Wednesday 24 September 2008

Sylvia and Ted and Edward

I hoiked a volume of Sylvia Plath from the bookshelf the other day, opened it at random and read this. Anguished confessional poetry not being, by and large, my cup of tea, I hadn't read Plath in a long time. But this one - though there's no mistaking the colour scheme - seems to me a very fine poem, compact, poised - tranced indeed - and under perfect control. It seems a shame that a poet capable of such things (and yes, on reflection, I have much more in the back of my mind) has become more of a cause than an artist, the life of the supposed feminist martyr having overtaken the work, admiration or detraction dependent on taking a view of how Ted Hughes treated her. Maybe, in the end, some at least of her poetry will prove strong enough to survive this futile dispute.
Anguished confessional poetry comes in many shapes and sizes. Consider this by Edward Thomas. That is raw anguish, a stark, bald statement painfully wrested from the gravitational pull of Georgianism. The means are pared down to the minimal, staccato and monosyllabic, and all is held in almost impossible tension by the taut structure of short-lined rhyming quatrains. It is breathtaking.


  1. My mistake is that I don't have a volume of her work to hoik from a shelf. I allowed the crap to colour any time I've seem her work in a bookshop. This partly because I detest the unforgivedness which to my mind sit badly to or with any Poet. But mostly there is the feeling that you are letting the side down. Foolish, eh.

  2. Thomas poem is beautiful indeed Nige, and disturbing, a bit close to home I'm afraid' left me soul searching for a while. makes your blog one of life's pleasures.

  3. Antarctica. By Derek Mahon. 1984/5

    'I am going out and may be sometime.'
    The others nod, pretending not to know.
    At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

    He leaves them reading and begins to climb,
    Goading his ghost into the howling snow;
    He is just going outside and may be some time.

    The tent recedes under the crust of rime
    And frostbite is replaced by vertigo:
    At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

    Need we consider it some sort of crime,
    This numb self-sacrifice of the weakest? No,
    He is just going outside and may be some time-

    In fact, for ever. Solitary enzyme,
    Though the night yield no glimmer there will glow,
    At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

    He takes leave of the earthly pantomime
    Quietly, knowing it is time to go:-
    'I am just going outside and may be some time,'
    At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

  4. Sometimes, your prescience jumps me out of my skin, Nige; yes, that *is* one of her (many many) finest; but, your post is also of a quality that takes one's breath away (from oneself). Thank you.