Analysis of Ted Hughes’ ‘Crow Tyrannosaurus’

You can read the whole poem here.


Edward James (Ted) Huges was born in Mytholmrod, in the West Riding district of Yorkshire. His childhood was quiet and dominately rural. The landscape of the moors of the area informed his poetry throughout his life. He attended Pembroke college and majored in archaeology, anthropology and studied mythology. Ted’s passion for animals was known to the family from his earliest childhood. For his fourth birthday, he was given a thick book of photographs of animals. He enjoyed collecting living creatures more. He often went hunting with his elder brother. What he enjoyed about shooting was the way it made him alert to the whole landscape, so that he was aware of every animal and bird alive in it.

Hughes’ work is marked by a mythical framework, using lyric and dramatic monologue to illustrate intense subject matter. Animals appear throughout his work as a deity, metaphor, persona or icon. The poem ‘Crow Tyrannosaurus’ is a grotesque description of the circle of life. It portrays the cruel, yet natural world where predators hunt prey in a struggle for survival. The circle of life goes on as every living being eats and is being eaten by other living beings. Continuation of life through death- the bird killing insects for sustenance, then the cat eating the bird, the dog consuming, the man’s very body likened to a slaughterhouse, and finally his decay and being eaten by the very worms stabbed by the crow is conveyed throughout the poem.

The poem starts off with irony when the poet says ‘creation’ but goes on to describe it as a ‘cortege of mourning and lament’, a funeral procession. Because of this, right off the bat we are given a paradoxical view of life and death.

Hughes breaks down a sentence to each word which makes the reader pay attention to details. The swifts’ body is said to be ‘pulsating with insects’ which shows that th insects consumed and ‘their anguish’ is what fuels the swifts’ heart. The cats’ body ‘writhed’, twisted as it fed on the bird ‘gagging’ on it as the bird witnessed a ‘tunnel of incoming death-struggles’. The words- ‘sorrow on sorrow’-implies the remorse felt by the cat for eating the bird. However, this is the irony of life- one must kill to survive.

The dog is described as a ‘bulging filterbag’. The dog has consumed the cat, but not for pleasure- for sustenance. It’s reluctance is made apparent when it ‘could not digest their screeching finales’.

Man-top of the food chain- kills all these ‘innocents‘ below him and he is described as an ‘abattoir’ (A slaughterhouse). The crow mourns for the deaths of these ‘innocents’ and wonders if it should ‘stop eating and try to become the light’. Here, ‘light’ can be considered as something divine- as though the crow hopes to be enlightened. It is ironical that Hughes uses a crow to spark this thought instead of man and this is further proof that Hughes considers man to be merciless and without a hint of regret.

However, as soon as the crow spotted a worm, all thought left his brain as his instincts took over. His head ‘trapsprung, stabbed’ , all the while listening as he heard the cry of death.

The break in words without punctuation enhances the imagery the poet is trying to paint as we can picture the crow stabbing involuntarily. ‘Weeping’ refers to both the worm as well as the crow. The crow weeps as it helplessly stabs, unable to stop, for if it stops, it’s survival is at stake. As he weeped, ‘he walked and stabbed’ and soon came ‘the eye’s roundness and the ear’s deafness’.

The lines in the last few verses describes the moral dilemma faced by the crow and the length of the lines contributes to the emotional impact on the reader. ‘Roundness and ear’s deafness’ refer to the insensitivity that grows with time. The use of separate lines for ’roundness’ and ‘deafness’ helps to emphasize on these ideas and yet, these are not perspectives on which animals might be judged.

This poem is very interesting in the way it talks about death. The circle of life is very much based on the ‘survival of the fittest’. Each animal may not want to kill, feed and hurt other animals but this is the only way for them to survive. This poem shows us the vicious nature of life and makes one wonder if it is really in life that we suffer more in as compared to death as the guilt and regret weighs us down more with each passing day.

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