Tag Archives: Ted Hughes

Sunday Poem 101

This poem was recommended to me some time ago by one of my readers, Dave Stewart and I’m pleased to include it today.  This is the note he sent with it.

Being the child of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes is quite a legacy to inherit, and yet I have always admired Frieda Hughes’ groundedness and stern self-determination. I feel the urge to post this poem of Frieda Hughes’ as I feel it to be one of her best poems to date; it deals with the very difficult subject of her brother’s untimely death in 2009.

I first heard this poem when it was read by Frieda Hughes herself on BBC Radio 3 (Private Passions, 27 Feb 2010). The poem is available from Frieda Hughes’ book “The Book Of Mirrors“.

For Nick – by Frieda Hughes (1960-)

The sun rises and sets
In spite of your absence,
Oblivious of our separation by death
Or your part in my evolution.
But your shadow remains
As if you never left; it’s mine now.
I would never have given you up
Except that you were borrowed;
To be returned to the primal clay.
Had I known that each day
Counted you off like fingers
I might have mourned sooner
The idea of impending loss.
It would have eroded
The years I thought we’d share;
That necessary ignorance was bliss
Reassuring me that nothing was amiss.
But you remain alive for me;
I hear you speak as you commit
The mundane actions of a day; you eat; you sleep;
You exist-an echo from the walls
Of every room I occupy.
The recollection of your voice
Plucks at the sinew of the instrument
I have become for you. That music
Argues with the loss of presence
The recollection of your voice
Plucks at the sinew of the instrument
I have become for you.  That music
Argues with the loss of presence
That your ashes signify
And our sibling shadows dance.


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Sunday Poem – 75

We’ve heard from Mr Hughes before so there’s no need for lengthy introduction.  This was a request from Dave Stewart, one of our regular readers and, seeing as lambing has started, it seems an appropriate time to wheel it out.

Sheep (Part 1)  from ‘Season Songs’ by Ted Hughes (1930-1998  )

The sheep has stopped crying.
All morning in her wire-mesh compound
On the lawn, she has been crying
For her vanished lamb. Yesterday they came.
Then her lamb could stand, in a fashion,
And make some tiptoe cringing steps.
Now he has disappeared.
He was only half the proper size,
And his cry was wrong. It was not
A dry little hard bleat, a baby-cry
Over a flat tongue, it was human,
Like no lamb I ever heard. Its hindlegs
Cowered in under its lumped spine,
Its feeble hips leaned towards
Its shoulders for support. Its stubbly
White wool pyramid head, on a tottery neck,
Had sad and defeated eyes, pinched, pathetic,
Too small, and it cried all the time
Oh! Oh! staggering towards
Its alert, baffled, stamping, storming mother
Who feared our intentions. He was too weak
To find her teats, or to nuzzle up in under,
He hadn’t the gumption. He was fully
Occupied just standing, then shuffling
Towards where she’d removed to. She knew
He wasn’t right, she couldn’t
make him out. Then his rough-curl legs,
So stoutly built, and hooved
With real quality tips,
Just got in the way, like a loose bundle
Of firewood he was cursed to manage,
Too heavy for him, lending sometimes
Some support, but no strength, no real help.
When we sat his mother on her tail, he mouthed her teat,
Slobbered a little, but after a minute
Lost aim and interest, his muzzle wandered,
He was managing a difficulty
Much more urgent and important. By evening
He could not stand. It was not
That he could not thrive, he was born
With everything but the will –
That can be deformed, just like a limb.
Death was more interesting to him.
Life could not get his attention.
So he died, with the yellow birth-mucus
Still in his cardigan.
He did not survive a warm summer night.
Now his mother has started crying again.
The wind is oceanic in the elms
And the blossom is all set.

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Sunday Poem 56

The problem with famous  poets is knowing which one to choose.  Once again, this is one I performed for a poetry reading competition at school; I didn’t win – this is far too worldly and deep a poem for a 14 year old to carry off with any conviction.

