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
And you go
With the wreath of weather
The wreath of horizons
The wreath of constellations
Over your shoulders.
And from now on
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)