Walking by Hardcastle Crags with Ted Hughes
first taste of Paradise he said
of this deep cut in the moor
that ancients walked miles round to avoid
its traps of wet mould and its ghosts;
at its bottom the first river
Ted knew — this peaty tribute
to the black, stained Calder,
churning as usual with light.
I walk here most days and now I re-invent
when I came here with him
on his half-secret returns to the valley
at the time of his huge spawnings of blank verse,
seeking both to remember and to forget;
a drowning in words after Sylvia
He still living truly as himself —
his highest praise for me, for anyone. I recall
his hawk’s eye for the world’s myths and its mechanics,
and his deprived-workingclass fondness for
restaurants and posh totty,
the best fishing, and money, money.
I recall his gate of hair defending his brow —
his cave of arcane secrets
not so much kept, as veiled;
his tribal, atavistic
faith in the divine right of land and of kings.
Of my book dramatising
here in the eighteenth century, he wrote
(with a logic that defeated me at first —
though obvious, it was so unexpected
to define Chartism as a further descent of the soul)
That it was also the cradle of the Chartist Movement seems the next logical step, straight out of Blake’s Prophetic books.
I wish I was here with my Dad
and we three could go walking on this autumn day
where the woods are shedding their cascade
in golden shiverings.
To my Dad he’d seem knowing and smart
despite Ted’s blackened nails and farmer’s hands.
My Dad’s a Union man, apologetic and bold
at once, as they were in those days.
I hear his flattened, Manchist’r voice
against Ted’s Viking gutterals.
Ted, it was for them chances that you had
of the Grammar School and Cambridge
while we were only learned to do what’s right,
that we all fought hard for it.
An age separated him from Ted’s bold thought:
the mutual ecstasy of predator and prey,
hunter and hunted — Ted and Sylvia —
Nazi and Jew.
This would have been anathema to my Dad,
or so he’d say
yet also would leave him wondering, and maybe excited:
was it true?
They talk, though most that goes beyond
sexual clinchings is left out,
as usual with men. Their sadness
pulls at their feet like the mould,
in that last age when the guilt
of men was more easily exorcised.
Ted throws his glance over all the beauty and says:
We know about as much of what’s truly going on
as someone who, looking out to sea, catches sight of a fin.
Light is merrying from a low, cool sun
on tree tops in a line-dance of light.
Unveiled branches reach out of their leaf-fall
in a damp silence and stillness.
It’s as if I’m the only creature in the world.
The air has a faint bite promising frost,
but is still earth scented.
How often have I walked here, wanting
to tire my thoughts, or find them explained
through an insight out of Nature that never comes;
out of a beauty that seems to have meaning
but is only an abstraction
from what cares nothing for us, yet still hoping
for some clearance of the head and heart
so that one can see and feel,
say, that bush there flaming in autumn colour.
At least in this, two, three can be one.