Saturday, October 9, 2010


Earlier in the week listening to Melvin Bragg talking about Ted Hughes' book of 'Birthday Letters' about his wife Slyvia Plath and the very last poem that did not get included in the book set me thinking.

The poem was written 35 years later, and describes Hughes anguish at the death of his wife, there was of course also guilt, when he picked up the phone that day and heard the terrible words 'your wife is dead'. The poem got printed in the New Statesman, and an article in the Guardian can be found here detailing its find by Bragg.

Well I'm not going to dwell on that particular poem, but another one in his Remains of Elmet book of poems which went through my mind when thinking of Hughes and marriage, a line which says "And marriage is nailed down" to be found in his Bridestones poem.

A short resume of where the book and poem is coming from needs some explanation. Elmet is one of the small British/Brythonic kingdoms of the early medieval ages. Elmet is to be found probably in West Yorkshire and by the 6th century would have been conquered by its greater Northumbrian neighbours Deira and Bernicia, as they became christianised from Kent. It is in many ways a 'lost' kingdom of pagan origin and this is why it appealed to Hughes. Bridestones of course remind us of the pagan Brigid goddess. To discuss pagan goddesses one must also go back to the mothers, often seen as the three hags up North, and his book is around this theme of the natural world coupled with an apocalyptic vision of the world, taken from William Blake and his poem Jerusalem. Such meanderings of course can best be judged by reading about the subject matter and Ann Skea, seems to have written an extraordinary amount on Hughes, her review of Remains of Elmet will fill many of the answers in....

The Great Bridestones

Scorched-looking, unhewn - a hill-top chapel

Actually a crown of outcrop rock -

Earth's heart bone laid bare.

Crowding, congregation of skies.

Tense congregation of hills.

You do nothing casual here.

The wedding stones

Are electrified with whispers.

And marriage is nailed down

By this slender necked, heavy headed

Black exclamaition mark

of rock.

And you go

With the wreath of weather

The wreath of horizons

The wreath of constellations

Over your shoulders.

And from now on

The sun

Touches you

With the shadow of this finger.

From now on

The moon stares into your skull

From this perch.

And a slightly different version for the opening line..

(Holy of holies - a hill-top chapel)


  1. Thank you for this. I will go and explore further. I know only the bare bones of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, and very little of his work is familiar to me and absolutely none of hers. What a dreadful confession to make!

    Still, I see my life as a long process of learning, so this may be another notch on the bedpost of life . . .

    (p.s. Just read SP's "Blackberries" - think I may like her despite my earlier misgivings!)

  2. I have'nt read any biographies of either to be honest,but on reflection commiting suicide and leaving that sort of legacy for her children and Hughes was a bad thing to do...