04 March 2008

Daffodils by Ted Hughes


Remember how we picked the daffodils?
Nobody else remembers, but I remember.
Your daughter came with her armfuls, eager and happy,
Helping the harvest. She has forgotten.
She cannot even remember you. And we sold them
It sounds like sacrilege, but we sold them.
Were we so poor? Old Stoneman, the grocer,
Boss-eyed, his blood-pressure purpling to beetroot
(It was his last chance,
He would die in the same great freeze as you),
He persuaded us. Every Spring
He always bought them, sevenpence a dozen,
'A custom of the house'.

Besides, we still weren't sure we wanted to own
Anything. Mainly we were hungry
To convert everything to profit.
Still nomads--still strangers
To our whole possession. The daffodils
Were incidental gilding of the deeds,
Treasure trove. They simply came,
And they kept on coming.
As if not from the sod but falling from heaven.
Our lives were still a raid on our own good luck.
We knew we'd live for ever. We had not learned
What a fleeting glance of the everlasting
Daffodils are. Never identified
The nuptial flight of the rarest ephemera -
Our own days!

We thought they were a windfall.
Never guessed they were a last blessing.
So we sold them. We worked at selling them
As if employed on somebody else's
Flower-farm. You bent at it
In the rain of that April - your last April,
We bent there together, among the soft shrieks
Of their jostled stems, the wet shocks shaken
Of their girlish dance-frocks -
Fresh-opened dragonflies, wet and flimsy,
Opened too early.

We piled their frailty lights on a carpenter's bench,
Distributed leaves among the dozens -
Buckling blade-leaves, limber, groping for air, zinc-silvered -
Propped their raw butts in bucket water,
Their oval, meaty butts,
And sold them, sevenpence a bunch -

Wind-wounds, spasms from the dark earth,
With their odourless metals,
A flamy purification of the deep grave's stony cold
As if ice had a breath -

We sold them, to wither.
The crop thickened faster than we could thin it.
Finally, we were overwhelmed
And we lost our wedding-present scissors.

Every March since they have lifted again
Out of the same bulbs, the same
Baby-cries from the thaw,
Ballerinas too early for music, shiverers
In the draughty wings of the year.
On that same groundswell of memory, fluttering
They return to forget you stooping there
Behind the rainy curtains of a dark April,
Snipping their stems.

But somewhere your scissors remember. Wherever they are.
Here somewhere, blades wide open,
April by April
Sinking deeper
Through the sod - an anchor, a cross of rust.

-Ted Hughes

(I typed this poem because the internet versions I discovered didn't have the spacing the book itself has, and the Hughes approved spacing is more visually pleasing to me.)

This poem has been my favorite for nearly a year now. Dr. Organ required it as part of our British Literature II class; but we never covered it in class. Instead, we discussed the less beautiful, more typical poetry by Hughes such as "The Owl" and "Pike". Hughes, throughout his career, was known for his jarring word and subject choices, along with a rather pessimistic view. Many feminists hate him, blaming him for the demise of his late wife Sylvia Plath; but many neglect his lovely collection called Birthday Letters published first in 1998, the year of his death. Many considered Hughes callused toward his wife's suicide because he rarely spoke of it, and seemingly never wrote of it--Birthday Letters showed a different side of the poet--a side affected by loss, a side showing vulnerable humanity. While in London last spring, my lovely then-fiancee-now-wife purchased this collection for me--what a wonderful Piper-Pal present.

I encountered "Daffodils" while reading along in the back house during the spring semester of my senior year of college. It was, and still is, the only poem that has brought tears to my eyes. The few lines, "Our lives were still a raid on our own good luck. /We knew we'd live for ever. We had not learned / What a fleeting glance of the everlasting / Daffodils are. Never identified / The nuptial flight of the rarest ephemera - / Our own days!" still gives me chills. I cannot fathom losing my wife, and even further from my understanding is the ability to present such powerful emotion in a succinct poem. As Wordsworth said (and Dr. Elliott quoted incessantly), poetry is "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility," and Hughes has mastered such recollection and reflection--life supplied the overflow of powerful feeling.

It's a bit puerile of me to begin my literary blog exploration with a poem I love based on sheer emotional/aesthetic value; but that's what's happening. Most of my literary posts won't deal with poetry because it's a form with which I am not comfortable in my skills as an explicator; but I so love this poem that I had to include it--especially since we didn't get to discuss it in class so long ago. Thanks for indulging me in my literary exploration, I hope you're not too bored.


Death On Two Legs said...

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for uploading this. I've been searching for this in a frenzy. I can't even begin to imagine my life without Ted Hughes.

AngelofHarlem said...

I really like this poem.Thank you so much.