Open letter to Ted Hughes (LentBlog27)

Dear Ted Hughes

You probably won’t remember me. I wrote to you before, in the summer of 1998. I did not know it then (I don’t think any of us did) that you were already seriously ill with cancer. I have always been grateful, not to say amazed, that you took the time to write a reply (a request for a note of introduction to a book about teaching poetry to children). From memory (I still have it somewhere) you wrote in black ink, a tiny note, not much bigger than a post-it.

I hope you don’t mind me writing again. With all that is going on currently, you have been on my mind rather a lot recently. I can’t help wondering what you would make of it all.

But that isn’t really my reason for writing. I have been having some clear-outs recently. What that process has taught me is how many books of poetry I own -have owned- and never look at. And am now blissfully free from. When it came to your own acreage I felt a mixture of emotions. Gratitude to you, for being the first poet whose work I recognised as poetry, that is to say, something alive and strange that was not prose; awe, to see so many square feet (I am not making this up to impress you) occupied by the same person; finally a kind of misplaced feeling of regret, a kind of homesickness, for not having looked you up in a while.

Later, walking home, I sensed the same thing again looking at an oak tree in the breeze. And then without thinking one of your lines came to me. It’s from Season Songs (how I adore that book), the one about an oak tree in April looking completely different and exactly the same as an oak tree in December. I may not have got it right, but you’ll know the one I mean. Another line followed: the one about ‘blade-light’, from ‘Wind.’ I have always loved this line, the fact that you had to make a new coinage, something Anglo-Saxon, to get across the force of it. (I have always loved the word ‘brunt’ in that poem as well, more for the sound of it than the meaning if I am honest. I am sure you will understand.)

Other lines quickly followed. I am not sure exactly why. The one about whiteness walking the river at dawn. I first heard that on a cassette tape (no one has these any more, by the way -I wish I knew of a way to make it digital), with Paul Muldoon on the other side. I used to listen to it in the car.

The line that always used to stop me in my tracks was the single-word-line, ‘Cease’, in the middle of ‘Go Fishing’. I sensed that you packed into that lone imperative-syllable a whole world of pain, and stumbling, and mumbling, and yet sudden, raw clarity about what you had wanted and managed to achieve with your life, a kind of wild, not-yet-final-reckoning of the majesty and imperfection and glory of your project. It wasn’t just the word itself, ‘cease’, it was the way you said it, your voice trembling a bit, as though suddenly aware that it might actually mean more than what you had originally intended. A kind of introvert’s manifesto, packed into a solitary word.

All of this went through me while I glanced up at that oak tree. And then, as you go on to say in ‘Go Fishing’, I healed into time and other people and got on with whatever my life was saying to me at that moment, which it turned out was more of you than I had bargained for or remembered I even possessed, try as I might to be rid of you, all of it without opening a page.

I wanted to say thank you. I hoped you wouldn’t mind.

With best regards as ever

Anthony Wilson

 

 

12 Comments

  1. Digital easy. Tape recorder, connecting lead to computer, a program.. Free, I use audacity.. Done. I expect others have better ways but this has served me well

    Like

  2. So beautiful…I’ve read your post more than once and find myself staring at the trees in my garden – noticing, remembering and simply being still and before returning to whatever today brings.

    Liked by 1 person

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