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A Sonnet Sequanza

The Tragic Early Loves of Ted Hughes



Where was it, in the Strand? A display
Of news items, in photographs.
For some reason I noticed it.
A picture of that year’s intake

Fulbright Scholars

That night was nothing
But getting to know how smooth your body is
The memory of it goes through me like brandy

Little soft places little puss
I wish you were still here
Or rather I wish I was still there
I would kiss you slowly from toe up

I neglected you
One of my most tormenting thoughts
Is that I didn’t suck & lick & nibble you
All night long

Kiss you for me Sylvia
& again & again
& fall asleep kissing your arm


Swaying so slender
It seemed your long, perfect American legs
Simply went on up. That flaring hand,
Those long balletic, monkey-elegant fingers.
And the face – a tight ball of joy.

St Botolph’s

I have met a first rate American poetess
She really is good
Certainly one of the best
Female poets I ever read
& a damned sight better than the run of the good male
Her main enthusiasm at present is me
& she thinks my verses are as good as I think they are
& has accordingly despatched about twenty five
To various immensely paying American Mags

She is Scorpio : Oct 27th
Moon in Libra
Last degree of Aries rising
& has her Mars smack on my sin
Which is all very approprioate


Your frenzy made me giddy.
It woke up my dumb, ecstatic boyhood
Of fifteen years before. My masterpiece
Came that black night on the Grantchester road

The Owl

Marriage is my medium
We work & walk about
& repair each others writings

She is one of the best critics I ever met
Understands my imagination perfectly
& I think I understand hers
It’s amazing how we strike sparks

When we’re fed up of that
We walk out into the country
& sit for hours watching things

We sit by the river & watch water voles
& when they come near, Sylvia
Goes almost unconscious with delight


I saw it with horrible premonition.
You were alone there, pregnant, unprotected
In some inaccessible dimension
Whare that creature had you, now, to himself.


The contractions began almost at once
Stronger & stronger & more & more painful

The midwife was a little Indian woman
Adamant for natural, drugless childbirth

She showed me the black hair on top of the babys head
& showed it to Sylvia in a mirror, very merrily

The head appeared like a mushroom
Then all at once it slid clean out
Looking exactly like a pink translucent balloon
Smeared all over with a whitish cream
Goolike wet fur

A little girl
It gave a little sneeze
& mutter’d to itself
& began to move its fingers


To hold the reins of the straining attention
Of your imagined audience – you declaimed Chaucer
To a field of cows


At the Faber party
Sylvia talked quite a lot
To McNeice & Spender

Spender was drunk
Silly-giddly like Mabel Brown
At her 9-year old birthday party

McNeice was drunk & talked
Like a quick fire car salesman

I talked to Elliot – he’s been ill
His wife was supporting him
She is so Yorkshire you could smile

I scarcely spoke to Auden
He was overpowered by the blue-haired hostesses
That seem to run these meetings


I was a nursemaid. I fancied myself at that.
I liked the crisi of the vital role.
I felt things had become real. Suddenly mother,
As a familiar voice, woke in me

Little Freida is wrestling in her pen
She is very self sufficient in entertaining herself
Gnawing a rusk, smiling round
Humming to herself now & then
Watching for the hours

The other day I looked into the bedroom
Hearing her croon
& there she was leaning over the top bar of her crib
Chin on her folded arm – standing
Ever since then shes been pulling herslf upright

First thing in the morning
As I take her into the bedroom
She bursts into laughter at the sight of Sylvia
With a real gurgling laugh


After all these there marcht a most faire Dame,
Led of two grysie villeins, th’one Despight,
The other cleped Cruelty by name


The cherry trees are loaded with purple blossom
Just on the point of exploding

Sylvia’s been loading her flower beds with seeds
& I’ve been sowing the vegetable garden
Martial rows of beans & peas
Appearing almost immediately

Freida of course is the great blossom
Baby Nick is completely different from her
He has a most complicated side
Frieda’s is just a 1000 kilowatt radiance
His gives the impression of being a sage

I think Sylvia’s happier here
Now the good weathers come
Than she’s been since I’ve known her


Every heartbeat a fresh throw of the dice –
A click of Russain roulette: Strange
To be lying on my bed
Contemplating my heart as it knocked me to pieces.

