Monday, December 17, 2007


This is the title of the fourteenth anthology of Ted Hughes's poetry. The English poet laureate was always at his best looking into the deep mythical world of the animal kingdom, whether in short stories on the creation of animals and birds, or on the majestically indifferent solipsism of a hawk roosting. Hughes was, and remains, a source of my own writing inspiration. You will find direct echoes of his work in my online poetry cycle, Two Ravens, although of course he was not one much for the ravens, preferring other corvidae.

Wolfwatching, however has specific resonance for me. It was first published in 1989, around the time I finished my first year in the local university, and it immediately became the companion to my online life in the networks that existed at that time. Few people caught on, but the wandering wolf was a creature straight out of Hughes. The title poem hit me hard; it portrays an old wolf and a young one. The old one is already ruined by time in the zoo; the young one is confident of his powers, but he will be ruined too. Here are excerpts:

...     And here
Is a young wolf, still intact.
He knows how to lie, with his head,
The Asiatic eyes, the gunsights
Aligned effortless in the beam of his power...

He's hanging
Upside down on the wire
Of non-participation.
He's a tarot-card, and he knows it.
He can howl all night
And dawn will pick up the same card
And see him painted on it, with eyes
Like doorframes in a desert
Between nothing and nothing.

Reading that poem again and again, I knew that young wolf was who I was. To some extent, it is still that wolf I am sometimes, confined in a system that is slowly leaching the iron vitality from me. What use is the totipotent package that is the heritage of wolves, the nobility of the pack, the steel intelligence and the relentless vision? No use at all, the poet seems to say, and yet, perhaps between nothing and nothing, there is a solution – or an absolution.


Note: Students of war poetry might want to compare and contrast Hughes's Anthem For Doomed Youth, also in this volume, with Wilfred Owen's poem of the same title. It is an interesting exercise.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home