An Otter By Ted Hughes Summary

An Otter By Ted Hughes Summary

In this article, I am going to explain in detail the summary of the poem An Otter which is written by the famous animal poet Ted Hughes, and is quite an important topic from the examinations point of view so literature students should definitely check it out. 

An Otter is a beautiful poem where the poet has given the story of an otter. Otters are animals that can live on both lands and in water. There are some qualities of otters that make them the prey of hunters. 

The poet has defined the otter at the beginning of the poem. Their eyes are underwater just like that of an eel. A lot of people get scared by looking at its eyes as they look like that of a snake, however in reality it is just a fish. A lot of mythological stories are attached to how an eel became like this. 

Let me now take you toward the proper summary of the poem “An Otter”.

An Otter By Ted Hughes Summary

The poet says that an otter is neither a fish nor an animal, it is a combination of both. It has four legs and still can be in the water. Its qualities are even better than that of a fish. All its feet are webbed and have a long tail just like a rudder (behind the boat). And its head is round like an old tomcat and that is why they are also called sea cats. 

Due to such features, an otter brings the legend of himself from the time way before wars or burials. So, otters existed way before human beings. In spite of hounds and vermin poles, otters are still alive. Otters are not like badgers that eat roots, as they are carnivores. The otter wanders, cries, and gallops along the land which is no longer his place, and again goes back to the water when it melts or melts the water itself. 

The poet has defined the otter by defining the qualities of various creatures. The otter neither belongs to land nor water and it is seeking some world that was lost ever since it dived into the water. And he is still looking for his world but he cannot completely return to the world, so he takes his changed body to the holes of lakes. It behaves as if it is blind and cleaves the water (passes through it) till it can lick the pebbles off the bottom of the water source. 

The otter has the quality to cross seas within three nights just like a king in hiding. Again, the poet is giving an example of its connection to mythology. The otter cries to the old shape of its starlit land over the sunken farms where bats freely roam around. It keeps crying till the day arrives and the birds sing their songs and the cars start running on the roads.  

In the poem, Ted Hughes tries to hint towards an understanding of the necessity of the war between vitality and death by placing the animal evidence that vitality has been sustained by death in the wider context of a universe that is creative-destructive. 

The poet has tried to define the tensions in the natural world and implies that conscious awareness and acceptance of tensions are important if the man wants to achieve completeness coming from the commitment to those tensions.

In the first part of the poem the poet describes the ambiguity in the nature of an otter which is basically neither a fish nor an animal, however, it is still both of them it has four legs and can still be in the water. Its feet are webbed and its head is like that of an old tomcat. There is a duality and contrariness and tension in the physicality of an otter which he has to embody and balance. 

The otter wanders to find the world that he has lost where he used to rule once, where he was aware of his identity and his kingdom. But, now he just roams around the territory where he doesn’t belong anymore. 

Maybe, he neither belongs to water nor to land. He is in a perpetual quest where it seems that he is seeking his lost territory and thus he swims against the current of the stream blindly while tearing it apart to reach the source. It is just like a king in hiding who wants to get back to his lost kingdom which once belonged to him. 

He is aware of day and night, he can hear the screaming of bats, the songs of birds, and the noise of the milk wagons. The otter cries continuously without getting any answer for his lost paradise, and this is also an image of the duality of man which is neither body nor spirit, neither angel nor beast, and is yearning for his Eden which is his original home. 

The poet is not trying to celebrate the charm of an otter, instead, he is explaining the endless energy that is inbuilt into an otter and his ingenuity of movement. 

In the next part of the poem, there is an abrupt change in the form as well as the tone. Here, the poet has depicted that the world is intruded upon by man. 

The poet portrays the otter as a hunted animal. It is the season of hunting the otter and man moves in for the hunt. The otter, in attempt to stay hidden from the hunter, remains in the water for hours. He cautiously inhales the air to breathe which is also filled with tobacco smoke, hounds, and parsley.  

The otter is trying to conceal himself from the predatory eyes of the hunters and their hounds. At this time, water is both a source of death and life to an otter. If the otter doesn’t go outside to breathe, he will be drowned in water due to lack of air, and if he goes out, the hunters will kill him. 

The poet says that this hunted creature is also himself a hunter. While he is hunted by the hounds, the otter also hunts the trout. But, an otter kills for the purpose of feeding himself and so his killings are crimes of function. 

On the other hand, human hunters are destroying nature for their ornamental and materialistic purpose. The otter once killed will not feed any belly or it doesn’t have any functional need. It will just work as a decorative piece for the back of a chair in someone’s drawing room. 

Man always tries to justify his own hunts by resorting to the predatory features of animals. However, the poet has forcefully brought out the fact here that the violent aspect of nature is a necessity for natural functions, but human violence is mindless and unnatural and it is not just a crime, but a sin. 

What Does An Otter Symbolize In The Poem?

In the poem, the otter symbolizes all the forces in nature that elude definition, the forces that are ambiguous and that must be understood by a man so as to reach the metaphysical reality of the existence of humans. 

Final Words

Finally, we are done with the summary of the poem by Ted Hughes “An Otter” and I hope that I was successful in conveying the meaning of this poem in the simplest possible way to you. If you liked it, let me know in the comments, and also let me know if there are any suggestions for my articles. You can also check out my other articles on other poems by Ted Hughes like The Thought Fox By Ted Hughes Summary, Summary Of Thrushes By Ted Hughes, and The Hawk Roosting Summary By Ted Hughes

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