Bayonet Charge Ted Hughes



  • A soldier runs through rifle fire holding a rifle with bayonet attached
  • The soldier becomes confused and pauses for a split second, unsure of what he is doing
  • The soldier notices a hare in the battlefield, which thrashes about, dying
  • The soldier stops thinking and resumes the charge
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Key Aspects

  • Erratic structure in terms of rhythm and line length to mirror the soldier's movements
  • Sound features like alliteration and short vowels evoke the chaos of the battlefield
  • Uses a range of powerful and evocative imagery
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Key Setting- a first world war battlefield

  • Evokes the sights, sounds and sensations of the battlefield through the soldier's experience of it
  • Shocking experience that we, like the soldier, are plunged into with the opening 'suddenly' and this sense of confusion and disorientation is present throughout
  • Details are described, but we are never given a picture of the whole setting which is deliberate, as part of the soldier's overwhelming bewilderment
  • Also carefully uses structure in a way that mimics this confusion, with uneven line lengths, irregular punctuation and unfinished sentences contributing to this effect
  • In the first stanza, hughes describes 'a green hedge/ that dazzled with rifle fire' as a kind of marker that the soldier is 'stumbling...towards'
  • The verb 'dazzled' is an usually positive-sounding choice and depicts the hedge as lit up by the firing of the rifles, although it does convey something that is hard to look at and perhaps reduces the soldier's vision
  • In the final stanza, he pungles once more 'toward the green hedge', so we can see that Hughes repeats the phrase to show the soldier's return to the same path
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Key Techniques - Imagery

  • Hughes uses an everyday object of the 'clockwork' to show his insignificance in the battle and how little he plays a role in the mass of the war just like the 'hand pointing that second' which he sees as worthless
  • Hughes creates a very physical sense of the experience in the first stanza, with the metaphors of 'heavy' sweat and bullets 'smacking the belly out of the air' along with the simile 'a rifle numb as a smashed arm'
  • The effect of Hughes use of bodily imagery is to reinforce the idea of the soldier (in second person)  physically struggling to drag himself across the field, through the mud, to charge at the enemy shown by hughes's choice of 'lugged', as well as having connotations of carelessness.
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Key Quotations

  • Stanza 1
    • 'Suddenly...'
    • 'Lugged a rifle numb as a smashed arm'
    • 'Patriotic tear'
    • 'Smacking the belly out of the air'
  • Stanza 2
    • 'In what cold clockwork of the stars and the nations/Was he the hand pointing that second'
  • Stanza 3
    • 'Yellow hare that rolled like a flame'
    • 'Mouth wide'
    • 'King, honour, human dignity, etcetra'
    • 'Touchy dynamite'
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Key Context

  • 'Bayonet charge' was written early in Hughes's career
  • Inspired by poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and family stories about wartime experiences
  • Hughes himself had no experience of war
  • Hughes was familiar with the sight of hares running across fields
  • Rarely seen except for a flash and are intelligent creatures
  • A hare 'crawl[ing] in a threshing circle' is a warning to the soldier of the fate that awaits him if he doesn't move
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War Participation:

  • A soldier rises to charge, but is struck with indecision, before plunging ahead once more.
  • Hughes shows that following orders, while dangerous, is probably safer and feels more comfortable than thinking for oneself on the battlefield.
  • Attitudes to War:
  • Shows relatively complex attitudes to war through the soldier's indecision.
  • Ultimately it's easier and safer for him to resume following orders and relinquish control to his commanders.
  • We can see that the soldier's own feelings about what he should or should not be doing become unimportant and almost dangerous.
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  • exposure also presents a soldier's first world war experience, but was written earlier and from personal experience
  • 'exposure' uses a more formal stanza structure
  • the more modern 'bayonet charge' employs more enjambment and less repetition and rhyme


  • 'Bayonet charge' describes what happens around that moment whereas 'kamikaze' explores the impact of that moment on the rest of the pilot's life
  • Both poems use a third person viewpoint, but 'kamikaze' uses words and phrases that create a storytelling atmosphere while 'bayonet charge' has a more condensed style, using harsher sound techniques as well as imagery to create its effects
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Mr. S


Wow! Amazing revision notes. Definitely recommend this to all students.

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