Study Guide

Big Poppy Man and the Natural World

By Ted Hughes

Man and the Natural World

Hot-eyed Mafia Queen!
At the trim garden's edge
(1-2)

These lines are some of the most interesting in the poem because they're next to each other and they're so different. What does this have anything to do with man and the natural world, though? Well, it seems to set up a kind of crazy contradiction that's related to how the speaker feels about the world that he's in. On the one hand, the poppy is this huge, "hot-eyed" thing that's staring at him almost menacingly (the "Mafia" part), and then it's like he suddenly realizes that, wait one second, he's in a "trim garden." So, on the one hand, there's all this wildness, and on the other, the wildness exists in a really controlled environment.

He utters thin
Sizzling bleats of difficult enjoyment.
(8-9)

Again, more of man's observation of nature – and so far, the one thing that man seems to be capable of doing in this poem is project human qualities on to natural things. In this case, the bee was introduced a few lines ago, but now the speaker is telling us that whatever the bee is doing in the flower is producing enjoyment. So the speaker is relating to the natural world here by projecting, perhaps, how he would feel if he were a bee in that moment. In a lot of ways, this is representative of how we organize the natural world around us, don't you think?

A fly, cool, rests on the flame-fringe (15)

The theme of man-relating-to-nature in this quote rests in a single adjective – "cool." There's no way that we can know whether or not a fly is cool (literally or figuratively, we guess), and so it's yet another projection of a human quality onto something that's decidedly not human. In this case, we think maybe that the speaker is kind of wishing he could be more like the fly – content to rest on the fringes of things, keeping his head about him. As it stands, the poem has struggled to keep itself under control regarding its awe over the poppy.

Then we shall say:
"She wore herself in her hair, in her day
(21-22)

Now we've moved into the realm of conversation about nature – so this is a little less symbolic, a little more literal. How do we as humans talk about "the natural world"? (As though we weren't a part of it!) Again, we personify, trying to match parts of plants (in this case) to parts of our own bodies. The natural world causes us to reflect upon the ways in which we live our own lives – how we "wear ourselves," as it were. This last part of the poem goes on for some while talking about the flower as if it were a body. The speaker turns the flower fully human, in other words, bringing some of the wildness of the natural world into the human world – or maybe saying something about how wild humans are, and how we really are inseparable from nature.