Thursday, March 31, 2011

Finale: Ted Hughes explains Crow

This is the final portion of Ted Hughes reading at Adelaide, explaining his take on the Crow myth.

I will write more about it later, but from my perspective, having read it again after setting it aside for awhile, I can tell you that it makes me very sad, indeed. Very sad.

Perhaps I'm too invested in the characters involved, or perhaps my interpretation is skewed by other factors, but right here, right now, the brilliance of this poetry, and the imaginitive narrative sewing it all together, is rather overwhelmed by the human implications; in this telling, no one gets out alive, and that's fucking too bad.

Isn't it?


"This is another of (Crow's) little plays. This is just notes for a play, since apart from when he just writes a song about what happens, he just writes notes for a possible director or producer. Just the notes that you might base a play on - no dialogue, no anything else, but the same two characters that he's stuck with:"

(Notes for a Little Play)

First — the sun coming closer, growing by the minute.
Next — clothes torn off.
Without a goodbye
Faces and eyes evaporate.
Brains evaporate.
Hands arms legs feet head and neck
Chest and belly vanish
With all the rubbish of the earth.

And the flame fills all space.
The demolition is total
Except for two strange items remaining in the flames —
Two survivors, moving in the flames blindly.

Mutations — at home in the nuclear glare.

Horrors — hairy and slobbery, glossy and raw.

They sniff towards each other in the emptiness.

They fasten together. They seem to be eating each other.

But they are not eating each other.

They do not know what else to do.

They have begun to dance a strange dance.

And this is the marriage of these simple creatures —
Celebrated here, in the darkness of the sun,

Without guest or God.

"He goes through all his trials and eventually he comes to a great river. Beyond this river is the Happy Land but sitting beside this river, on his bank, is a horrendous woman, an enormous, grotesque and gigantic woman, who forces him to carry her across the river. By one means or another, she gets up on his shoulders and he enters the river. And he wades out over the gravel and the current deepens, and as he gets deeper into the water her weight begins to increase until he finally has to stop. But her weight goes on increasing and drives his feet down into the gravel of the bed of the river, and the water rises to his mouth, runs past his mouth, and at that point she asks him a question. He has to sing the answer and he has to have the right answer. He begins, and he sings and, as he sings - as he gets a little bit of rightness here and a little bit of rightness there - her weight lightens. He keeps on trying to chip a bit of her weight off with little rightnesses until, finally, she's back to the weight she was and he's able to climb out of the holes and go on across the river. But as he goes on across the river, her weight begins to increase again and the whole thing happens again. She asks him another question.

"All the questions relate back to his encounters and his experiences with this being that he's been looking for. So they are all questions about the relationship between man and women - or Man and Woman. So they're all really love questions. And they're all dilemma questions, because they don't have an answer. So, this is one of his answers. And the question is "who paid most?". So he begins with the river running past his mouth. And he's only a half creature, so he's completely unmusical. He begins to try and chip little bits of her weight off him:"


He loved her and she loved him.
His kisses sucked out her whole past and future or tried to
He had no other appetite
She bit him she gnawed him she sucked
She wanted him complete inside her
Safe and sure forever and ever
Their little cries fluttered into the curtains

Her eyes wanted nothing to get away
Her looks nailed down his hands his wrists his elbows
He gripped her hard so that life
Should not drag her from that moment
He wanted all future to cease
He wanted to topple with his arms round her
Off that moment's brink and into nothing
Or everlasting or whatever there was

Her embrace was an immense press
To print him into her bones
His smiles were the garrets of a fairy palace
Where the real world would never come
Her smiles were spider bites
So he would lie still till she felt hungry
His words were occupying armies
Her laughs were an assassin's attempts
His looks were bullets daggers of revenge
His glances were ghosts in the corner with horrible secrets
His whispers were whips and jackboots
Her kisses were lawyers steadily writing
His caresses were the last hooks of a castaway
Her love-tricks were the grinding of locks
And their deep cries crawled over the floors
Like an animal dragging a great trap
His promises were the surgeon's gag
Her promises took the top off his skull
She would get a brooch made of it
His vows pulled out all her sinews
He showed her how to make a love-knot
Her vows put his eyes in formalin
At the back of her secret drawer
Their screams stuck in the wall

Their heads fell apart into sleep like the two halves
Of a lopped melon, but love is hard to stop

In their entwined sleep they exchanged arms and legs
In their dreams their brains took each other hostage

In the morning they wore each other's face

"Finally, this is a song taught to him by an eskimo guide that he meets, who teaches him a lot of little stories and songs which become his defence. This eskimo shows him how to adjust himself to the circumstances - in a series of little childish stories. This is one of them. 'How Water Began to Play':"

(How Water Began to Play)

Water wanted to live
It went to the sun it came weeping back
Water wanted to live
It went to the trees they burned it came weeping back
They rotted they came weeping back
Water wanted to live
It went to the flowers they crumpled it came weeping back
It wanted to live
It went to the womb it met blood
It came weeping back
It went to the womb it met maggot and rottenness
It came weeping back it wanted to die

It went to time it came through the stone door
It came weeping back
It went searching through all time and space for nothingness
It came weeping back it wanted to die

Till it had no weeping left
It lay at the bottom of things
Utterly worn out
utterly clear

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