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Two poems by Roy Davids

Roy Davids submitted "Memories, Reflections, Gratitudes" and "The Day of his Funeral" for publication here.

 

Memories, Reflections, Gratitudes, 1998
A celebration of Ted Hughes.

[An earlier version of this poem appeared in The Epic Poise.]

Levelling the air out with his hand,
his huge handsome head held low,
watching me caught in the spiral of words,
living again his own first thrill,
bringing out the marvel of it all.
It was the way he made things magical.
Partly it was his childlike sense,
his boyish charged excitedness,
as in our two days at the zoo
when, asked to be a wildebeest,
he made a tiger turn and snarl.
He paid court to a cockatoo,
and was a gibbon gibbon.
That great roar of laughter -
like his cry for Ha and Golding,
rippling round the rafters.
The way he ruminated over food,
as if an antique mystic thought
passed over in some foreign fare.
Or watching, from his own armchair,
him rewriting Ovid on his knee,
the words just running from his pen,
under the half dim table light,
while we buffooned upon the floor.
Or as he simply sat and read,
rubbing his shingled eye.
Later, out on a walk with him,
falling in with his rise and fall;
it was the way he moved the mud
to let trapped water out to play.
Or, set a subject, as we set out,
with what mastery he wrought it,
endlessly engaging and engaged.
Then, those long drifting drives round Devon,
sometimes at a funeral pace,
reading new poems while he drove along,  
questioning what this or that one meant.
We sketched out thirty books and schemes,
testing titles, shouting down the wind,
and piled the dirt on poets, politicians, friends.
He showed me all his ancient haunts,
and his folks me, in Devon and in York,
including the great Aunt Hilda,
and, in time, to most of those he knew
promoting me as agent and as friend.
Then there was his quite distinctive style
of leaning over bridges, his Barbour
hooked on his right-hand index finger,
guaging how high the water was,
half turned, one foot just off the ground,
pointing at the fish I could not see.
And that day of mackerel and bream
when the pressure fell below the graph
and, only just, we got inside the bar, then,
back home, babbled like ancient mariners.
Calling, merely for a chat.'What's new?
What's happened? Who's with who?'
or a thin message on the answer phone:
'It's only Ted; how are you?
I'll try the other line'.
Oh, we put the world to rights,
ripped up some reputations,
launched high gossip in the air.
Unnumbered rides to restaurants;
police-slow drives, to music, home;
the joy of quaffing rich mens' wine,
revelling in the sheer indulgence of it all.
Three muscateers: Carol, Ted, and me,
raising a glass to luck, and love, and us.
Late mornings; he was always late for meals.
Then our plans for merchant ventures -
trousers; shares; antiques; student lets -
him flirting with ideas, new explanations,
History was for living, not to learn,
scholars could keep the record right,
Magic's in a seance, saga, eagles' flight.
And yet how much his history was him.
One secret was the way he'd concentrate,
that word so early - adverbially -
in the famous fox he thought,
searching out the inner spirit,
the duende, of each thing.
His will to share his world;
to teach, to open up horizons,
making them what you most desired;
like being converted at your own front door.
He opened up so many things for me,
taught me how to train my mind,
and even how to fall asleep.
How wonderful the memories are
of all the pleasures that we shared:
of the bowl of light we once raised high upon a Devon hill;
or the angel that did truly fly on a wall in Gloucestershire.
The mighty hand that clasped electric when we met or went,
and his big slow bull-like turn back into home,
captured in my mirror as I inched out of the lane.
The seance we attended at your healer's house
with silly women and two flickering lamps
unsure about the good bits, or the fraud
who conjured up wild voices and events.
The walks down rivers, Nature murmuring,
content; our London lives beneath the radar.
Grateful also for your pheromonal smell;
for wild outbursts (letting off your steam);
for being so entirely free with me.
I loved your love of silence
and of the dusk and dawn;
your bible bond with Nature
and the sacred drama of the earth.
Your lion's eye; the hare bone in your ear,
the crush and crashing of the bear.
Your vast capacious mind,
that temple of your inner life;
as visionary, your cell.
The depth of your response,
your heightened sense,
your tact, your quite especial care.
The momentary jealousies;
the human flare.
And then your deep forgiveness.
For fishing; though I failed.
For having seen you cast
like Merlin laying on a spell.
For your passionate dispassion,
your sympathy; your courage;
your compassion.
For your legend'ry discretion, 
and for all the times you let me in.
Thank you for your fears about the world
and your dedication to yourself;
for your balance of perfection,
and powerful pursuit of it. For the thrill
of hearing that I'd done a good thing well.
I learned your sense of right and wrong
and felt you wait for me to grow aware.
I am in awe of your Shakespearean mind,
the great arc of your intellect,
your sacred talent and your skill,
the mingled music of your voice -
like God auditioning for Man.
Your wisdom and your love of life,
your way with words and metaphor,
your subtle insights and imagining,
your 'gusto', energy, and power.
The letters that lit up my days;
poems that made my mind fly free;
prose that forced the bended knee.
You were a purpose in my life;
a solid rock of reference;
still yet a presence in your empty chair.
You were loaned out by the gods,
retained their epic poise,
to see the cosmic broadbrush myth
and make mere men rejoice
at the complex complicatedness
of the spirit and the mind.
You were a seer, shaman, friend;
Coleridge-cum-Wordsworth - and Yourself.
A loss to Art, you have diminished life
for those you leave bereft behind.
But it is one function of the great
to force on us the contradiction
of whether more to celebrate the work
or lament the life's extinction.
For now, I'll touch on simple benefactions,
on favours unconditionally done,
on comradeship and love assumed,
on your kindness, and for being shy.
And most perhaps for letting me be there,
and being so uniquely mine,
as in other ways, each quite unique,
you touched the lives of many men,
bringing out the best in them.
Your friendship was a miracle to me.
I really cannot comprehend
all that mighty heart is lying still.

Roy Davids

 

The Day of his Funeral

A Poem in Memory of Ted Hughes by Roy Davids

They wrote that the rain drummed down
on the day of your cremation.
That's only partly true.The rain that started
as you were carried from the church
was gentle: soft and silky; smooth
as the finest kaolin slipping through
the fingers of Chinese potters, worried
that fifty years would not be enough
for their clay to mingle and mature.

It was as if angels were weeping
the first tears of a child,
so fine, so pure, so holy,
they should have been used to baptise
the next baby that was ever born.
All your gentleness in strength,
all your Yorkshire ways, all that
inscape you had found in Nature
were repaid in that evanescent veil.

We stood and watched you driven off -
with our tears, a heavier rain came down.

Roy Davids is a rare books and manuscripts dealer and friend of Ted Hughes. You can read other articles on his website www.roydavids.com

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