Heptonstall Cemetery by Ted Hughes
Wind slams across the tops.
The spray cuts upward.
You claw your way
Over a giant beating wing.
And Thomas and Walter and Edith
Are living feathers
Esther and Sylvia
Where all the horizons lift wings
A family of dark swans
And go beating low through storm-silver
Toward the Atlantic.
The title and epigraph are clearly borrowed from Emily Dickinson's poetry, 'Hope is the thing with feathers' and 'That love is all there is'.
It is a hauntingly, moving poetic novella about the accidental death of a wife and mother. It is cleverly and playfully written from three shifting viewpoints; that of the grieving husband (a Ted Hughes scholar), the Crow (his internal dialogue) and his two young sons. The interwoven references to Ted Hughes and therefore the relationship to his epic poem 'The Crow,' which was written after Sylvia Plath's suicide, helps embed the metaphor of crow as a grief reaction. Max Porter explained in an interview that 'the basic offering is that grief is many things, perching in the soul, light and dark, unfixed, moving, proportioned to the life'. Throughout the book grief and hope are intertwined and explored in a mix of poetry and prose. It is a terribly sad recounting of the days, weeks, months and years following the untimely and shocking death but is peppered with moments of joy and humor. The mood gradually takes flight as the slow process of healing is narrated.
Reading 'Grief is the thing with feathers' has helped me put my minor mum failures into perspective. It has also been an enriching experience in that it has pushed me to explore the emotional expressions of hope and grief in Emily Dickinson and Ted Hughes's poetry too.
'Hope' is the thing with feathers
By Emily Dickinson
"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
Unfortunately, 'Failure' could have easily been my F word of the week. I have not had a great week in my mum role and have failed twice (that I know of!). I managed to drag my youngest to school for an evening meeting about his foreign exchange trip only to find we were a day early. It wouldn't have been too bad if we had could have slunk home un-noticed BUT the boarders from his year group were lining up to go into a prep-class and questioned us as to what we were doing. I could tell my son was not happy at the public humiliation however he was quite kind to me. The second fail (same child!) was to find out that I hadn't managed to follow instructions and he was therefore not booked onto next years Rugby Tour in Canada. I did feel awful but the upside is that we have a bit more money in next year's family holiday pot. Looking for those silver linings is the main thing that keeps me going sometimes.
Ted Hughes Quote:
Prose, narratives, etcetera, can carry healing.
Poetry does it more intensely.
Obviously, failure did not seem to be a life affirming word to dwell on and I certainly was keen to move swiftly on so I searched around and settled on feathers. My fails for the week were luckily punctuated with the odd proud moment. I was proud that I had managed to read several books within the last few weeks. Since studying for my Open University English Degree I have found it hard to find time to read books that are not on my official reading list. However, I am coming to the end of my summer term and the long holiday is stretching out in-front of me. I have therefore started to read the books that catch my eye and that led me to explore other works.
This week I read 'Grief is the thing with feathers' by Max Porter.
That Love is all there is,
Is all we know of Love;
It is enough, the freight should be
Proportioned to the groove.
Epigraph by Max Porter
That Crow is all there is,
Is all we know is Crow;
It is enough, the crow should be
Proportioned to the crow