I'm trying to get a grasp of a poetical image of being "packed in furnace", found in Ted Hughes' Crow's opening poem "Two Legends":

Two Legends


Black was the without eye
Black the within tongue
Black was the heart
Black the blood in its loud tunnel
Black the bowels packed in furnace

During my Googling, I came across this work, which suggests:

'packed in furnace' recalls Thomas' sea, 'tumbling in harness'.

This quote is from Dylan Thomas' "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London":

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

I have no idea in what way does the "packed in furnace" image can recall the "tumbling in harness" image.
Can this analogy make sense in some way?

1 Answer 1


One of the meanings of “furnace” is:

furnace, n. 3. A closed fireplace for heating a building by means of hot-air or hot-water pipes

Oxford English Dictionary.

(This apparatus is more commonly known as a “boiler”.)

So Hughes’ image is of intestines being packed in the abdomen like hot water pipes in a boiler.

I think the most plausible way to make sense of “tumbling in harness” is to use this sense:

harness, n., 4.a. The trappings or accoutrements of a horse

Oxford English Dictionary.

and take Thomas’s image to be the waves of the sea breaking on the shore like “white horses” in harness.

Why Owen Johnson thought that the one phrase recalled the other in his 1991 Ph.D. thesis, I do not know. Perhaps it is just that both are three-word participial phrases with “in” as the second word, like Shakespeare’s “flourishing in arms”. The comparison with Thomas appears in the middle of a list of “echoes” of other poets that Johnson found in Hughes, and not all of these echoes are particularly convincing, so perhaps he had simply come to the bottom of his barrel.

  • Another similarity is that "furnace" and "harness" pretty much rhyme with each other.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 29, 2021 at 8:19
  • 1
    Both also convey a similar metaphor, of a chaotic mass tightly constrained.
    – Matt Thrower
    Jan 29, 2021 at 21:51

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