Monday, 19 March 2007

Another Fishy Poem

Fragments of 'Pike' by Ted Hughes.

To be precise, the final four verses of eleven.
To me, the first seven verses are in fact a separate, and inferior poem.
If you want to read it, go elsewhere. Me? I'm only posting the final four..


vs 7-11

A pond I fished, fifty yards across,
Whose lilies and muscular tench
Had outlasted every visible stone
Of the monastery that planted them.

Stilled legendary depth:
It was as deep as England.It held
Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old
That past nightfall I dared not cast

But silently cast and fished
With the hair frozen on my head
For what eye might move,
the still splashes on the dark pond

Owls humbling the floating woods
Frail on my ear against the dream
Darkness beneath night's darkness had freed,
That rose slowly towards me, watching.


  1. vivid images!! and so simply said.

    liked it a lot, soubriquet!!

  2. yeah, this captures the feel of a Night fishing excursion pretty well. There are things out there that are watching you and you are in their space. It can get a little creepy...

  3. Totally agree with the hughes 'edit'. He should have employed you for some of his other pieces - not that I dislike him you understand - he just dribbles on a bit now and then!

  4. "Owls humbling the floating woods
    Frail on my ear against the dream
    Darkness beneath night's darkness had freed,
    That rose slowly towards me, watching."

    mmm ... the three stanzas before are worth a read....but THIS ONE....yes, this one ... is meant to be tasted, savored, eaten ...

    ... to have my dream freed by darkness, darker than rise up and gaze upon me....slowly...

    I've not read much of Hughes' work out of some misplaced solidarity to his former wife, Sylvia... but this has piqued my interest.

  5. Rose, Thank you fore starting the ball rolling.
    Steve: Things that watch in the depths, yes, at night, by Loch Ness I've had that feeling...
    Yes Yes, I'd be striking right and left with my blue pencil "Unneccessary, Leave it out... Tighten it up there! Less of the cuddly imagery Hughes, words cost money..."
    He is capable of great moments of insight, wonderful imagery, but sometimes he loses the plot, and writes trite drivel. As in the earlier part of 'Pike'-some good images, tossed in a salad of confusion.
    RDG:An interesting point you raise.
    To what extent might our knowledge of an artist's personal flaws modify the way in which we perceive their works?
    I try not to let it temper me, but yes, where we know, some effect on our perception is inevitable.
    none of us will ever know the truth about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes' private lives. But it is clearly the case that to say "Poor Sylvia, Ted drove her to her death", is inadequate and inaccurate.
    For the rest of Ted Hughes' life, he was accused and reviled, yet he refused to discuss the subject.
    Shortly before his death from cancer he released Sylvias journals, save for the final one which he destroyed, he said, to save their children from reading the sad collapse of their mother into madness.

