This Old Poem #43:
Ted Hughes’ Song
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 12/28/02

  There is an ironclad rule when approaching the poetry of Edward J. ‘Ted’ Hughes- &, no, it is not DO NOT FOLLOW HIM TO THE ALTAR! Smartasses! The rule is this- if the poem is under 10 lines long it might be a passable poem. If the poem is over 10 lines- forget it; it’s likely a disaster. This is because TH never wrote a poem over 10 lines long that was any good. He simply lacked the musical skill to keep a poem felicitous, & his intellect was too lacking to come up with any scenario worthy of taking past the 10 line limit. TH was a bad poet, overall. I could go on to show how he relentlessly tried to capture elements of his 1st wife’s poetry in his own, despite the long debunked mythos that it was TH that taught what’shername how to be a great poet. Ever notice that that was never propounded before her headbaking incident? Yes, the wife said it, but that’s because she was stuck on TH’s fishing rod. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to read his late 1970s book length atrocity Gaudete- the longest poem in the English language. OK, not technically, at 200+ pages, but it FEELS like it as the interminably dull narrative plods on.
  In case you are a poetry fan who has never heard this zillionth-told tale, you can either read my brief bio of TH (& you know who), or wait till next year when 1 of my favorite actresses, Gwyneth Paltrow, essays the role of- OK, I’ll say it- Sylvia Plath. TH was born in 1930 & died in1998. He drove both SP & a 2nd wife, Assia Wevill, to suicide via headbaking in ovens. He then proceeded to spend the rest of his life altering the public version of their relationship, much to the consternation of bedraggled feminist lunatics who bizarrely chose the addle-minded SP as a fetishistic object of worship, & the demonic TH as, well, their demon. BTW- if you are asking why I did not list this as a Special Edition Poets Laureate TOP, since TH was the U.K.’s PL from 1984 until his death, the reason is simple: I don’t care about the British PLs. TH’s actual poetic corpus was mostly a mishmash of 4th rate Robinson Jeffersian unmusicked crap, with the occasional nod to the Brothers Grimm. For this he got accolades? Ugh, yes. Apparently his animal obsession developed from a teenage job working at a zoo. Think I’m being hard on him? There are actually websites that slanderously call him a ‘talented murderer’- how dare they impute talent on him! The Sylvia-Ted mythos is so fucked up that their daughter, Frieda Hughes, now has published books of poetry that, unfortunately, show she got all her talent from ‘Daddy’. On the plus side TH’s 1968 children’s book The Iron Man, was in 1999 made into a successful theatrical cartoon, The Iron Giant, that my wife says is actually pretty good. TH was also a bad editor of anthologies, as well a failed playwright. His most famous work is 1970’s Crow, a series of story-poems. The Crow is symbolic of Life, in its struggle against Death- a real stretch of old TH’s mental prowess, to be sure. The best poems are, naturally, the shortest. But, as if in a last middle finger, or Fuck You!, to the world, the defiant & delusional TH produced 1 last piece of garbage that sucked more than all the rest: 1998’s infamous book of putrid self-aggrandizing doggerel, Birthday Letters, detailing his marriage to SP- where, of course, TH warped facts & legend to portray himself as anything but the loser, in life & letters, that he was. Fortunately, for the world- in general, & literature specifically- TH died of cancer on October 28th, 1998.
  Now, on to the poem, a trite piece of pseudo-formal verse. I will diacritically underline the clichés, which are the downfall of this whole piece of tripe:


O lady, when the tipped cup of the moon blessed you
You became soft fire with a cloud's grace;
The difficult stars swam for eyes in your face;
You stood, and your shadow was my place:
You turned, your shadow turned to ice
    O my lady

O lady, when the sea caressed you
You were a marble of foam, but dumb.
When will the stone open its tomb?
When will the waves give over their foam?
You will not die, nor come home,
    O my lady.


O lady, when the wind kissed you
You made him music for you were a shaped shell.
I follow the waters and the wind still
Since my heart heard it and all to pieces fell
Which your lovers stole, meaning ill,
    O my lady.


O lady, consider when I shall have lost you
The moon's full hands, scattering waste,
The sea's hands, dark from the world's breast,
The world's decay where the wind's hands have passed,
And my head, worn out with love, at rest
In my hands, and my hands full of dust,
    O my lady.


  Get ready to scream in agony- 34 clichés in 28 FUCKIN’ lines! These are clichés of all sort, but most egregiously in the love poem vein. There are clichés without context & EVEN WORSE in context! There are clichés that rip off great poets like John Keats, ‘stars swam’, & those straight from a workshop. This may be the worst poem I’ve ever done in a TOP- well, okay- perhaps Nikki Giovanni & Maya Angelou would argue that point. Then again- I could only salvage 2 of the lines! That’s the smallest reclamation project ever for a TOP! On the positive side, I guess it’s reassuring to my darker-hued readers to know that even literally Dead White Males can suck ass as bad as the sistahs! Here’s the rewrite:

The World's Decay Where The Wind

O lady, when the tipped cup of the moon blessed you
You made him music for you were a shaped shell.


  The old tried & true of recycling a discarded poem image or line works nicely here, as the new title at least shows more than, say, 3 seconds worth of thought. It also leads in to the ‘O lady’ in an odd way- what was dull & trite in a poem titled ‘Song’ is jarring here. Then we get the poem’s best image, which leads right into the denouement- an almost Poundian ending- you know which 2 liner I mean. Now, for those of you who would accuse me of being flippant, in dismissing the poem. Let me torpedo those sorts of claims once & for all. The poem has no syllabic count, no meter (even were 1 to buy in to that fallacy), & the rhyme scheme is as trite as the narrative theme. There is absolutely nothing original in this poem- except, perhaps, for the 1st line I reclaimed in the rewrite. It’s borderline miraculous that I can even make anything passable out of this verbal deformity. How does a poem like this, by a ‘major’ poet, get such a free ride? Simple. Poetry publication is 1 gigantic VANITY enterprise. At least the loathsome Vanity Presses are up front about your chances of being published without paying. Today it’s all about celebrity, not even FAME- & there is a difference. Can anyone really defend this poem? I don’t think so. The usual reply is that, ‘Well, any poet can write a bad poem.’ True, but 1) why publish it? 2) why would a publisher publish it? & 3) too often these supposed ‘aberrations’ from a ‘Master’ are, instead, the rule.
  For those who think me too hard on the monster, let me end with 1 of his better poems- &, yes, this mediocrity is truly about as good as TH ever got. But, bear in mind the rule I started this essay off with. Now, why don’t you ask me if I ever get tired of being right?



Now is the globe shrunk tight
Round the mouse's dulled wintering heart
Weasel and crow, as if moulded in brass,
More through an outer darkness
Not in their right minds,
With the other deaths. She, too, pursues her ends,
Brutal as the stars of this month,
Her pale head heavy as metal.

Final Score: (1-100):  

Ted Hughes’ Song: 15
TOP’s The World's Decay Where The Wind: 65

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