AP LIT, Pd.5
30 January 2014
To Paint a Water Lily Literary Analysis
Ted Hughes in his short poem “To Paint a Water Lily” conveys his attitude towards nature by listing his observations of how diverse an entity it is; elegant and powerful, quick and timeless. With this, the speaker implies the artist’s task as one more complex than just a simple sketch to simply fill in the lines with color, but one to be thoroughly observed and thought about to truly capture the essence of the water lily. Hughes reflects this through his use of extended metaphor, didactic tone, and imagery.
What, to the average onlooker of the lily pond, is a serene, calm environment, Hughes depicts it as a battleground, the “flies’ furious arena.” The flies dart across the surface of the water, evading the “dragonfly that eats [its] meat.” Almost as if the dragonflies are soldiers moving forward, they “stand in space to take aim.” Hughes unique perception of nature provides a direct clash with the audiences’ initial perspective of the lily leaf’s atmosphere. By extending the metaphor of a pond at constant war, the speaker emphasizes a sense of intrigue and complexity that his audience generally would not recognize on their own. This primes his audience, the student painter, to listen to his unconventional methods to observe nature and above all, how to truly capture the breath of life, found here, onto the blank canvas.
As Hughes intent is to teach his audience how “To Paint a Water Lily,” he reserves no secrets to his technique, assuming a didactic tone within this poem. He begins with the easiest lesson, to “observe the air” above the surface. Before diving into the subject he tells his audience to “study” the trees, hear the “hum[s]” and to “praise” the colours of the flies.” After understanding this, he instructs his student painter(s) to plunge deep into the water, to understand where the roots of the water lily lies, the pond bed. A sudden shift occurs,...