Poems About Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath

Ted guessed
By the blue-black sheen of the bookmark

Knew,
when, on the 49th page
Three days before the writing stopped
The entries began to more and more
Resemble claws and talons
Scruffily dipped in ink
And smeared across the paper
Making a real mess
That he had to burn it
What else could he do?
Then went to lie down
Face down
In his face upwards body

***

Ted caught a Sylvia
Oh what a fish
He kept it close, and they lived
Happily as man and fish live.
After a while, he let the fish alone, she bit
Besides, you know what they say about fish.

When someone put Sylvia in the oven he cried
Why should fish have to die like this?
Rather than swim glinting in the thunderous foam
Scattering scales, each part of the water’s poem.

From time to time, and when life
was nearly through
Ted tried a little smoked Sylvia.
His taste buds were suited to her
As a fly is suited to a fish –

Now they swim together,
Amongst the many pages, they swim.
And we thread new lines to catch them.

***

Who killed Sylvia?
Aurelia killed her. Make no mistake.
She knew just what she was doing.
She lit the fuse
And bundled her into a white heat
pressure, pressure of a skull forge
Of an american all-girl third degree
burn to the brain.

After that her skin flaked slowly
Small stanzas of skin
The scar-tissue exposed would sting
and then burn and numb again.

And when the fire achieved her core
She climbed into the oven
To finally feel at home.

Anti-Plato by Yves Bonnefoy

Yves Bonnefoy was a poet who worked in the french language in the second half of the twentieth century. He died last year. Here is my translation of the short series called “Anti-Plato” first published in 1947.

ANTI-PLATO

I

What it’s really about is this object: a horse’s head, bigger than usual. Encrusted with a whole city, roads and defenses run between its eyes, hugging the twisting, turning, lengthening muzzle. Someone knew how to build this town out of wood and cardboard, how it should be lit by a real moon, It’s really about this object: the spinning wax head of a woman all tousled up on top of a phonograph.

All things from here, the willow country, frock country, stone country, that is: the country where the water runs over willow and stone, the country of dirtied frock-coats. All this laughter wrapped in blood, I tell you, traffickers of the timeless, you symmetrical faces you, forgetful of the gaze, weighs heavier in our minds than any of these perfect ideas which know only how to slowly bleed out in our mouths.

II

The horrendous weapon, a shadow-horned axe carried over the stones,
Weapon of the pallor and scream when you turn, wounded in your festival dress,
an axe because it’s time for time to draw away on the nape of your neck,
O heavy, with all the weight of a country in your hands the weapon falls.

III

What sense to give to that: a man form of wax and colours the sham-copy of a woman, the shield-guard of all resemblances, the necessity of living, given to it by a clever game of lights this doubt on the edge of the movement, the movement which expresses the smile.

Then arming itself with a torch, abandoning the entire body to the caprice of the flames, aiding the deformation, the bursting of the flesh, projecting at once a thousand possible figures, lighting-up in the process a horde of monsters, feeling like a knife the cut and thrust of this funereal dialectic where the blood statue is born again and divides itself in the infatuation of the wax, of the colours?

IV

The blood country goes on under the frock in a perpetually black rush
When we speak, here begins the night-flesh and gets bogged down in sand, the wrong paths
And you, madame scholar, you dig for the light of the brightest lamps of the flock,
and end up tipping over backwards onto the threshold of death’s bland country.

V

Imprisoned in a room, in a noise, a person shuffles cards. On one: “Eternity, I despise you”, on another “Let this instant free me”

And on yet another, a third, they write “essential death”. So they walk on time’s rift, lit up by their wound.

VI

We are in precisely one country on the mouth of the earth,
You, with one burst of melt-water thanks to the foliage,
And this one which we call “me”, when the day dims
and the gates open and we speak of death.

VII

Nothing can tear him from this obsession with the black chamber. Perched on a cistern, he tries to still the face under the water’s surface: but as always the lip’s movement triumphs.

Dismasted face, distressed, sinking face, is it enough to just touch her teeth, will she then die? At the passage of my fingers she could smile, like sand collapsing under footsteps.

