Thursday, December 8, 2011

So we stood, alive in the river of light

On Tuesday I attended the dedication of the memorial to Ted Hughes in Poet's Corner.  Poems were read by Juliet Stevenson, Seamus Heaney and Daniel Huws (the Welsh writer who knew Hughes at Cambridge); there is a Channel 4 news clip which gives a sense of the atmosphere there.  The readings took place in front of Chaucer's tomb, which brought to mind that poem in Birthday Letters where Hughes remembers Sylvia Plath declaiming Chaucer to a field of cows, who seemed enthralled, 'ears angling to catch every inflection.'.  Perhaps it would have felt more apt to have heard Hughes's poems out in the landscape, but there in the Abbey, he was connected to a tradition of English poets that began with Cædmon, who found his voice whilst caring for the animals at the monastery of Streonæshalch.  Seamus Heaney made a short speech in dedication, invoking the closing lines of Beowolf where a memorial mound, high on a headland is built for the dead hero, 'far-famed and beloved'.  The inscription on this new memorial comes from one of the poems in River (1983), 'That Morning', in which Hughes recalled standing solemnly 'in the pollen light / Waist-deep in wild salmon.'   It seemed a moment of blessing, as if the fish had let the world as it is pass away: 'there, in a mauve light of drifted lupins, / They hung in the cupped hands of mountains...'

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