Thrushes by Ted Hughes


“Thrushes” depicts birds as efficient, instinctive killer robots. The poet is watching some thrushes on his lawn, and his observations lead him to compare them to humans, such as himself, whose noblest acts appear to be achieved by the suppression of such energy as the birds express, and at great cost.

The thrush is regarded as a ‘terrifying’ bird with fierce gaze that is almost robotic. It is poised to pounce and draws an unsuspecting worm from the ground in a rhythmic motion. It does not postpone, and it is not swayed by exhaustion or boredom. It performs what it needs to do in a straightforward and efficient manner. The speaker then wonders why the thrush is so efficient, whether it is due to their skulls, brains, training, or incentive to feed their noisy, hungry, and demanding young. Their work is compared to that of Mozart and a shrk, which smells blood, even its own, and then devours itself. There is no question or impediment. The thrush simply does its thing.

The poem then claims that mankind is distinct because heroes, daily office pencil-pushers, and exquisite craftsmen have all worked and demonstrated that the ‘act worships itself.’ Even when the man prays, there is a loud and visible distraction of devils drowning out focus and silence.

Text of Thrushes

Thrushes by Ted Hughes Analysis

Analysis of Thrushes

“Thrushes” by Ted Hughes is one of his most often anthologized poems. The poet is more taken by the thrushes’ aggressive character than with their singing abilities. He finds their capacity to “stab” amusing. They are ‘sleek’ or ‘stylish’ on their own. They are single-minded in their goal and so exceedingly attentive. They come across as steel coils rather than mundanely humanistic due to their iron will. The “dark deadly eye” draws attention to the situation with its focused gaze, and the posture they acquire is to be admired. The delicate legs are prompted by stirrings beyond sense, i.e. it is driven by instinct-“with a start, a bounce, a stab.” They prey on the writhing monster quickly and instinctively. They are not marked by indecision, lethargy, or postponement; rather, they are distinguished by extraordinary mental presence.

No indolent procrastinations and no yawning states,
No sighs or head-scratching

It just takes a rapacious second for this predatory being to satisfy to urge.

Is it their single-mindedness, as typified by their firm skulls, or their physique, which is innately well-trained, or the undaunted brilliance, or, as the poet asks, is it the “nestful of brats” or the lineage with the killer-instinct? The terms “bullet” and “automatic” describe how the act appears automated, mechanised, and triggered. Furthermore, it depicts how objective the act is, without relying on external considerations and extraneous variables. Mozart possessed an intrinsic genius and aesthetic drive for music that was not motivated by any ulterior objective. It existed in its own right. It was one-of-a-kind, coming from his head as an extended metaphor for his genius. It had no desire for glory or acclaim. Similarly, the shark is unwavering in its prey, even smelling out a leak of its own blood. It is so aggressive in its pursuit that if the situation calls for it, it will consume itself. The poet concretizes its efficiency as a streamline that scepticism cannot pluck at, or compares it to a streak of light that is not reflected on impediment.

The average man, with his narcissistic tendencies, is undoubtedly different, since he borders on “fishing for compliments.” As a result, he wants for his acts to lean toward heroism. In the race to set high standards, he seeks to outdo himself.

Outstripping his desk-diary at a broad desk,
Carving at a tiny ivory ornament

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His behaviour appears to worship itself, and hence the vision of development is indeed short-sighted. Though he looks to be engrossed in prayer, there are opportunities for distraction to creep in  –

Furious spaces of fire do the distracting devils
Orgy and hosanna, under what wilderness
Of black silent waters weep.

The words ‘orgy,’ ‘hosanna,’ and ‘weep’ all refer to man’s involuntary tendencies that lead him away from his purpose. How does a man’s sexual orientation, craving for fame, or dread of the outcome of an action distract him? “Time and waste, depths of distraction, and the essential distinction between man and his acts are all features of human effort,” he says. (M.L.Rosenthal) The phrase “wilderness of black silent waters” alludes to the difficulties that await the misbehaving.

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