Work and Play Poem by Ted Hughes
Summary of “Work and Play”
“Work and Play” is a lovely poem written by Ted Hughes. The poet draws a contrast between the swallow and the human in this poem. The poet extols the beauty of the shallow bird and despises man for his destructive and serpentine character.
In the first stanza, the poet depicts the tough labour of the swallow. Shallow is described as a gorgeous bird with radiant feathers and an energetic flight, a “blue dark knot of glimmering voltage.” The poet is happy to see nature’s beauty, yet he is enraged by human beings. He expresses his contempt for humans for contaminating and destroying the environment. He makes a comparison between humans and a serpent riding an automobile. A serpent appears in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” to persuade Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Hughes compares humans to a deadly beast poisoning nature in this poem.
The poet refers to the shape of the bird in the second stanza as “the barbed harpoon.” He asserts that the bird’s flight is flawless and appealing. However, he mocks humanity as an imperfect creation. He uses an unflattering image to depict humans. He compares the serpent of automobiles (human beings) to a snake laying bare on the seashore, shedding its skin under the blazing heat. These human serpents roll around like naked tomatoes on the seashore and shriek incessantly.
For its dives and movements in the sky and seas, the poet refers to the bird as a seamstress. He depicts the awe-inspiring movement of the moon in the sky. However, he paints a pessimistic picture of humanity. Humans are shown as injured soldiers lying beneath a scorching sun. He mocks humans by claiming they are being cooked “Flat as in ovens, Roasting and basting” and that they resemble roasted meat.
“Their heads are transistors” man’s head is compared to. The growth of technology has harmed the environment. He feeds flies and causes them agony. He gets into his car and drives home, exhausted and idling. The youngsters in the car continue to scream and cry. The person is returning home and accidentally spills the lethal chemical “Inhaling Petrol.” It demonstrates humanity’s destructive nature toward the environment. The poet narrates the shallow’s return. “The summer swallow, cartwheeling through crimson, brushes up against the honey-slow river and turns”
The little bird goes home beaming with excitement and happiness at the sight of the sun’s crimson ray reflected in the river. When this ray of light strikes the river, it changes the hue of the water to honey. The bird flies with its “hand-stretched” in joy and satisfaction.
Ted Hughes establishes a contrast between man and nature to convey his message. In this poem, “Work and Play,” he laments humanity’s serpentine nature and destructive tendency.
Analysis of the Poem – “Work and Play”
This poem is a contrast between a swallow and a group of day-trippers. In the poem, the swallow is at work and is satisfied. Humans, on the other hand, are supposed to be resting and having fun, but instead, feel terrible.
The poem describes how tourists arrive and then depart unhappily. Additionally, the writer is explaining the swallow’s day, what it does to amuse itself, and how it returns to its house at night. Furthermore, the poem is divided into four uneven stanzas. The first three stanzas begin with a description of the swallow, followed by a description of people. The final stanza, on the other hand, begins with a description of the humans, followed by the swallow. This causes us to pause, reflect, and become more motivated to complete the poem, as there is a break in the pattern. Perhaps the author wishes to leave the reader with a positive and happy image rather than a negative and unpleasant one.
Here, in the first stanza, we meet our first character – the summer swallow. This swallow is used almost exclusively as a refrain at the beginning of each stanza. Each stanza is divided into two sections: nature and man. These two sections have a notable difference in their diction, phrase structure, and imagery.
In the opening section of stanza one, the speaker describes the swallow as a magnificent and graceful bird that is constantly busy. Additionally, we can hear the speaker discuss humanity going to the beach to be lazy. He employs the term “serpent” here, which carries a negative connotation.
The second stanza emphasises the difference between the swallow and man once more. The swallow’s accuracy and efficiency are attributed to the employment of a “barbed harpoon” (barbed harpoons are very efficient at doing their jobs). The swallow is said to be flawless.
However, humanity is once again depicted as slothful, frustrated, and unhappy. This is accomplished by the usage of the verb “disgorges” which connotes violence, as well as the use of tomatoes. The tomatoes here indicate the people’s sunburn and suffering. The term “cringe” also fits this extremely awful mood.
In stanza 3, the swallow is described as the summer’s seamstress. Alliteration is used in this line to evoke the gracefulness of the swallow’s flight, which the speaker is attempting to convey in this line. As she cuts the “blue” the swallow’s wings are compared to scissors.
Again, man is defined as people who are in pain, uneasy, and frustrated through the use of the similes “wounded” “roasting and basting” and the comparison of people to “transistors” (metaphor). The term “transistors” is particularly pertinent because a transistor fights the natural flow of electricity and emits heat in the process – a process that is quite similar to how humans are depicted in the poem.
The final stanza of the poem exhibits a structural shift. This time, the speaker begins with the people and concludes with the swallow. This is because the speaker is employing the question-and-response approach in this instance. Stanza 3 concluded with the question, “What can they do?” The first section of stanza 4 is a response and response to this. The speaker advises the vacationers to return home and put an end to their misery. The swallow is closing her day in a very natural and peaceful manner.
This concluding stanza, as well as the preceding ones, call into question the reader’s understanding of what “work” and “play” are. Work is portrayed as pleasurable in this scene with the employment of a swallow, whilst play is portrayed as painful through the use of a man.