Thursday, 20 December 2018

Bayonet Charge Analysis by Ted Hughes

This article is an analysis of Bayonet Charge by Ted Hughes.

Analysis of Bayonet Charge:

The poem describes the thoughts and feelings of an unnamed soldier charging an enemy position in WWI.

Form:

Suddenly he awoke and was running - raw
In raw-seamed hot khaki, his sweatmheavy,
Stumbling across a field of clods towards a green hedge
That dazzled with rifle fire, hearing
Bullets smacking the belly out of the air -
He lugged a rifle numb as a smashed arm;
The patriotic tear that had brimmed in his eye
Sweating like molten iron from the centre of his chest, —
  • The poem begins in medias res
  • Three stanzas of 8, 7, 8 lines
The soldier initially starts charging without thought, it is more instinctual. Starting the poem in medias res: 'suddenly he awoke' reflects his realization of his actions.

The first is full of action describing the soldier running but the second stanza slows down to a more contemplative figure questioning his actions before returning to the violence of the charge in the final stanza. Stanza 2 is shorter to emphasize this change in focus.

Language:

He awoke
hot khaki, his sweat heavy
Running/stumbling/lugged/statuary/plunged
King, honour, human dignity, etcetera
  • Use of third person pronoun
  • Alliteration of H
  • Verbs showing regressive action
The use of the third person pronouns to describe the soldier keep him anonymous and, therefore, a much more universal figure. The poem is focusing on one individual but this should not be taken literally; the figure is representative of the many soldiers who gave their lives in WWI.

The alliterative words at the beginning of the poem represent the soldier’s heavy breathing through the exertion of the charge and the adrenalin rush of the excitement and fear.

As the poem progresses, the soldier's movements are breaking down as he is slowly coming to the realisation of his actions. It starts off with him ‘running’ but gradually regresses to when he finally 'plunged' towards the hedge, a movement which suggests no control over his action, at all.

Line 20 lists the grand themes of conflict in a single like; all are assumed reasons for going to war which is dismissed with 'etcetera' at the end. The speaker in the poem cannot be bothered to continue listing them and the soldier no longer values them anymore.

Imagery:

Field of clods/yellow hare
The cold clockwork of the
stars and the nations
Like a man who has jumped up in the dark and runs
  • Images of nature juxtaposed with violent images
  • Clock metaphor for countries and the universe
  • The simile of the man running with no purpose
The juxtaposition of natural images with violence shows the effect of conflict on the natural world. Was is a disruptive force on our surroundings; fields used for farming have become battlefields and even the hare represents death in the final stanza.

The clock metaphor represents a universe without emotion; the universe continues to exist with the passing of time but the soldier is mortal and will die eventually. The clock will continue to tick and the individual is just an insignificant part of this process.

The simile of the man running in the dark suggests that the actions of the soldier are without thought and clear direction. He is 'listening [...] for the reason / of his still running' questioning himself for justification for the conflict which he cannot find. Hughes is, perhaps, commenting on the absence of reason and rational thought in war.

Rhythm/Rhyme:

Suddenly he awoke and was running
- raw
In raw-seamed hot khaki
Sweating like molten iron from the
centre of his chest, -
In bewilderment then he almost
stopped -
Statuary in mid-stride. Then the
shot-slashed furrows
  • Written in free verse
  • Use of enjambment and caesura
Written in free verse, the poem shows the lack of order in the emotional and instinctual charge of the soldier. The longer lines signify him rushing towards the enemy whereas the shorter lines indicate his hesitation and his contemplation of his fate.

The use of enjambment and caesura further emphasise this contrast between his movement and the fear in his hesitation. The poem does not have a fluid rhythm which shows the internal conflict of the soldier between his duty and his emotions.

Tone:

Ted Hughes shows the conflict between a man’s thoughts and actions in the heat of battle. Noble justifications such as patriotism are juxtaposed with the soldier’s sweat which extends into a hellish image of war.

bayonet-charge-analysis


The final lines show how these grand themes of warfare are ignored in place of pure instinctual self- preservation. The soldier’s fear has become a weapon itself and, therefore, he no longer retains his humanity. Ted Hughes is clearly critical of the war in this poem as it explores the devastating and dehumanising effect it has on those affected by it first-hand.