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Ted Hughes - 'Bayonet Charge'


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Suddenly he awoke and was running - raw
What a powerful and panic-inducing first line. The immediacy of the first adverb "Suddenly" combines with the compound sentence to making waking up and "running" simultaneous. That final adjetive "raw" creates a sense of both the painful shock of the attack and the soldier's inexperience.
The patriotic tear that had brimmed in his eye / Sweating like molten iron
Hughes references both the verb "Sweating" and the noun "tear", perhaps foreshadowing the soldier's near inevitable injury by alluding to the one missing part of the saying 'Blood, sweat and tears'. The past tense verb "had" forces a blunt contrast between the positively emotive "patriotic" soldier before battle and the terrified reality of combat by creating a feeling that patriotism has turned to pain and fear.
a yellow hare that rolled like a flame / And crawled in a threshing circle
The descriptive adjective "yellow" here can serve the double meaning of being both sick and cowardly, perhaps being used by Hughes to enhance and echo his character's own emotions. The disturbingly emotive verb "crawled" and the reference to agricultural methods in "threshing circle" create a highly negative sense of how painfully war affects nature, turning it into a flattened and powerless.
He plunged past with his bayonet towards the green hedge
Structurally, Hughes places the episode with the "yellow hare" directly before the soldier "plunged past", establishing a firm comparison between the two. Hughes demonstrates how conflict reduces the bravest and the most patriotic to frightened animals desperate to take shelter.
King, honour, human dignity, etcetera / Dropped like luxuries in a yelling alarm
The listing of usually highly valued human traits reduces them to easily "Dropped" extras, creating a sense - structurally - of how conflict affects our more noble characteristics. Hughes choice of the Latinate noun "etcetera" to end his list further demands we view these qualities as sundry and "like luxuries", which is further compounded by the dismissive verb "Dropped" and its wider simile.
King, honour, human dignity
Contextually, all the most powerful means of propaganda to encourage soldiers to fight are listed here. Hughes' dismissal of them perhaps reflects his own learned experience in the RAF, or the experiences of his father: a survivor of WW1.
that blue crackling air / His terror's touchy dynamite.
Does the ending of the negative noun "terror's" here signify that the soldier's fear is ignited by the "blue crackling air" or that the terror itself is "touchy dynamite"? Both readings are grammatically and structurally valid and create the powerful sense that fear can transform men into weapons. Subtle allusions are made here, perhaps, to the effects that WW1 had on soldiers such as shell shock. Their experiences left them metaphorically ready to explode and a sad danger to those around them when - or if - they returned home.
Level 8