A Commentary of Ted Hughes's "Swifts"

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A Commentary on 'Swifts' by Ted Hughes

The poem 'Swifts' by Ted Hughes states its topic -birds – in the title. The entire poem is laden with bright, exciting imagery, and appears to have little hidden meaning- it merely illustrates the behaviour and movement of the swifts. The first line of the poem sets the atmosphere by stating the date: "fifteenth of May," and a prominent observation of the environment- "cherry blossom." Hughes sets the scene at the beginning of summer. Automatically, bright colours and lazy summer images come to mind. This is the period in which nature is the most alive- when the birds return North to breed in the heat. The poem is probably set in England, considering that Hughes is an English poet.

It appears from the third line that the speaker is probably Ted Hughes. It is written in first person, but it seems that Hughes is not alone. The words “Look! They’re back! Look!” are probably spoken to a companion. The speaker is seemingly fascinated by the birds.

Throughout the poem, swifts are depicted as both ethereal beings and fragile creatures. Line two has them "materialising" from the "tip of a long scream of needle". This needle indicates the pinpoint accuracy with which the birds are flying, seemingly with a preconceived destination. The line "'Look! They're back! Look!' And they're gone," shows that the birds seem to disappear and reappear at will, like angels. The poem continues this pattern of God-depiction with references to power, such as "erupting across yard stones," and "leaden velocity," contrasted by "butterfly lightness" which shows omnipotence in relevance to physical mass. In the third stanza, Hughes centres the birds' arrival as the sole indication that summer is returning, and that nature is in good working order.

In stark contrast, Hughes also speaks of the swifts’ vulnerability. He talks of how their nests were destroyed by rats. The swifts seem to shun the poet, as if blaming him for their offspring’s...
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