Internet Debut: Folk-Lore, by Ted Hughes
I did extensive Google research and was surprised to find that perhaps my favourite Ted Hughes poem wasn’t reprinted anywhere online. I then did some less extensive research into the comparative draconianism of the Hughes estate’s stance on unpurchased reprints, and decided to fill that void.
When a friend recently gifted me the soft-cover collected Hughes (the green one, with the large B&W photo of the author on the front) I immediately flipped to the poem Folk-Lore, which was uncollected and written in maybe 1965 or so. I’m not sure where I first came across it; possibly it was while reading a borrowed library copy of this same collected, who knows. I like this poem so much that its title very nearly became the title of my forthcoming collection (as it stands, I dropped the –Lore and am just using Folk). I don’t want to say too much about why I like it, exactly. I just want to help this one, small, digital translation. But in short, Hughes was a poet with a very large brain, and it’s a worthy lesson to see that his best poems are as much about the control of that intellect as the celebration of it. There’s a lot of that tension going on in Folk-Lore, in the content, the vocabulary, and even, as much as this can be done, in the sound. The poem is about the poet working out how to approach the poem. Or at least, my reading experience of the poem was about that.
I hope there isn’t some lasting legal reason why the poem hasn’t yet crossed into Internet Land. I don’t think there is one; Google searches of Hughes’ better-loved poems result in thousands of examples. Don’t hurt me, Estate of Ted Hughes. My fortune is meagre though my heart is pure.
By Ted Hughes
Travelling so powerfully through the floor here
And shakes others dead sixty year
Up into a roomful of laughter, spittled jaws
Heavy on the clock’s perspective,
Gaping in air, in favour with the whole
Convention of the visible heavens.
He is big. He is shrunk down, twisted down
To a rheumatoid idol, collector’s find
Of eternity’s tough equipment.
Eighty, with the tilted eyes of a demon.
A historian of more than stones
Or the simple enclosures of landscape
Have an eye for,
He smells out the old spark of graves,
Raises again, not noticeably corrupted,
An eye’s force and flare up,
Words that stapled kicking thicknesses
Of air and instant, ghosts from his buttoned guts,
Plucking those dead people from underground
With a gesture
As if he had snatched the tongue from our heads, but livelier
And at once found nothing between his fingers—
While we rock with simple laughter.
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