What Crow is Not

Afshan Shafi


Note: Published in 1972, Crow: From the Life and Songs of Crow (Faber and Faber) was British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes’s most ambitious work. Hughes’s Crow functions as a visceral creation myth, a fable for end-of days, a folk epic and a potent retort to Creationist and Humanist narratives. Hughes’s Crow is a grand trickster, a fallen angel in search of a female God, a king of carrion and a harbinger of both doom and war-mongering glory. Reading the Crow in the thick of a pandemic is perhaps the opposite of fruitfulness and can instead be seen as a nod to the preachers of paranoia. However, more than anything else, the Crow impresses upon one the virtues of resilience and an almost savage pragmatism in the face of an old order rupturing into a disquieting irreality.


The following is a piece of automatic writing in response to a poem from Hughes’s series.

From Crow’s Theology by Ted Hughes

‘And he realised that God spoke Crow—

Just existing was his revelation

But what loved the stones and spoke stone?

They seemed to exist too

And what spoke that strange silence

After his clamour of caws faded?’

What Crow is Not by Afshan Shafi

Not rain over a lisping blue body

Nor fount, strummed from girded limestone

Neither the music of elves from the ears of gorges

Nor pulse, yawning biliously into catatonia

(I am-bodied darkness—

Disposed of underfoot

Inside saline coffers

And the throats of

Wet urns)


Lady Bird, Sarah Mumtaz (ballpoint on handmade paper)

Not the sun rising out of dead grass like smoke

Nor sirens, yellow and scarlet, scaling the walls of fortresses

Neither the dark suspicion of a day stampeding to a blood-halt

Nor the steaming cackle of water as it eats skin from thrashing hives

I am—long wound pared—

A show-bird

dispensed by a magician

Out of a satin rag