To follow ‘I have a noble cock’, one more phallic poem for the road. This one also involves an avian creature…
The Yorkshireman and former poet Laureate Ted Hughes (1930-1998), apart from having been Sylvia Plath’s husband, was best known for his nature poems. His vision of nature is very much ‘red in tooth and claw’ – bloody, savage, unforgiving, bordering occasionally on the hellish. He was a careful and honest observer of nature, from the soaring free flight of a swallow to the disastrous miscarriages of sheep on rain sodden moors.
But Hughes other great preoccupation was myth and religion. His vision of the spiritual world was no less savage than his vision of the material world. It was also darkly humorous.
In his 1970 collection, Crow, Hughes imagines a mythos based around a capricious, scrawny, ever-hungry, semi-divine but not otherwise admirable figure known only as Crow (who is, by the way, a crow). Each poem describes a different episode of Crow’s life, an episode that is a myth that helps to explain a cruel and pitiless world.
‘A Childish Prank’ reimagines the origin of the sex drive in men and women (which some of us have often suspected of being a cosmic joke at our expense.) Crow plays a rather crucial part. It is, I should warn readers, a little on the disgusting side, and – if taken too seriously – somewhat blasphemous…
A Childish Prank
Man’s and woman’s bodies lay without souls,
Dully gaping, foolishly staring, inert
The problem was so great, it dragged him asleep.
He bit the Worm, God’s only son,
Into two writhing halves.
He stuffed into man the tail half
With the wounded end hanging out.
He stuffed the head headfirst into woman
And it crept in deeper and up
To peer out through her eyes
Calling its tail-half to join up quickly, quickly
Because O it was painful.
Man awoke being dragged across the grass.
Woman awoke to see him coming,
Neither knew what had happened.
God went on sleeping.
Crow went on laughing.
From Crow, Ted Hughes, Faber and Faber, 1970