Week 512: The Day He Died, by Ted Hughes

This is a companion piece to ‘Now You Have To Push’ that I featured way back in week 4, another of the elegies written in remembrance of Ted Hughes’s father-in-law Jack Orchard, and appearing in the collection ‘Moortown’, the first half of which contains for me some of Ted’s best work. I think these elegies derive their unusual power from the way the poet manages to fuse the portrayal of a entirely real man with the sense of something legendary, some guardian spirit of the land. Ted was that rare thing, a mythopoet fast rooted in the actual.

The Day He Died

Was the silkiest day of the young year,
The first reconnaissance of the real spring,
The first confidence of the sun.

That was yesterday. Last night, frost.
And as hard as any of all winter.
Mars and Saturn and the Moon dangling in a bunch
On the hard, littered sky.
Today is Valentine’s day.

Earth toast-crisp. The snowdrops battered.
Thrushes spluttering. Pigeons gingerly
Rubbing their voices together, in stinging cold.
Crows creaking, and clumsily
Cracking loose.

The bright fields look dazed.
Their expression is changed.
They have been somewhere awful
And come back without him.

The trustful cattle, with frost on their backs,
Waiting for hay, waiting for warmth,
Stand in a new emptiness.

From now on the land
Will have to manage without him.
But it hesitates, in this slow realization of light,
Childlike, too naked, in a frail sun,
With roots cut
And a great blank in its memory.

Ted Hughes

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