s Fall’ Hughes uses this imagery to intensify the tension of the poem.

 

Lines 12–17

But the sun brightened—

(…)

“Where white is black and black is white, I won.”

In the last few lines of ‘Crow’s Fall’ by Ted Hughes, the poet presents the effect of overambition. The crow had returned to its place. The sun was shining again in the sky but the crow lost his whiteness. His feathers were “charred black”. “He opened his mouth but what came out was charred black.” It means that his blind ambition had burnt his purity also.

At last, the crow said, “Where white is black and black is white, I won.” This line is significant enough with respect to the theme of the poem. Here Hughes illustrates that the crow’s mentality was not actually changed. Though his outer appearance had changed for his act of presumption, his basic thinking remained the same. He was still thinking that he had defeated the sun.

This statement is diabolic in meaning. The resonance of Satan’s argumentation is visible in this line. Satan also tried to convince the angels with such equivocal statements. In this way, Hughes not only depicts the physical change of the crow but also presents its inner transformation in his poem ‘Crow’s Fall‘.

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