I feel an allergic reaction verging on anaphylaxis pending as Sylvia's peanut crunching crowds gather again and we brace ourselves for yet another book on Ted Hughes.
This one, due out later this month, has been much heralded over the years and been a very long time in the writing, Eilat Negev's A Lover of Unreason:The Life of Assia Wevill and doubtless enough emotional ammunition in the story to send poor old Ted's reputation plummetting to even greater depths.
This one about Assia, his second and perhaps slightly lesser known personal disaster who also committed suicide by gassing herself but also took their child Shura with her.
The dilemma is obvious, a bit of me wants to read it and try desperately to comment objectively the other bigger bit of me says don't bother you won't be able to.
I've read so much on the subject, plenty of it pure acidic vitriol and I've emerged from all of that with a very rational and level headed view of Ted Hughes and his life.
Much more importantly and to the point, I've grown to love his poetry and that's all I want and need now.It's not burying my head in the sand or avoidance, it's more a weariness with seeing his life being dissected and examined yet again.Taken out of context just about anything can be made to say what the author wants it to and plenty of juicy column inches about Ted's tyrranical behaviour will follow in the wake of this book, in fact it's already started.
Me? I'm not bothered and here's a poem to prove it. I don't often reproduce a poem here and I don't even particularly adore horses, but needs must and I love this one from The Hawk in the Rain. Incidentally, if you are new to Ted Hughes' adult poetry, I think this is the perfect collection to start with, there are some absolute 5* gems in here.
I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.
Evil air, a frost-making stillness,
Not a leaf, not a bird -
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood
Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
But the valleys were draining the darkness
Till the moorline - blackening dregs of the brightening grey -
Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:
Huge in the dense grey - ten together -
Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,
with draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
Making no sound.
I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
Grey silent fragments
Of a grey silent world.
I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
The curlew's tear turned its edge on the silence.
Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
Orange, red, red erupted
Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud,
Shook the gulf open, showed blue,
And the big planets hanging -
Stumbling in the fever of a dream, down towards
The dark woods, from the kindling tops,
And came to the horses.
There, still they stood,
But now steaming and glistening under the flow of light,
Their draped stone manes, their tilted hind-hooves
Stirring under a thaw while all around them
The frost showed its fires. But still they made no sound.
Not one snorted or stamped,
Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
High over valleys in the red levelling rays -
In din of crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place
Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing the curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.
Ted Hughes (The Hawk in the Rain 1957)