‘Lovesong’ by Ted Hughes is a six stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The text is framed by two-line couplets that contain increasingly longs verses towards the third stanza.
Hughes chose not to structure this piece with a consistent pattern of rhyme. Instead there are a number of moments of repetition that unify the poem from beginning to end. A reader will immediately notice the repetitive starting words. Hughes began almost every line with either “he,” “she,” “him,” or “her.” This was done in an effort to make sure the narrative did not move away from its main subject, the physical and emotional relationship between the two lovers.
Summary of Lovesong
‘Lovesong’ by Ted Hughes describes a relationship that exists between an unnamed man and woman who are deep in the joys and pains of love.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that the two are doing everything they can to “keep” one another past the natural ending of this moment and their greater love affair. They both know that the emotions they are experiencing are limited. At some point the moment is going to end and they are going to have to go back to the real world.
In the next section the speaker describes the highs and lows of their “moment.” They feel an unlimited passion towards one another. Sometimes though it is tinted by anger, false promises and feelings of revenge. These equally passionate emotions define their relationship as much as the positive ones do.
Analysis of Lovesong
You can read the full poem here.
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by introducing the relationship between two characters. Hughes’ speaker does not play a role in the relationship. He is an omniscient narrator whose job it is to look into the minds of the story’s characters and explain their actions and emotions.
A reader will immediately notice upon beginning this piece that there are no extraneous details. The speaker is completely focused on the physical and emotional relationship between the man and the woman. This goes so far as to keep either from acquiring names or personal physical traits.
The first line states the most basic backbone of this piece. The man and woman love one another. This line ends with a period, the only line of the entire poem to do so. Hughes made this choice to make sure a reader does not miss the importance of the statement. No matter what is going to come next, the two love one another.
The man, when he “kisses” the woman, tries to suck out,
[…] her whole past and future or tried to
This statement shows the all consuming nature of the man’s love for the woman. He has no other “appetite” than for his lover. The same goes for the woman who is said to “gnaw” and “suck” on the man. She has the same impulse, to take every part and keep him,
Safe and sure forever and ever
The first stanza concludes with the speaker describing how their “cries” of passion flutter “into the curtains.” This couple shares an emotional and physical romance that seems to be without fault.
The second stanza picks up where the first left off. The speaker alternates between describing the emotions of the man and the woman. This makes clear that the passion is shared equally between the two.
Her eyes show that she wants “nothing to get away.” The woman wants to know, and keep, every part of the man. In reaction to the woman’s look, the man is unable to move. Her eyes keep him pinned, or “nailed down.”
The narrative turns to the man next who is said to “grip” the woman with enough strength to keep “life” from dragging her out of the “moment.” This couple is fully aware of the tenuous and temporary nature of their love. If it was up to the man he would stop the future from ever coming. He does not believe there is anyway another moment could equal this one. They should, he thinks “topple” from that…
[…] moment’s brink and into nothing
Or everlasting or whatever there was
The two would like to cast off their present lives and enter into another world, all in an effort to remain together. They do not believe the human world can maintain what they have.
The third stanza is the longest of the six and begins with the speaker stating the strength of the woman’s “embrace.” It is so strong that it felt as if she was going to “print him on her bones.” This would make him a permanent part of her being. He would truly be there forever as she wanted.
The man’s “smiles” are said to be the “garrets” or jewels of a magical palace. He belongs in a place that is nothing like the real world. On the other hand, her smiles are like “spider bites.” Both similes are powerful and otherworldly. This description also adds to the previous verses describing how the woman would like to “gnaw” on the man.
The following lines come in the form of a list. The speaker is going through and stating, one fact at a time, what features the man and woman have. These statement describe a darker side to their relationship. Now that the narrator has brought the reader deeper into the relationship, another side is shown. For example, he says that the man’s looks,
were bullets daggers of revenge
And that the woman’s kisses were like “lawyers steadily writing.” Neither of these things are particularly good. It might lead one to believe that the relationship has already been tainted by the real world.
In the second half of this stanza the dark and somewhat intimidating descriptions continue. The love they share is now “grinding” and made of “hooks.” Additionally, rather than their cries being like “curtains” they crawl
[…]over the floors
Like an animal dragging a great trap
The man and woman both make promises that they cannot keep. This is something done in the moment “off the top of”their heads. The woman is so taken in by his particular promises that the speaker says she’d get a “brooch made of it.” This would be so she could wear it around and remember what he said. It also speaks to the dedication they feel to one another at this time. That does not mean that it’s not going to change though.
In the final lines of this section the two begin to reconcile. They are once more deeply involved with one another.
By the end of the short fourth stanza their lovemaking has come to an end. Their “heads fell apart” and then immediately entered into sleep. Although they are exhausted from one another and the fighting they engaged in, they are peaceful in their sleep. The final line here states that “love is hard to stop.” Even the petty qualms of the real world did not finish their love that night.
While the couple sleeps together their bodies become “entwined.” They draw closer in the intimate moments they lay beside one another. It is as if they swap limbs, taking on the qualities of the other person.
The same goes for “their brains” which take the other “hostage.”
By the time the poem comes to its conclusion the man and woman have drawn so close to one another, physically and mentally, that they have swapped faces. They each know the other so well that they could take on the other’s easily and without hesitation.