The Lodger

She got to know all sorts of curious details
I put it down to clairvoyance
Which works at full power where other women are concerned
Yes its just like her to employ a snoop

Sometimes she wants a legal sepeartoion
Sometimes a divorce at once
I’ve left her in Ireland
While I attend to one or two small things
I shan’t be back at court green until Oct 1st
By then shell probably be wanting a divorce

In her manner shes changed Extraordinaraily
Become much more as she was when I first knew her
& much more like her mother, who I detest


I listened, as I sealed it up from myself
(The twelve-hour ice-crawl ahead).
I peered awhile, as through the keyhole
Into my darkened, hushed, safe casket
From which (I did not know)
I had already lost the treasure.

Robbing Myself

Now the storm center of it recedes into the distance
I can only be relieved that I’ve done it
The one factor that nobody
But quite close friends can comprehend
Is Sylvia’s particular death-ray quality

In many of the most important ways
She’s the most gifted & capable
& admirable woman Ive ever met
But impossible for me to live married to

Now we’re separated were better friends
Than weve been since we first met
The main grief for me is that a life
That had all the circumstance for perfection
Should have been so intolerable


My body sank into the folk-tale
Where the wolves are singing in the forest
For two babes, who have turned, in their sleep
Into orphans
Beside the corpse of their mother

Life after Death

On monday morning at about 6am
Sylvia gassed herself

She asked me for help, as she often has
I was the only person who could have helped her
& the only person so jaded by her states

She seem’d to be getting in good shape
She was writing again
She was making enough money
Winning commissions & good reviews

Then a series of things, solictor’s letters, etc
Piled up, she flared up…

The doctor put her on heavy sedatives…

& in the gap between one pill & the next…

She turned on the oven

ASSENKE (1963)

We didn’t find her – she found us.
She sniffed us out. The Fate she carried
Sniffed us out
And assembled us, inert ingrediaents
For its experiment.


As things are, it is bad for all of us.
If you come to me David suffers
If you go to him, you suffer
& does he stop suffering
I don’t see how it can make him happy again
Just to hand yourself over to him
As a prisoner or a body
Even against your will

I have concentrated all my life now
On these two children
& on what you & I might do
& you say you want nothing but that
So its up to you to act as you do feel
There’s no other way of solving this


She wanted the silent heraldry
Of the purple beach by the noble wall.
He wanted Cabala the ghetto demon
With its polythene bag full of ashes.


Sweetmouth, sweet little aseek, sweet love
Love sweetness & sweets
Now you are truly & wholly & entirely winningly better

Our evening on Primrose Hill
Should have been the norm
Not a freak occasion

On Thursday morning you were ready
To tell me to disappear
& on the Friday were so affectionate

All our difficulties blow up out of these long absences
& of your occasionally tactless doings
You’ll have to admit that
& out of mine sometimes

Everything with me is as it was Assia


When her grave opened its ugly mouth
why didn’t you just fly,
Why did you kneel down at the grave’s edge
to be identified
accused and convicted?

The Error

I’ve gone through these last weeks in a daze
Everything has become horrible to me
I cannot believe how I never knew
What was happening to her

Our life together was so complicated with old ghosts
But we belonged together so deeply & completely
That her repeatedly testing me
Saying that we’d better separate for good
Were just like a bad habit

I’m certain she did it on one of those crazy devlish moods
She didn’t even ring any of her friends

I feel my life now has gone completely empty
Assia was my true wife & the best friend I ever had
It was with me every minute of the day & night

REGRETS (1969)

Your own hands, stronger than your choked outcry,
Took your daughter from you. She was stripped from you,
The last raiment
Clinging round your neck, the sole remnant
Between you and the bed
In the underworld

The Descent

Through this last ghastly year
I have lost every single battle
Im half inclined to suspect CROW (the figure of death)
The quicker I get it finished the better

Assia — I thought some atonement
Could be made for Sylvia
But this house made sure
We were dragged into the utmost nightmare

This last horror has maybe taught me one thing
Sylvia’s death thew my whole nature negative
I now see the senseless cost of that
For others as well as myself
& I must in some way set everything behind me
If I’m to carry on at all


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