It seems Sylvia was pining for her beaches back in Massachusetts. England is so dirty and gray and drab and ugly. A nice cleansing day at the beach. That would be the thing! And Ted knew just the beach:
… It was dusk when we got there
After a steamed-up hour of November downpour
And black cars sploshing through pot-hole puddles.
The rain had stopped. Three or four other cars
Waited for walkers – distant and wrapped in their dowds.
A car-park streetlamp made the whole scene hopeless.
The sea moved near, stunned after the rain,
Unperforming. Above it
The blue-black heap of the West collapsed slowly,
Comfortless as a cold iron stove
Standing among dead cinders
In some roofless ruin. You refused to get out.
You sat behind your mask, inaccessible –
Staring towards the ocean that had failed you.
I walked to the water’s edge. A dull wave
Managed to lift and flop. Then a weak hiss
Rolled black oil-balls and pushed at obscure spewage.
I first read “spewage” as “sewage”, an available confusion Ted probably chose for. Ah, the ocean had failed the missy! And the husband?
That stove – that stove! Comfortless, the thing that is, on nasty days, the very source in a house of warmth and glow. It is cold, it is iron (so black?), it is standing (confrontationally?), it is surrounded by the dead, and it is exposed to the elements; if it is not a ruin itself, it is ruin’s peer. And it is not even there!
Pathetic wave, so beaten down it’s got hardly the strength to raise itself, and fall, without grace, on a fouled shore. Perform! Damn you!
I bet Ted felt like somebody who snagged one of the hottest tickets in town, only to – get to the theater late, find out there’s a support beam blocking the view of the stage, learn the ingenue has been replaced by an understudy, your sweetheart’s chair has a broken spring … in other words, responsible for the disaster.
source: Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes