Study Guide

Big Poppy Sex

By Ted Hughes

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A Bumble Bee
Clambers into her drunken, fractured goblet—

OK. So we have a very obviously female flower, here, and while the bee doesn't get gendered until line 8, the very mention of the word "bee" in a nature poem conjures up thoughts of "the birds and the bees," that classic euphemism for sex. Not to mention the fact that the bee's action is kind of suggestive, laden as it is with notions of entering, intoxication, and the like. Obviously the bee can't actually have sex with the flower, but it is about to make it possible for the flower to reproduce by pollinating it.

Up the royal carpet of a down-hung,
Shrivel-edged, unhinged petal, her first-about-to-fall.

A couple of subtly sexy things here – first of all, the description of the petal itself is pretty suggestive. "A royal carpet"? "Down-hung, shrivel-edged"? We're thinking female private parts here. So things are getting a little steamier, though they're still kind of subtle. What's less subtle about this passage is the "first-about-to-fall" part, especially if you think of it in terms of sex being, to some, a kind of sin. Thus, the loss of virginity ("first") is paired up with "fall," which alludes in this way to the Fall of Man (you know, that bit in the Bible where Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit and God kicks them out of Eden).

He's in there as she sways. He utters thin
Sizzling bleats of difficult enjoyment.
Her carnival paper skirts, luminous near-orange,
Embrace him helplessly.

This is the act itself, ladies and gentlemen. In what can really only be read as a blatant reference to copulation. Phew! We're fanning ourselves again. Interestingly, the poppy's role in this whole act is incredibly passive – while she is swaying, it's due to the wind or the motion of the bee – the poppy, as much as this poem makes her a woman, is still a plant and can do nothing of her own volition. So she literally cannot help but embrace the bee.

Her big, lewd, bold eye, in its sooty lashes,
And that stripped, athletic leg, hairy,
In a fling of abandon—"

The ending note of the entire poem is pretty sexy in nature, though in kind of a weird way. Speaking in terms of popular conventions about beauty (which might be for the birds, but that's another story), we usually don't think of hairy female legs as being anything particularly attractive. But there's that word "lewd," and then "stripped," and then the verb "fling," which when you're talking about legs, usually implies something sexual. So the poem ends on this kind of wild sexual note, which is exactly how the poem wants us to think of the poppy.

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