Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chaucer's April

To ring in April, no fooling, here is one of my favorite “April” poems. It’s from Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters, a collection of poems he wrote to Sylvia Plath after her death and published shortly before his own. It is one of my favorite poems.


‘Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote . . .’

At the top of your voice, where you swayed on the top of a stile,

Your arms raised – somewhat for balance, somewhat

To hold the reins of the straining attention

Of your imagined audience – you declaimed Chaucer

To a field of cows. And the Spring sky had done it

With its flying laundry, and the new emerald

Of the thorns, the hawthorn, the blackthorn.

And one of those bumpers of champagne

You snatched unpredictably from pure spirit.

Your voice went over the fields towards Grantchester.

It must have sounded lost. But the cows

Watched, then approached: they appreciated Chaucer.

You went on and on. Here were reasons

To recite Chaucer. Then came the Wyf of Bath,

Your favourite character in all literature.

You were rapt. And the cows were enthralled.

They shoved and jostled shoulders, making a ring,

To gaze into your face, with occasional snorts

Of exclamation, renewed their astounded attention,

Ears angling to catch every inflection,

Keeping their awed six feet of reverence

Away from you. You just could not believe it.

And you could not stop. What would happen

If you were to stop? Would they attack you,

Scared by the shock of silence, or wanting more – ?

So you had to go on. You went on –

And twenty cows stayed with you hypnotized.

How did you stop? I can’t remember

You stopping. I imagine they reeled away –

Rolling eyes, as if driven from their fodder.

I imagine I shooed them away. But

Your sostenuto rendering of Chaucer

Was already perpetual. What followed

Found my attention too full

And had to go back into oblivion.

– Ted Hughes, Birthday Letters

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