STYLISTIC ANALYSIS OF TED HUGHES’ POEM “CADENZA”, Zoya Aziz

CADENZA

The violinist’s shadow vanishes.

 

The husk of a grasshopper

Sucks a remote cyclone and rises.

 

The full bared throat of a woman walking water

The loaded estuary of the dead.

 

And I am the cargo

Of a coffin attended by swallows.

 

And I am the water

Bearing the coffin that will not be silent.

 

The clouds are full of surgery and collisions

But the coffin escapes – as a black diamond.

 

A ruby brimming blood,

An emerald beating its shores,

 

The sea lifts swallow wings and flings

A summer lake open,

 

Sips and bewilders its reflection,

Till the whole sky dives shut like a burned land back to its spark –

 

A bat with a ghost in its mouth

Struck at by lightnings of silence –

 

Blue with sweat, the violinist

Crashes into the orchestra, which explodes.

 

INTRODUCTION

Immediate and visceral, Ted Hughes’ poetry attempts to make sense of a human world forged by primitive and animal forces. A charismatic presence, Hughes was also famed for the mesmerizing force of his reading voice.

Hughes was born in 1930 into a working class family in Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire. He studied English at Cambridge, but transferred to Anthropology, where he immersed himself in the study of myth and pre-history. And it was at Cambridge that Hughes met the American poet Sylvia Plath. In 1956, after a four-month romance, they married. The darkness of Hughes’ poetry was matched by the drama of his personal life – the strained marriage to Plath, ended in her suicide in 1963, followed by the death of his lover Assia Wevill, who killed herself and her daughter in 1969. His Tales from Ovid reworked the Metamorphoses, to show what happens when mortal passions are lifted to a mythic plane. In many ways, this is the same theme explored in his final volume, Birthday Letters, the book of poems about Plath that brought Hughes to a wider audience.

Cadenza in a literal sense is a difficult part of a piece of classical music performed by only one person near the end of the piece. Judging from the title, the reader can establish that this piece of poetry, akin to music, will be an abstract read. The poem also takes on a violent, confusing tone at the end, making it more tactile than understandable. Its structure, like many of Hughes’ poems, is linked with the central theme of the poem. It follows two line stanzas, except the first line, which stands unaccompanied, purposely dedicated to the artist and to the musician, reconciling all differences between them. The rest of the poem is a series of stanzas paired by two sentences, both long and short, similar to the high and low notes of a cadenza. This ornamental piece of music as well as poetry consists of a series of images, of death-terror, lost love, and mourning. They make for a dazzling surrealist elegy, for the poet’s wife Sylvia Plath and the rhythmic idiom inevitably recalls, because it echoes and summons up their very tone and pitch, the voice and tone of her poetry.

I will attempt to stylistically analyse the poem “Cadenza” through its Lexical syntactic patterns and choices, its figurative language and its phonological sound patterns.

A. Lexical syntactic patterns and choices

The poem is dominated by concrete nouns and complex vocabulary. The nature of this complexity is less to do with difficult words and more to do with the confluence of complex and simple as well as descriptive vocabulary that render the poem hard to understand at its first reading.

Concrete nouns Adjectives Complex Vocabulary
Violinist Remote Cyclone
Grasshopper Full bared Estuary
Swallows Loaded Surgery
Coffin   Collisions
Black Diamond   Brimming
Ruby   Bewilders
Emerald    

 