Born in Massachusetts, Sylvia Plath was a poet, novelist and short story writer. She won a scholarship to study at Cambridge and at first found English life and the weather quite overwhelming, although she soon came to love Cambridge.  She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956 and they lived together first in the United States and then England, having two children together: Frieda and Nicholas. Following a long struggle with depression and a marital separation, Plath committed suicide in 1963.

Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for her two collections The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel. In 1982, she became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously for The Collected Poems. She also authored The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death.

The Arrival of the Bee Box – by Sylvia Plath (1932- 1963) 

I ordered this, clean wood box
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the coffin of a midget
Or a square baby
Were there not such a din in it.   
The box is locked, it is dangerous.
I have to live with it overnight
And I can’t keep away from it.
There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.
There is only a little grid, no exit.

I put my eye to the grid.
It is dark, dark,
With the swarmy feeling of African hands
Minute and shrunk for export,
Black on black, angrily clambering.  
How can I let them out?
It is the noise that appalls me most of all,
The unintelligible syllables.
It is like a Roman mob,
Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!
I lay my ear to furious Latin.
I am not a Caesar.
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.
They can be sent back.
They can die, I need feed them nothing,
I am the owner. I wonder how hungry they are.
I wonder if they would forget me
If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.
There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,
And the petticoats of the cherry.
They might ignore me immediately
In my moon suit and funeral veil.
I am no source of honey
So why should they turn on me?
Tomorrow I will be sweet God,
I will set them free.
The box is only temporary.

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Sunday Poem 55

Today’s poem was chosen by Sister the Second and, coincidentally, this is just how it felt as I was stacking logs in the wind and rain on Friday.  But without the searingly intellectual thought, obviously. If I had written a poem at that moment, it would have run something like this:

Bugger me, it’s wet and cold.
Oh how I wish
I had
central heating.

Blimey! was that a Haiku?

Ted Hughes was born in West Yorkshire in 1930.  He was encouraged to start writing poems and prose at grammar school and went on to study English, Anthropology and Archaeology at Cambridge.  His first published poetry appeared in the journal he started with fellow students, St. Botolph’s Review and it was at a party to launch the magazine that he met the poet Sylvia Plath.  He and Plath married in 1956 and they remained so, despite a stormy and controversial life, until her suicide in 1963.  Hughes was Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death.

Wind – by Ted Hughes (1930-1998)

This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet

Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.

At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up –
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,

The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house

Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,

Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.

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Sunday Poem 42

I’m sorry to have to report that the Wartime Housewife has, once again, been nursing a monstrous and soul destroying hangover.  Irish Alice and I went out last night for the first time in ages and, having sampled the delights of The Fox and Goose in Illston, returned to my local pub to find an excellent live band in full swing. 

I would have been fine if The Father of My Children hadn’t forced three large gin and tonics down me earlier in the day to raise my, slightly low, spirits.  Pun most definitely intended.  I awoke this morning at 7.04am under the impression that someone had been performing brain surgery on me while I slept and had clearly left the job unfinished, and conceivably left the scalpel in.  Having swallowed a handful of painkillers (still in the foil I suspect) I returned to my bed and dreamed that my cat had brought home a load of strays – identical to herself – and was pleading with me to take them in.

So here is a poem about Beer that is so full of vitriol it made me laugh out loud.  I found it in ‘The Rattlebag’ edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes and is as good an anthology of poetry as you will ever find.

A Glass of Beer – by James Stephens (1882-1950)

The lanky hank of a she in the inn over there,
Nearly killed me for asking the loan of a glass of beer;
May the devil grip the whey-faced slut by the hair
And beat bad manners out of her skin for a year.

That parboiled ape, with the toughest jaw you will see
On virtue’s path, and a voice that would rasp the dead,
Came roaring and raging the minute she looked at me,
And threw me out of the house on the back of my head!

If I asked her master he’d give me a cask a day;
But she, with the beer at hand, not a gill would arrange!
May she marry a ghost and bear him a kitten, and may
The High King of Glory permit her to get the mange.

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