    He wrote this, which I think reveals his inner torture,

    The Offers - Ted Hughes

    Only two months dead
    And there you were, suddenly back within reach.
    I got on the Northern Line at Leicester Square
    And sat down and there you were. And there
    The dream started that was no dream.
    I stared and you ignored me.
    Your part in the dream was to ignore me.
    Mine was to be invisible — helplessly
    Unable to manifest myself.
    Simply a blank, bodiless gaze — I rested
    The whole weight of my unbelieving stare
    On your face, impossibly real and there.
    Not much changed, unchanging under my pressure.
    You only shuddered slightly as the carriage
    Bored through the earth Northward.
    You seemed older — death had aged you a little.
    Paler, almost yellowish, as you had been
    In the morgue, but impassive.
    As if the unspooling track and shudder of the journey
    Were the film of your life that occupied you.
    Your gaze, inward, resisted my gaze.
    Your basket on your knee, heavy with packages.
    Your handbag on a long strap. Your hands
    Folded over the heap Unshifting
    My gaze leaned against you as a gaze
    Might lean its cheek on a hand. The impossible
    Went on sharing your slight shuddering, your eyelids,
    Your lips lightly pursed, your melancholy.
    Just as in the dream that insists
    On the plainly impossible, and lasts
    Second after second after second,
    Growing more and more incredible —-
    As if you slowly turned your face and slowly
    Smiled full in my face, daring me
    There, among the living, to speak to the dead.
    But you seemed not to know the part you were playing.
    And, just as in the dream, I did not speak.
    Only tried to separate the memory
    Of your face from this new face you wore.
    If you got out at Chalk Farm, I told myself,
    I would follow you home. I would speak.
    I would make some effort to seize
    This offer, this saddened substitute
    Returned to me by death, revealed to me
    There in the Underground — surely as if
    For my examination and approval.
    Chalk Farm came. I got up. You stayed.
    It was the testing moment.
    I lifted your face from you and took it
    Outside, onto the platform, in this dream
    Which was the whole of London’s waking life.
    I watched you move away. carried away
    Northwards, back into the abyss,
    Your real new face unaltered, lit, unwitting,
    Still visible for seconds, then gone,
    Leaving me my original emptiness
    Of where you had been and abruptly were not.
    But everything is offered three times.
    And suddenly you were sitting in your own home.
    Young as before, untouched by death. Like
    A hallucination — not to be blinked away.
    A migraine image — warping my retina.
    You seemed to have no idea you were yourself.
    Even borrowing the name of your oldest rival —
    As if it had lain handiest. Yet you were
    So much yourself my brain’s hemispheres
    Seemed to have twisted slightly out of phase
    To know you you yet realise that you
    Were not you. To see you you and yet
    So brazenly continuing to be other.
    You had even kept your birthdate — exact
    As a barb on the impossibility.
    And lived only two miles from where we had lived.
    Other spirits colluded in a support team
    Of new parents for you, a new brother.
    You courted me all over again — covertly.
    I breathed a bewildering air — the gas
    Of the underworld in which you moved so easy
    And had your new being. You told me
    The dream of your romantic life, that had lasted
    Throughout our marriage, there in Paris — as if
    You had never returned until now.
    Death had repossessed your talent. Or maybe
    Had converted it to a quieter thing —
    A dumbly savage longing, a submerged
    Ferocity of longing in eyes
    So weirdly unaltered. I struggled awhile
    In my doubled alive and dead existence.
    I thought: ‘This is coincidence — the mere
    Inertia of my life’s momentum, trying
    To keep things as they were, as if the show
    Must at all costs go on, same masks, same parts,
    No matter who the actors.’ Gasping for air,
    At the bottom of the Rhine, barely conscious,
    Indolently like somebody drowning
    I kicked free.
    Your gentle ultimatum relaxed its hold.
    True to your ghostly humour, next thing
    You sent me a pretty card from Honolulu.
    After that, an afterworld momento,
    Every year a card from Honolulu.
    It seemed you had finessed your return to the living
    By leaving me as your bail, a hostage stopped
    In the land of the dead.
    Less and Less
    Did I think of escape.
    Even in my dreams, our house was in ruins.
    But suddenly — the third time — you were there.
    Younger than I had ever known you. You
    As if new made, half a wild roe, half
    A flawless thing, priceless, faceted
    Like a cobalt jewel. You came behind me
    (At my helpless moment, as I lowered
    A testing foot into the running bath)
    And spoke — peremptory, as a familar voice
    Will startle out of a river’s uproar, urgent,
    Close: “This is the last. This one. This time
    Don’t fail me.”

    Published eight weeks before he died.

  6. Soubriquet,

    This is a moving passage of a man's grief for one he loved, yes.

    Adultery does not pre-suppose nor supplant one's feelings towards one's spouse. So, yes, I agree that Ted's vilification for his affair was unjust. And, personally, I believe it was not Ted's actions that drove Sylvia to her death, but her own mental illness.

    However, death, and suicide in particular, leave the living to mourn and guilt. This piece is rather self indulgent as it reeks with Ted's guilt. Sylvia could care less at this point. And if she lived, would his guilt have made any difference or added yet another day to her life, ultimately? No.

    So, if I add his "amorous activities" to this piece in which he struggles to describe his loss, I find a man who is rather self-involved; turned inward...filtering the world and people around him through his own needs: fulfilled or not.

    With that said, I am certain that riding the roller coaster of Sylvia's illness was a certain madness in and of itself. But it also fed her genius. Who is to say whether her madness truly was an 'illness'? All we can point to is the way she chose to die and her journals. For Ted to burn the final journal 'to protect the children' is arrogant. Since when do children / adults by now, need protection from truth, however painful and dark it might be? The world lost a window into a mind stricken with the darkest of darks.

    As a person who 'suffers' from mental illness and yes, has had at times, moments, hours, days of 'suicidal ideation'(moments that are induced by brain chemistry gone awry - not circumstance), I can only speak for myself: At those moments and minutes, my brain is in ... despair ... more profound than any could imagine.

    And the ONLY bright light in this pit that has no night sky, no end to its abyss, is death. For in those moments, death beckons me with arms of sweet relief...



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