(Poem #417) Thistles
Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men Thistles spike the summer air And crackle open under a blue-black pressure. Every one a revengeful burst Of resurrection, a grasped fistful Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up From the underground stain of a decayed Viking. They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects. Every one manages a plume of blood. Then they grow grey like men. Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground.
One of the marks of a great poet is the ability to take a perfectly ordinary object and cast it in an entirely new light. Hughes does this with the thistles of today's poem - transforming them from humble weeds into a symbol of strength and resistance. As George Macbeth says, "[Thistles] is a short paean of praise to the unkillable virtue of heroism. By presenting this quality through the nature of part of the vegetable, rather than the animal, kingdom, Hughes contrives to give it an air of naturalness and inevitability, as if heroism like the flowers in spring is something which must go on for ever." Of course, the fact that it mentions Icelandic frost and Viking gutturals makes it utterly irresistible to someone like me... thomas. [Links] Hughes' poetry is centred on the natural world, as our previous offerings testify: 'The Thought Fox', a poem about being visited by the Muse: poem #98 'Hawk Roosting', a depiction of the ruthless egotism of a tyrant: poem #42 Martin once ran a week of poems loosely based on the theme of 'defiance'; here they are: poem #34, poem #36, poem #38.