I read Elaine Feinstein’s biography of Ted Hughes during August. It wasn’t flattering; the suicides of Sylvia Plath and then Assia Wevill could hardly cast him in a positive light. The bleak picture has been further compounded by the publication this month of the biography of Assia Wevill.
I wish I hadn’t read the biography and I wish I hadn’t become aware of Assia’s story. Ted Hughes had been a hero for me, not that I ever knew much about him as a person, not that I had even been much interested in him as a person. Ted Hughes for me was the voice behind “Crow” and “Crow” for me was a way of coping with life, or, more to the point, with coping with death.
The lines of “Examination at the Womb-Door” sound strange, but in the concluding words there is a sense of hope.
“Who owns those scrawny little feet? Death.
Who owns this bristly scorched-looking face? Death.
Who owns these still-working lungs? Death.
Who owns this utility coat of muscles? Death.
Who owns these unspeakable guts? Death.
Who owns these questionable brains? Death.
All this messy blood? Death.
These minimum-efficiency eyes? Death.
This wicked little tongue? Death.
This occasional wakefulness? Death.
Given, stolen, or held pending trial?
Who owns the whole rainy, stony earth? Death.
Who owns all of space? Death.
Who is stronger than hope? Death.
Who is stronger than the will? Death.
Stronger than love? Death.
Stronger than life? Death.
But who is stronger than Death?
Who is stronger than death? Each of us has to be. The friend who texted me yesterday to say that his mother had died and he wasn’t coping is as strong as I am.
There is no palliative for the pain, nothing to change the reality, just the grim fact that we are still here and that death does not have us.
Till our day to be called home comes, we are to be like Crow.