The poet in Ted Hughes’s Rain-Charm for the Duchy is both concretely present and allusively obscure. Both the poet’s presence and absence in the poem serves to connect the reader with the imagery of water, almost pulling the reader along across the rivers of the Exmoor and Dartmoor. The poem describes a downpour following several months of drought, first published in 1984 with the subtitle A Blessed, Devout Drench for the Christening of His Royal Highness Prince Henry. In Hughes’s footnote to the poem, he describes in detail the geography of the two moors and the rivers of the region. This intimate knowledge of the land lives within the poem’s powerful, mythical yet concrete imagery.
When the rain begins to fall as the poem begins, the poet is focused on nature beyond temporal human matters. Instead of thinking that the rain would be beneficial for the agricultural harvest, the poet imagines the rivers in the area as living entities. Using animal imagery, he describes the rivers relieved by the new water. “I imagined the two moors” he writes, cleansed and quenched by the rain. As the other person in the car mentions the harvest, the poet “was thinking of joyful sobbings” of the rivers as they filled with water. Here the poet is concretely anchored within his poetry, present within it as a passenger in a car driving through a city.
If it is true that “[i]magination’s goal is atonement, the healing of the split between the mind and the rest of our faculties”(1) then Hughes accomplishes a symmetry between the human city and nature, united by the rain. As his imagination carries the reader over the lands that approximately contain the Duchy, he looks outward onto the world from a place that begins within the confined space of one person in a car. Whether he indicates this only literally or as a symbolism for the inner and outer world of the poet himself (or the human soul generally) remains unclear, although the poem’s beauty is that it describes a simpler reality unsullied by “hubristic human perspectives and habitual complacencies.”(2)
The poem is full of skilfully executed movement – as the poet moves through the rain, his imagination moves through the surrounding world. The physical poet gives way to the poem as a higher entity, more important in its journey than the person behind the words. Throughout the poem there is the movement of water, the car, oxen pulling wagon, even “… feeling the moor shift” as if the entire world was in movement with the rain. In this more obscure presence, the poet comes across as an imaginative but demure man who would prefer to set himself aside and allow the world as he sees it to burst forward. The poet leaves himself behind – his presence is merely a method for grounding the reader to the larger reality of Rain-Charm.
The poet instead remains in the background of the poem as a guide, even a shaman, connecting the reader with both larger and smaller details within the surrounding world that would normally remain unnoticed. Here Hughes becomes less important in his own identity, taking instead the role of shaman to disconnect the reader from human concerns in order to reconnect with nature and the wider world. In the end, he returns to the car where the poem began. Even so, the poem finishes with a note on the salmon in the rivers, a last reminder to the reader that the primal spirit of nature is more important than lacking an umbrella in the rain, the harvest, or other human endeavors. The very title of the poem – “rain-charm” – indicates the sense of magic existing within the poetic imagination of Hughes.
(1) Sagar, Keith, Laughter of Foxes (Liverpool, 2000) p. 9
Hughes, Ted. Rain-Charm for the Duchy. From Collected Poems. ed. Paul Keegan, Farrar Strauss and Giroux, 2003. (First published 1984) pp. 803-5.