Ted Hughes creates a mysterious and gloomy atmosphere from the outset, by means of the description of the valley the character is gazing upon. “Utterly deserted, shallow bare fields, black and sodden” are words used to describe the setting. The reader would wonder why this man is approaching such a desolate place and thus mystery is created while gloom is built upon by the choice of dark, emotive words in description of the valley.
The rain is clearly a factor in this story and the impact it has on the man’s emotional and mental state re-inforces the reader’s perception that the man is clearly at conflict with a natural force, the rain. The author’s negative choice of words when describing the rain and anything it touches expands upon the feeling of gloom present in this short story. “The distance had vanished in a wall of grey. All around him the fields were jumping and screaming.” and words such as “icy rain on his bare skull” lacks any form of euphemism and thus creates a gloomy, if not hostile.
The sudden change of the man’s mental state and his emotions over a short space of time by only rain draw comparison to a man suffering from the stress and is on the verge of a mental collapse. “He looked back at it coldly” “felt nothing but the dullness of feeling nothing. Boredom.” but the man then feels impatient and anxious and then subsequently “A wave of anger went over him: anger against himself” – “and anger against the land”. These few quotes allow the reader an intimate view of this man’s mental thought and the effortless influence the rain has over him. This expands on the conflict in the story and thus the reader notices the man’s conflict with oneself too.
The introduction of the horse and its description of its movement as that of another animal, “… on its toes, like a cat, like a dog up to no good” creates mystery since toes refer to humans while dog-like and cat-like movements for a horse are mysterious. The apparent reference to human toes might foreshadow events to come in which the horse acts and thinks as a human. “… nightmarish leopard.” is another negative, emotive word that the reader now associates the horse with a nightmare.
Ted Hughes further expands upon mystery by the use of unnatural behaviour by the horse. Describing what a horse should be doing as it cowers from the rain and then having this horse behave unnaturally is mysterious and builds up tension. The description of the horse in a calm yet intent manner is unsettling to both the reader and the man and subsequently the apparent ‘stalking of the man’ by the horse is downright odd. The man asks himself “Was it clairvoyant. Maybe a mad animal can be clairvoyant?” This absurd question by this man draws suspicion to the man’s state of mind yet again.
“At the same time he was ashamed to find himself acting so insanely, ducking and creeping…” creates irony when “He tried to imagine how anybody in their senses would just walk off home.” and thus we expect some sense of rationality to return to this man yet the text goes against what we expect and we find the man at conflict the man at conflict with this horse.
“The ordeal with the horse had already sunk from reality.” This expands upon the mysterious feel to the story and the author’s reference to the grey water being rung out of the clothes’ and “as if some important part had been cut out of his brain” further draws reference to the man’s mental state. The reader gets the feeling that this man has or is about to lose his mind and might have lost the ability to separate reality from his imagination. This culminates in the reader perceiving the horse as a mere figment of an insane man’s imagination and the point to which the grey rain and loneliness can drive one to.