"Bayonet Charge" was written by British poet Ted Hughes and published in Hughes's first collection, The Hawk in the Rain (1957). Set in the heat of battle, the poem focuses on the thoughts and behavior of a soldier in World War I. This soldier is depicted mid-charge, his bayonet (that is, the blade attached to this end of his gun) primed to attack the enemy. However, he has an epiphany during his charge and suddenly questions why he's there in the first place. Old notions like patriotism and honor seem to fade away as the soldier confronts the absurd reality of war—and of the likelihood of his own death.
Suddenly he awoke ...
... the air –
He lugged a ...
... his chest, –
In bewilderment then ...
... pointing that second?
He was running ...
... Statuary in mid-stride.
Then the shot-slashed ...
... eyes standing out.
He plunged past ...
... terror’s touchy dynamite.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Plath and Hughes Interviewed — A fascinating discussion with Ted Hughes and the American poet (and Hughes's wife) Sylvia Plath.
A Documentary about Hughes — A BBC show about Hughes's life and work.
Ted Hughes and War — An interesting article about Ted Hughes's war poems.
Ted Hughes at the British Library — More resources and a biography of Hughes, from the British Library.
The Bayonet — An insightful look at the history of the bayonet and its role in warfare.
Hughes's Life and Work — Resources from the Poetry Foundation on More Poems and Biography
1Suddenly he awoke and was running – raw
2In raw-seamed hot khaki, his sweat heavy,
3Stumbling across a field of clods towards a green hedge
4That dazzled with rifle fire, hearing
5Bullets smacking the belly out of the air –
6He lugged a rifle numb as a smashed arm;
7The patriotic tear that had brimmed in his eye
8Sweating like molten iron from the centre of his chest, –
9In bewilderment then he almost stopped –
10In what cold clockwork of the stars and the nations
11Was he the hand pointing that second? He was running
12Like a man who has jumped up in the dark and runs
13Listening between his footfalls for the reason
14Of his still running, and his foot hung like
15Statuary in mid-stride. Then the shot-slashed furrows
16Threw up a yellow hare that rolled like a flame
17And crawled in a threshing circle, its mouth wide
18Open silent, its eyes standing out.
19He plunged past with his bayonet toward the green hedge,
20King, honour, human dignity, etcetera
21Dropped like luxuries in a yelling alarm
22To get out of that blue crackling air
23His terror’s touchy dynamite.