Troubles That Stay Hidden
Even some of the most open and cheerful people can be deeply troubled inside. In “To Paint a Water Lily,” Ted Hughes explores nature up close. The poem goes into detail with all the conflicts and disruptions that happen on the lily leaves. When shown in a painting, however, the lily flower looks extremely peaceful. This is only because the acts of violence or disturbances cannot be seen in the painting. The poet uses metaphor, imagery, and symbolism to illustrate how there is more to people than what meets the eye.
Ted Hughes uses an extended metaphor throughout the poem to convey the message that many people’s burdens are overlooked. The poet uses a metaphor when he compares people in general with a painter. A painter by nature only focuses on the images and not the sound. By using this metaphor, Ted Hughes demonstrates that most people tend to only focus on the outside and miss out on the realities. This fact is presented in the poem because as a painting, the lily flower is “trembling hardly at all,” but readers have been exposed to the dangerous situations that surround the plant beforehand. The ignorant painter, however, does not realize this. By using this metaphor, Ted Hughes can educate readers on how people do not recognize many other people’s true sides.
The author also uses both visual and auditory imagery to further express the hidden sorrow or pain someone can have. For example, “a green level of lily leaves roofs the pond’s chamber and paves.” A green level of leaves portrays an environment associated with peace and security, making the readers feel calm and relaxed. However, the visual image falls short of revealing the truth about the pond. The narrator uses auditory imagery to show that the reality of the pond belies the visuals of the pond: “Under the trees, there are battle-shouts and death-cries everywhere.” This vivid auditory description allows the readers to hear the atmosphere better and realize that despite the beautiful appearance of the pond, many troubles go unnoticed. Similar to the circumstances of the lily flower, many people live under pretenses, and the reality is different from what they appear to be.
In addition to using metaphor and imagery, Ted Hughes also uses symbolism to show that some people might conceal their dark sides. To begin with, a lily flower can symbolize purity and innocence. This symbol encourages anyone looking at the painting of the lily flower to be completely oblivious to all the events that are occurring in the surrounding area. As a painting, the flower is hardly moving despite “whatever horror nudge her root.” The horror mentioned is represented throughout the poem by Ted Hughes’s use of the word “dragon.” Dragons often signify harm and wickedness. In the poem, dragonflies “eat meat” and “bullet by,” which disturb the setting of the lily flower. Just like how the pond appears to be, a lot of people are also seemingly innocent on the outside but have dragons clashing around inside of them. Therefore, Ted Hughes’s use of symbolism helps highlight the fact that many people are not what they may seem.
Through the use of metaphor, imagery, and symbolism, Ted Hughes effectively conveys the message that some people have hidden stories and sides to them. When one zooms out, the water lily in the pond looks perfect and peaceful. However, when one zooms in, one can see and hear the destructive environment in which the lily flower lives. The lily flower painting represents people who are not the cheerful, bubbly self they might seem on the outside. It is as the Greek fabulist, Aesop, once said, “appearances are often deceiving.”