Ted Hughes – “Crow’s Song about God”

Crow’s Song about God

Somebody is sitting
Under the gatepost of heaven
Under the lintel
On which are written the words: “Forbidden to the living.”
A knot of eyes, eyeholes, lifeless, in the life-shape
A rooty old oak-stump, aground in the ooze
Of some putrid estuary,
Snaggy with amputations,
His fingernails broken and bitten,
His hair vestigial and purposeless, his toenails useless and deformed,
His blood filtering between
In the coils of his body, like the leech of life
In a slime and ochre pond
Under the smouldering collapse of a town dump,
His brain a hacked ache, a dull flint,
His solar plexus crimped in his gut, hard,
A plastic carnation
In a gutter puddle
Outside the registry office –
Somebody
Sitting under the gatepost of heaven

Head fallen forward
Like the nipped head of somebody strung up to a lamp-post
With a cheese-wire, or an electric flex,
Or with his own blet,
Trousers round his ankles,
Face gutted with shadows, like a village gutted with bombs,
Weeping plasma,
Weeping whisky,
Weeping egg-white,
He has been choked with raw steak it hangs black over his chin,
Somebody
Propped in the gateway of heaven
Clinging to the tick of his watch
Under a dream muddled as vomit
That he cannot vomit, he cannot wake up to vomit,
He only lifts his head and lolls it back
Against the gatepost of heaven

Like a broken sunflower
Eyesockets empty
Stomach laid open
To the inspection of the stars
The operation unfinished
(The doctors ran off, there was some other emergency)
Sweat cooling on his temples
Hands hanging – what would be the use now
Of lifting them?
They hang
Clumps of bloodclot, varicose and useless
As afterbirths –

But God sees nothing of this person
His eyes occupied with His own terror
As He mutters
My Saviour is coming,
He is coming, who does not fear death,
He shares his skin with it,
He gives it his cigarettes,
He cuts up its food, he feeds it like a baby,
He keeps it warm he cherishes it
In the desolations of space,
He dresses it up in his best, he calls it his life –

He is coming.

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5 replies »

  1. I can never enjoy Ted Hughes’ poetry, because the personal baggage about him and his public figure is so very great. It may cut both ways: it may simply be that I find so extremely unsympathetic that this stops me from seeing how excellent a poet it is; or it may be that his public figure makes a lot of other people value his mediocre poetry a lot more than they should, as it provides false echoes that make his words resonate beyond their worth. I’m honestly not sure which one it is.

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  2. In general I don’t understand this position when it comes to artists. So many of them are flawed & terrible, & so many of us respond to different versions of awfulness, that there’d be few people left to read or watch or listen to if we couldn’t get their personal lives out of our heads. The best discussion of this for me is still a Stephen Fry documentary about his love of Wagner, despite all the reasons he should hate him. As I’ve read Hughes’s poetry I’ve spent a lot of time listening to podcasts & reading interviews with his recent biographer, & others who love him despite his flaws, & I’m willing to bet the real Hughes is somewhere between those who’ll forgive him nothing, & those who’ll forgive him anything.

    For his work, I certainly find whole deserts of unreadable stuff in his 1200pp collected; but I don’t know anyone in the 20th C who wrote in English as well as he did about war/suffering, or the natural world. But that’s just me.

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  3. Your stance is generally the correct one, but I feel Ted Hughes is a bit of an exception here. His “Crow” book, from which I understand you took this poem, was written in between Plath’s suicide and the next one, that of Asia Weevill (who also killed his daughter with her). Of course, it’s hard not to read anything related to such circumstances in such a work. It’s not always that easy to separate work from the author: very easy to ignore who built a hammer when you’re using it, or even to feel no compulsion to investigate the biography of a sculptor whose statues you find appealing; but poets are on the other extreme, of maximum closeness with the work, which very often requires that the work is read within the context of the life and circumstances (Auden’s September 1, with its reference to “the end of a low, dishonest decade,” would be an obvious example here: try reading that without a basic knowledge of the era he refers to). Hughes himself persistently mixed up his life with his work: he wasn’t what you would call an escapist writer. He opened himself up to this line of attack. Which, of course, doesn’t mean he was a bad poet and indeed may end up making him even a better poet than he would have been otherwise.

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  4. No I totally agree. I didn’t mean to suggest we ignore the biography, but just to come to terms with it. I love reading biographies. The version of Crow in his Collected, which brings so many Crow poems that weren’t together in his lifetime, is almost too much, it feels like an impossible work in progress being done by someone who’s barely holding it together. It is pretty impossible to read so many tortured & torturing & desperate & violent poems without reference to Plath & Weevil & the daughter.

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  5. “To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim” Oscar Wilde.
    I like that quote because it puts it up to us to see what it is we ourselves make of the poem/painting/play. I think it gets harder and harder to do that these because we are listening to opinion and judgement from dawn to dusk but maybe art is the one place we can try to have fresh eyes and separate the artist from the art. I love your posts. Thank you.

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