VIII

Imprisoned between two thieves with green scorched surfaces
And your stony head, open to the wind’s drapes and tapestries
I watch you enter into summer (like a funereal mantis into the canvas of black grass)
I hear you cry out from summer’s rear.

IX

Someone said: dig this piece of loose earth until your teeth meet a stone.

Sensible only to the modulations, to transitions, the quiverings of balance, to the presence already given away by its explosions from everywhere, they look for the coolness of invasive death, they easily overcome a youthless eternity, a perfection without burning.

Time boils around this rock. O, to have touched this stone: the lamps of the world turn, the hidden light moves on.

***

Disclaimer: I am not fluent in french, I translate in order to learn. This is not a commercial translation, it has no aims or theory behind it. I just translate what sense I can see, the way I like, whilst being faithful to my limited view of what the poem is trying to say. If anything I aim for an interesting finished piece rather than an accurate one. That said, if you notice what you might call a ridiculous error, feel free to offer your corrected translation for my perusal.

As for my opinion of the poem? I think any poem called Anti-Plato has the right idea – whatever Platonism ends up being viable, if it does, it won’t be one of human objects and lives. Forms were outré before, during and after Plato’s death. It’s a nice and respectable hobby to intellectually beat on the phantom Platonists though. Could it be said that where they have existed, and as a general tendency in human thought, they have tended to bring difficulty and error? Maybe. The images in the poem benefit from being made a bit more concrete, ironically, but the way it combines a dialogue on ideas with a surreal conceptual fabrication and a kind of biography of a landscape, or a tale of an excursion, is very interesting and on point.

Narcissii

The cold mind of a philosopher
Might freeze love with a snowflake gaze
In the same dull ice that crystallises
Faultline truths on a heap of life.

Til hot dogma deigns them to preach
On politics, bearing confidence of the freeze
But narcissism is neither hot nor frozen
It’s just the mark of a certain childhood.

And poets who take their inspiration
From ‘religious sentiment’s’ gloaming cocktail
That quaintly drinks the soul with ecstasy
Til verses drop off the tongue like gold bricks

Think maybe religion is a knot
Their young life and guardians tied them of
And now its blank mythological verse
Finds acceptance among drunk critical cousins

These tender artists tend to sit
On good old knolls by the zenoic pool
(Far from the muddy estuaries) and swill
Till their daisy heads fall off and rot.

Res Poetica

Can you put the lines in order?
Can you love, and kill someone with that love?
Can you watch TV with a wry smile and think of witchcraft?
Can you fit paper into a typewriter and roll it slowly through
By pressing on the keys?
By stepping on the ledge?
Can you ring a twelve bell peal with your tongue?
Can you swing in the sea til your arms tire
And you grow as old as you ever will be?
Can you infatuate yourself with every mark you make?
And roll your rs slightly in the reading?
Can you hail onto a feeling
and fail to inscribe it by the slightest mistake. Fail.
Can you fail?
Can you be idolised faintly, saint, by a dying culture
And rest all too happy in a leery obsolescence, a personal implosion?
Can you die? When it is time?
And think on death and dying?
Can you ignore those who think that they know what you are doing?
Can you tear paper, really tear it?
Are you afraid of yourself sometimes, really afraid?
Can you burn, can you burn?
Can you burn?
Can you become righteous?

Then, poet, you can be.
Can you stand on the sea?
Mystic, can you stand on the sea?
Can you stand on the sea?
Can you see?

Wandering Poet

Did Wordsworth see the bugs?
Did Coleridge sweat, and stand resting
hands on hips, wheezing, attempting
to rest and take the landscape in?
Did he slip with muddy boots, in velvet suit
and try to be poetic, nursing the hot feet
attendant to a walk.

Did Wordsworth smell the daffodils,
as they blinded him in the sun, and
the bugs, again, swarmed round his pad
til he was happy with the notes?
Did he pass the stranger’s greetings
or return them to their owners
gazing down at his feet, hands at his pack.
Did sunburn plague them?

The sweat doesn’t quite appear in print
the ink that hides the work.
And the poet does his best to hide it too,
Wandering lonely as a cloud,
in a cloud, and pad dispersing
Into sodden clods of paper
sinking to the fern.