Sunday, 6 January 2013

Wodwo by Ted Hughes

A happy new year to you all! I wanted to start with a personal favourite of mine which suits the liminal nature of early January.

Wodwo - Ted Hughes

What am I? Nosing here, turning leaves over
Following a faint stain on the air to the river’s edge
I enter water. Who am I to split
The glassy grain of water looking upward I see the bed
Of the river above me upside down very clear
What am I doing here in mid-air? Why do I find
this frog so interesting as I inspect its most secret
interior and make it my own? Do these weeds
know me and name me to each other have they
seen me before do I fit in their world? I seem
separate from the ground and not rooted but dropped
out of nothing casually I’ve no threads
fastening me to anything I can go anywhere
I seem to have been given the freedom
of this place what am I then? And picking
bits of bark off this rotten stump gives me
no pleasure and it’s no use so why do I do it
me and doing that have coincided very queerly
But what shall I be called am I the first
have I an owner what shape am I what
shape am I am I huge if I go
to the end on this way past these trees and past these trees
till I get tired that’s touching one wall of me
for the moment if I sit still how everything
stops to watch me I suppose I am the exact centre
but there’s all this what is it roots
roots roots roots and here’s the water
again very queer but I’ll go on looking

A Wodwo is a 'wild man' and Hughes perfectly captures a being that finds itself thrust into life with only a desire to understand itself.

The Wodwo is open and inquisitive, very much enthralled and excited by the nature around him but finding itself distinct from its surroundings and very self focused. It enjoys inspecting the secret interior of the frog but does not show empathy or understanding of the death it implies. I may be reading too deeply but I wonder if Hughes is trying to suggest that we need the contact of beings similar to our own to understand that we all share the same feelings and experiences.

The rhythm of the poem is jerky and constantly changing, mimicking the lurches and pauses in the creature's investigations and the I love the furiousness at the end of repeating the word 'roots' over and over like more and more questions bursting into its mind. The haphazard nature of the grammar and line endings fuelling this sense of the Wodwo's experimentation.

It is the Wodwo's constant questioning of its own existence, seeking feedback from his surroundings and questioning further, that really strikes me about this poem. I feel like we are all Wodwos in a way, trying to uncover our own meaning and every time I read this poem I find myself asking the same questions but finding different answers.

'I seem to have been given the freedom of this place what am I then?'

I read this line once and felt it was a challenge; if I have this freedom, what am I doing with it? What purpose can I shape for myself? Whereas reading it through today I am constantly drawn to the word 'seems' and how illusory are perceived dominance over our surroundings is.

As we stand on the border of a new year it is a tradition to make resolutions, particularly around how we would like to change. This time however I recommend asking yourself the same questions as the Wodwo - What am I? Nosing here, who am I to split the glassy grain of water? - and if you find an answer ask yourself if your ethics and actions embody that answer? Then you may find you don't have resolutions anymore but focus, urgency and drive.

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