Pennine Way by Glyn Hughes
Reading and making notes for this review of Glyn Hughes new seven part poem Pennine Way gave me one of the most mentally stimulating afternoons Ive had for some time. Whilst it is written in a simple style and uses relatively easy language, it has several layers of meaning which lead the reader into speculation and reflection about not only the Calder Valley but also the nation.
Hughes writes about a hike taken along the Pennine Way. It is both the story of an actual journey along part of the spine of England and a gently mocking social commentary on a country where would-be toffs , over-wealthy teenagers and drivers, clawing through sputum control the fog ridden: drenched, offshore island.
We dont usually associate serious poetry with humour but there are some delightful touches of comedy such as the poet finding Charlotte Brontes Book of Jokes and Fun With Your Publisher by Carmen Callil being his bedside reading.
Also amusing is the announcement that the poets:
ex-wife, it is rumoured,
has joined the paramilitary wing of the Quakers.
as is his conjecture about the UFO activity about Todmorden down there lost in its darkness.
What dominates this poem, however, is the Pennine setting itself. The landscape is a rather larger character, far more alive and possibly more important than the people, including the poet himself who, in a poignant image in Part 4 of the work, describes himself and all others as: but ripples in eternity.
Nature is obviously as living a force to Hughes as it was for Wordsworth. We can easily compare Hughes imaginative immersion in this part of West Yorkshire with Wordsworths relationship with the Lake District. The poem also has the same Wordsworthian sense of the sacred quality of Creation which is portrayed in a series of striking, evocative, highly sensual images which seem deeply rooted in the Calder Valleys past, present and future.
This poem is part of the Romantic tradition of the personal narrative which moves from the individual experience to make universal observations about society and human nature. Indeed Hughes himself seems to appreciate that he is taking on the bardic role favoured by some of the Romantic poets:
If I sound like that chap spouting the history of an
ancient people who lived faraway - …
that might be nearer the truth than youd imagine.
And in true bardic custom he offers the vision that we can save ourselves by trespass on learning, trespass on the moor.