The poet’s use of diction in the poem is formal, as per the requirement of Cadenza as a musical performance. It should not be forgotten that cadenza is different from a regular performance of music. It is played for dramatic performances, and follows a strict code of rules to bring about a harsh, pregnant atmosphere. This is further evidenced by the various semantic fields employed in the poem as well as can be judged by the use of inflectional morphemes by the poet. With the use of words such as “swallow”, “mouth”, and “suck”, the poet creates an image of hunger. The use of thunderstorm imagery with words such as “lightnings”, “sky”, “clouds”, and “cyclone”, and the vocabulary associated with them, the poem describes the ominous climate of his heart. The verses of the poem add yet another semantic field to the poem, that of death and suffering; “coffin”, “dead”, “surgery”. A further ominous tone of an on-going storm has also been developed by the use of dark as well as fluid water imagery; “sea”, “swallow”, “water”, “blood”, “sips”, “estuary”. An advanced research into the sound of the poem reveals the use of word inflections in which grammatical category of a word changes within syntactic category of the word and details about smallest unit morpheme. These words, in this case the morpheme ‘s’ and ‘es’, perform the function of giving the poem the tense of the present, as well as of plurality, which is then indicative of the poet’s ability to pull himself out of the past and make his space in the present. Examples of these words can be found throughout the poem; sucks, rises, escapes, lifts, flings, sips, bewilders, dives, crashes, explodes.

B. FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE

Judging from the title of the poem, the reader would expect the poem to belong to musical origins, but since Ted Hughes’ poetry is representative of his times the poem deviates from its musical connotations and makes use of figures of speech to get the essentials of the modern era across.

SIMILE

“As a black diamond”

“Like a burned land”

PERSONIFICATION

“A ruby brimming blood”

“An emerald beating its shores”

“The sea lifts swallow wings and flings”

“The coffin that will not be silent”

EXAGGERATION/HYPERBOLE

“Blue with sweat”

“The husk of a grasshopper sucks a remote cyclone and rises”

“Till the whole sky dives shut like a burned land back to its spark”

“A bat with a ghost in its mouth”

METAPHOR

“The clouds are full of surgery and collisions”

“A ruby brimming blood”

“An emerald beating its shores”

C. PHONOLOGICAL SOUND PATTERNS

ALLITERATION

Violinist’s shadow Vanishes

Woman Walking Water

RuBy Brimming Blood

ASSONANCE

womAn wAlking wAter

LIfts swallow wIngs and flIngs

CONSONANCE

The sea liftS swallow wingS and flingS

SipS and bewilderS its reflection

Till the whole Sky diveS Shut

CrasheS into the orcheStra

MORPHOLOGICAL PARALLELISM

The sound of S that dominates the entire poem

CLIMAX

Blue with sweat, the violinist

Crashes into the orchestra, which explodes

FINDINGS AND CONCLUSION

The poem Cadenza characterizes the psychotic states of personality and total withdrawal from the society. The writer makes use of assertive, declarative sentences.

For example

And I am the cargo

And I am the water

The sea lifts swallow wings and flings

Blue with sweat, the violinist

Crashes into the orchestra, which explodes

The word “shadow” in the first line ,used as a noun, represents darkness and desire, and as it “vanishes”, so does the poet’s persona. The idea of the grasshopper “suck[ing]” the “cyclone” and then “rising” suggests that destruction is not always an end but it can also be a positive change. The next couplet is filled with heavy words such as “loaded”, “full”, “estuary”. This suggests that the poet is heavy with the burden of expressing himself through music. The use of “I” is a clear indication of symbolism to the cargo, as if Hughes is the transporter carrying the coffin. The coffin is “attended by swallows”. This is yet another indication towards the fact that death is not an end but a kind of freedom, for the bird swallow represents the idea of freedom. In the next couplet the poet takes on the persona of “water”, which is another means of transportation. The next couplet presents a metaphor as in the first couplet, “the clouds are full of surgery”. This metaphor is used to describe the changing shape of the clouds to accommodate the dead. In the following lines two kinds of stones are mentioned, “black diamond” is used for the dead and “ruby” is used for the living. The single line stanza at the beginning shows the loneliness and the isolation of the violinist and of the poet mourning the death of his wife. The choice of formal language suggests some level of respect on the poet’s part for the audience as well his deceased wife. The poet suggests the depth/intensity of his feelings for his wife through the use of descriptive words. The use of animal imagery is crucial to the poem as both the grasshopper and the swallows can fly, and that’s suggestive of the poet’s positive hopes for the future of his times and nation, as well as of his personal state of mind where he is grieving the death of his wife.