Moors – Ted Hughes – Analysis

Moors

Are a stage for the performance of heaven.
Any audience is incidental.

A chess-world of top heavy Kings and Queens
Circling in stilted majesty
Tremble the bog-cotton
Under the sweep of their robes.

Fools in sunny motley tumble across,
A laughter – fading in full view
To grass tips tapping at stones.

The witch-brew boiling in the sky-vat
Spins electrical terrors
In the eyes of sheep.

Fleeing wraith-lovers twist and collapse
In death-pack languor
To bedew harebells
On the spoil-heaps of quarries.

Wounded champions lurch out of sunset
To gurgle their last gleams into pot-holes.

Shattered bowed armies, huddling leaderless
Escape from a world
Where snipe work late.

Ted Hughes

This is a poem taken from a series of poems based on a set Yorkshire photos given to TH by Fay Goodwin (a photographer and contemporary) … ‘Remnants of Elmet’ … The Calder valley west of Halifax … was the last ditch of Elmet, the last British Celtic kingdom to fall … an inhabitable wilderness which became the cradle for the industrial revolution … before the mills and chapels died and the population changed.

This is an example of ‘ekphrastic poetry’ where a poem is in response to another artistic form – in this case a photograph. It would be interesting to compare the imagery invoked by the words and Fay Goodwin’s photo.

What a wonderful first line … ‘Are a stage for the performance of heaven’ … the moors being a lonely land much untouched by man having the sky to itself and all the sky has to offer … very much in evidence on wild fury days … and ‘Any audience is incidental’ … a great place to encounter nature and to get away from the madding crowd.

The stones are displayed as a disordered set of chess pieces – again it would be interesting to see the photograph. They are all kings and queens so one might assume they are all large and of equal size. The stones obviously have supporting stones in the way they are presented. Stilted majestystilt = a long post or column that is used with others to support a building above ground level. And it appears they are seated on unstable ground – ‘tremble the bog-cotton’.

‘Fools in sunny motley’ implies that some visitors to the moor are ill-prepared for the nature of the moor. And the weather is likened to a witch brew the sky a vat. And as the weather intensifies with clouds collapsing it appears some rain touches harebells that grow near the discarded heaps from old quarries.

The last two stanzas give the impression of a disappearing moor as daylight swallows the stones … as they merge together without a leader. A time when snipe are busy … ‘snipe work late’ … I guess TH would know about this as he was very familiar with this part of the world. A nice closing line giving a sense of foreboding.

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