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Nettles and thistles, love and hate, serene and ghastly. These are but three small comparisons of two very symbolic poems written by two great men. ‘Tall Nettles’ by Edward Thomas and ‘Thistles’ by Ted Hughes are poems about the battle between nature and the race of men, but at the same time are very different. This essay will compare these two poems by looking at how the subjects have been treated, the style of the poem (both the language and structure) and finally how the poet himself has an influence on the poem.

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Both composers tackle the idea of nature’s struggle against man, but they do this in their own individual way. In ‘Tall Nettles’ Edward Thomas uses time as the dominant feature of this struggle, how inevitably, through time and the elements, nature will win over man. There is also an underlying meaning used in this poem by representing man as machinery and man made objects, especially made for the killing of nature, which really represents to me everything man is, that being: ever expanding, trying to build empires and at the same time ruining what nature we have. So by having nature destroy and overpower this machinery, even though it is drawn out over a long period of time, tells us that nature will always win. Also using the idea that the only thing left that tops the Nettles in height, is nature itself, in the form of the elm butt, re-enforces the idea of the Nettles completely over-running man.

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However Ted Hughes in ‘Thistles’ approaches the same subject in a different manner. He, unlike Thomas, creates a very violent feeling in the poem, forcing the reader to associate the feeling with war, battle and intense hate. Hughes does this by introducing such images as weapons, Vikings (these being a very strong image of war and violence) and by the recurrence of fighting imagery. So by evoking these graphic images into the reader Hughes creates a sense of immediacy in the poem and struggle between man and nature to win. This is almost a direct contrast to the slow, drawn out approach Thomas used to represent the same thing, but both are effective in their conveyance of the theme using individual styles.

In order to create the moods mentioned above in each poem, the separate poets had to employ sound techniques to do the job, so to speak. So in ‘Tall Nettles’ Thomas uses very few harsh and abrupt sounds. In the absence of these sounds Thomas uses various sibilants, nasals and liquids, to create a very long, drawn-out and smooth sounding poem, helping to portray the idea of time and nature’s serenity. These sounds within the words help to set the tone of the poem, which is in this case warm, peaceful, tranquil and at times refreshing, e.g. ‘except to prove the sweetness of a shower.’

Whereas in ‘Thistles’ Hughes opts for harsher more prominent sounding consonants, to help enact the scene of war and hatred, proving effective in his purpose. With the use of strong and rough sounding consonants e.g. plosives, dentals, gutturals and fricatives, images of hostility and death are prompted in the reader’s mind. He also uses these sounds to generate impact and put emphasis on the words. Overall these bring about a sharp and hard poem setting a very deep and gloomy tone. Again the two poems use contrasting ideas to portray the same subject.

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Kylie Garcia

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