Thursday 3 November 2011

November: The Month of the Drowned Dog

No review today. Instead I’m posting a poem: a Ted Hughes’ poem, to mark the fact that his funeral took place today in 1998. And the poem is... November. This was one of the first Hughes poems’ I read, in a school ‘O’ Level anthology (Poets of Our Time, edited by FES Finn) and I can still remember how new and exciting his work seemed, and the shock of the opening sentence of this poem.

By coincidence it has just been announced that a memorial to Hughes will be placed in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey on December 6, at a special dedication service, with a reading by Hughes’ friend and fellow poet Seamus Heaney. There is already a memorial stone on Dartmoor.

I’m not going to attempt to analyse the poem, as I think it speaks for itself, but I’ve always thought it seems much closer to the reality of a cold, wet autumn than Keats’ season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. 


The month of the drowned dog. After long rain the land
Was sodden as the bed of an ancient lake.
Treed with iron and was bird less. In the sunk lane
The ditch – a seep silent all summer –

Made brown foam with a big voice: that, and my boots
On the lanes scrubbed stones, in the gulleyed leaves
Against the hill’s hanging silence;
Mist silvering the droplets on the bare thorns

Slower than the change of daylight.
In a let of the ditch a tramp was bundled asleep.
Face tucked down into beard, drawn in
Under his hair like a hedgehog’s. I took him for dead,

But his stillness separated from the death
From the rotting grass and the ground. The wind chilled,
And a fresh comfort tightened through him,
Each hand stuffed deeper into the other sleeve.

His ankles, bound with sacking and hairy hand,
Rubbed each other, resettling. The wind hardened;
A puff shook a glittering from the thorns,
And again the rains’ dragging grey columns

Smudged the farms. In a moment
The fields were jumping and smoking; the thorns
Quivered, riddled with the glassy verticals.
I stayed on under the welding cold

Watching the tramp’s face glisten and the drops on his coat
Slash and darken. I thought what strong trust
Slept in him- as the trickling furrows slept,
And the thorn roots in their grip on darkness;

And the buried stones taking the weight of winter;
The hill where the hare crouched with clenched teeth.
Rain plastered the land till it was shining
Like hammered lead, and I ran, and in the rushing wood

Shuttered by a black oak leaned.
The keeper’s gibbet had owls and hawks
By the neck, weasels, a gang of cats, crows:
Some stiff, weightless, twirled like dry bark bits

In the drilling rain. Some still had their shape,
Had their pride with it; hung, chins on chests,
Patient to outwait these worst days that beat
Their crowns bare and dripped from their feet.

A memorial stone to Ted Hughes
on Dartmoor

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