Monday, January 07, 2008

their whole story hung – a miasma

I picked up Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters again this morning. All the poems are directly addressed (“You yourself were a whole Antarctic sea”) to Sylvia Plath, the mother of his two children, wife, a poet whose fame (despite Hughes’ being named England’s Poet Laureate) has virtually eclipsed his own, and a woman long dead, a suicide. These poems are fun! Having recently read Plath’s collected poems (edited by Hughes) I’d say Ted & Syl were a good matched pair -- both tending to the histrionic in their poetry (& in their lives!), but with Goth obsessions this side of campy (usually). So much contemporary poetry is restrained to the point of bloodlessness, but these two, they reveled in / sopped in / coughed up blood, pointed at it and went, “Ooh, Daddy, come look!”

Of the house they bought together, the last owner a widow whose husband died in the house, Hughes writes, “She had left the last blood of her husband / Staining a pillow. Their whole story / Hung – a miasma – round that stain. / … / [T]he grease-grimed shelves, the tacky, dark walls / Of the hutch of a kitchen revolted you / Into a fury of scouring. I studied the blood. / Was it mouth-blood or ear-blood, / Or the blood of a head-wound after some fall?”

Hughes paints Plath a freak for cleaniless and modernity, while he claims the wildman title, probably a distinction Plath would have owned, too (more or less), but she needed her wildman, she did, madonna of the churchyard claimed by the old gods.

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