Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Table for Sylvia

Sylvia Plath wrote a lot of angry, mythic poems about her father. In his Birthday Letters Ted Hughes can’t let that go. Some lines from Hughes’ “The Table”:

I wanted to make you a solid writing table
That would last a lifetime.
I bought a broad elm plank two inches thick,
The wild bark surfing along one edge of it,
Rough-cut for coffin timber. Coffin elm
Finds a new life, with its corpse,
Drowned in the waters of the earth. It gives the dead
Protection for a slightly longer voyage
Than beech or ash or pine might. With a plane
I revealed a perfect landing pad
For your inspiration. I did not
Know I had made and fitted a door
Opening downwards into your Daddy’s grave.

I like that Ted can’t resist a pun. He uses a plane to smooth the rough cut surface of the board, the board becoming a landing pad for the plane carrying Sylvia’s inspiration. Landing pad / writing pad.

And coming into that plane we go from the earth’s covering soil / metaphoric waters drowning a coffin to a coffin as bark for voyages, thus from boat to plane. Isn’t that little consumer advisory the best? Elm “gives … protection for … slightly longer … than beech or ash or pine.”

Ted made a nice table – but it was really a coffin, no, a boat, no, a plane, no, a landing pad, no, a door – a door to the grave!

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