The Ted Hughes Cult

The Ted Hughes Cult

“You came behind me at
a helpless moment, as I
lowered a testing foot
into the running bath…”
—Ted Hughes, “The Offers,”
Collected Poems (2003)

How risque—how urgent!!!
What an—underworld momento!!!
What a sleazy—deus ex machina!!!
How crummy—can you get?!?
Making it—with your dead wife?!?
How vulnerable—poor nude Ted
Always the Victim—of Women
Gawd—it gets old after awhile
The same old—broken-record!!!

Always the same—old cobalt jewel
A flawless thing—priceless, facetted
Ho-hum—how he finesses the dead
Indolently their victim—down in Dis
Held hostage—left by Sylvia as bail
While she escapes—to Honolulu
Poor Ted—high on Nitrous Oxide
Fumes—underworld noxious gasses
A migraine headache—bugging him
Brazen hussy Sylvia—betraying him

It goes on & on—of course, my dears
Poor Ted—gets on the Northern Line
There at Leicester Square—sits down
Jaysus christ—there’s fucking Sylvia
Blank, pale—almost as yellow as
She was in the morgue—Dead
Poor Ted—shudders and squirms
Thank gawd—Sylvia ignores him
He gets off at Chalk Farm—but not
Before spitting—in her face first

So much for the—Ted Hughes Cult
White Goddess stuff—Robert Graves etc
Is it just Jungian junk—Mytholmroydian
Storytelling—North Yorkshire yakity-yak?
Overly self-conscious—play acting?
Pulling the heartstrings—of opera queens
Mytho-melodrama—for suicide addicts?
Yawn—c’mon please give me a break.
Hughes standing naked—by his bathtub
Vulnerable to—spirit-demon’s sexy allure?

Nice little piece of—mythological “closure”
If you believe in—that sort of baloney
An easy way out—a convenient cop-out for
The usual “knot of obsessions”—biographers
Ponder—counting angels on the head of
Ted’s pugnacious pusilaminous—pretty prick
Throw in the usual Suicide Cult—holy rollers
The klug Feminist—post-structuralists like
Jacqueline Rose—The Haunting of Ted Hughes
Everything everybody—a “textual entity”?

Hughes even throws in—the kitchen sink
Dredges up Shakespeare and the Goddess of
Complete Being—cuts & pastes the Plays
Finding the “Cure”—for his “Fatal Flaw”
That nasty “Wounding Blow”—afflicting the
Great Poet Laureate—his literary development
Stepping naked—back into the world again
No longer vulnerable—the Wicked Witch dead
Autobiographical “persona”—his great Gift
His Poetic Self offered—to spellbound Readers?


Middlebrook mentions in her Introduction on page xix that Hughes’ poem "The Offers" pretty much pulls everything together:

"The Offers" is the central poem in Hughes's work of self-mythologizing. It marks the turning point in his creative life, showing in a set of images how the poet's powers were summoned back to him following the two successive personal disasters of the suicides of women close to him.”

It was published in the London Sunday Times on October 18, 1998. Ten days later he died. It was his last poem to be published. I kept reading my way through Middlebrook’s My Husband—waiting anxiously to read “The Offers.”

Middlebrook knows how to draw-out the suspense—there’s her calling out a premonitory lament:

“When will the stone open its tomb?
You will not die, nor come home”

I mean like—what’s there left after that? A magical resurrection—a rock ‘n’ roll White Goddess wedding? Can we talk? Anyway, I read Middlebrook’s concluding words about “The Offers” in Chapter 10 “The Magical Dead (280-283).

In “The Offers” Hughes describes a dream in which Sylvia Plath returns from the underworld three times, offering herself to his understanding. He first encounters her on the Northern Line of the London Underground, two months after her death… At the second of Plath’s offers, she is young and has assumed a different identity—he recognizes she’s flirting with him…

Flirting with him? Why does Ted Hughes have to somehow get “sex” into everything? Sex and marriage are okay—but Sylvia’s dead. Deader than a doornail. What’s sex got to do with it? Does dreaming it make it kosher? Does necrophilia get a feed ride—even if it’s the White Goddess disguised cleverly as your Halloween Surprise Night of the Living Dead Hubby? C’mon, please give me a break!!!

On the third visit, Hughes is at home in a house he describes as “ruined.” Poor Ted—you’d think a Poet Laureate with plenty of Sylvia’s royalties coming his way could do better than that? A dive—a ghetto dumpy ruin? Naturally Ted’s naked (ho-hum, as if anybody cares)—running a bath, when Sylvia sneaks up behind him. Now she’s young and vivacious—ready to get it on. She’s more beautiful (naturally)—then he’s ever known her, and more “alive.” She “accosts” him—grabs him by the you-know-what. Unfortunately, Ted’s not young anymore—like born-again Sylvia. All he’s got is a—skinny Turkey gobbler with a scrawny neck.

Ah, but fear not! Romance is saved—by the sound of rushing water in the dirty bathtub. It evokes such a beautiful scene—reminding Hughes of his passion for fishing. Immersed in the river’s force—wading into deep waters and holding still. Relaxing his attention—releasing himself from the Dominatrix dominance of his bitchy wife. The bathtub is what saves Ted—carrying him deep into his “animal” nature.

According to Middlebrook, it’s while Hughes is “naked, vulnerable, undefended, receptive to her summons”—that he realizes that he’s been victimized by both Plath and the sublime being of The Goddess. The three episodes correspond to his shaman’s journey: a summoning by female spirits; an ordeal in the female underworld; and a return to his new butchy muy macho body!!!

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