Time to buy a pair of Wellies and book a flight to England. The Ted Hughes Poetry Trail has just been dedicated in Devon, in southwest England, and it sounds like just the sort of memorial any writer would want.
This memorial to one of the English language’s finest and fiercest poets (who moved to Devon in 1961 and lived there until his death in 1998) consists of a trail marked with posts, each dedicated to one of Hughes’ poems. One of the stops along the trail is dedicated to “The Thought-Fox,” which ranks just behind Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead” on my All-Time Favorite Poems list.
The poem describes the process of literary creation with the precision and economy of a great watercolor, and as with all of Hughes’s best poems, it can leave you feeling that a ghost has crossed through the room and trailed its fingers along your back as it passed:
I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is aliveBesides the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.
I was introduced to Hughes’s work through, of all things, the lyrics printed on the back cover of Paul Simon’s album Still Crazy After All These Years, which offered a few lines from Crow as the epigraph to “My Little Town.” That was a reckless move on Simon’s part – “My Little Town” (the occasion for the first of his money-spinning reunions with Art Garfunkel) is one of his tritest songs, and those few lines of Ted Hughes annihilated just about every word of Simon’s album. Until then, I’d only vaguely known of Hughes as the husband of Sylvia Plath, one of the original Womens Studies Martyrs, but I quickly tracked down Crow and Hawk in the Rain and from then on I was hooked.
How appropriate to use a nature trail to memorialize a poet whose work was so fully grounded in the natural world. Hughes’s feeling for the English landscape was such that he requested his name be placed on a memorial stone in a remote area of Dartmoor, between the sources of the rivers Teign, Dart, Taw and East Okement.
Maybe I’ll remember something more later on, but right now the closest comparison I can think of for this memorial would be the series of plaques along the streets of Dublin that mark Leo Bloom’s small-time epic journey on June 16, as described in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Maybe that’s a bad comparison – Joyce hated Dublin with some of the same green rancor Frank Sinatra reserved for Hoboken. Hughes, on the other hand, not only loved the English countryside, he was for several years the poet laureate of Old Blighty, in which capacity he would compose private poems to be sent to the Queen. (Of all the privileges of royalty, that sounds like one of the most enviable.) Looks like Devon has found a perfect way to return the favor.Powered by Sidelines