Monday, February 9, 2009

Sunday by Ted Hughes

I went out shopping for a few items of groceries. The pavement outside the co-op is fairly wide. Occasionally, people set up shop there to sell non-food merchandise. The next door cafe lays out tables and chairs weather permitting in the continental style. It is I think a branch of a Greek restaurant chain. There are some benches scattered about to rest the tired feet donated in memory of a dear departed or perhaps courtesy of the local council. The raised flower beds look pretty in season. During the term time around three thirtyish when the schools in the area close for the day the place hums with adolescent energy and the inside of the co-op turns into a beehive of peckish activity until they are lifted by buses and taken to their various destinations.

On this occasion I found some tables loaded with books. At the first glance they appeared to be heaped together unsorted but on a closer examination they were displayed, divided in different categories - science fiction, art, poetry, architecture and so on.

The sale was overseered by three petite elderly ladies who were familiar with the books they were offering. Perhaps it was their own personal collection or may be it was benign indulgence in profitable tai chi chuan.

I do not like reading foul words or abusive language in a writing. It is generally the refuge of semi literates to hide the paucity of their skill and to conceal the inadequacy of vocabulary at their command. Or possibly an embedded streak of whatever, demands a public display of coarseness and vulgarity and the urge is not satisfied until the muck is spread far and wide. But there is one instance, in my knowledge, when heavy invectives have been used when I felt the sentiments and emotions needed to be expressed on the occasion could not otherwise be expressed.

It was or is the poem V by Tony Harrison. The poem created a great stir when it was published in 1985. It is likely to remain an outstanding example of contemporary narrative poetry. He has reproduced the foul words of the graffiti daubed on the graves of his parents and on other graves in the cemetery. If these vituperations are removed from the poem it loses all its depth and intensity and the vivid portrayal of a vandalised graveyard turns into a lifeless necropolis of dead verses.

On one of the tables I saw some poetic titles and started rummaging through them looking for a book by Harrison to reacquaint myself with V. I did not find any but chanced upon Wodwo by Ted Hughes. I had never read him before so I paid the sum pencilled in on the inner cover and took it home.

This is not the kind of book which you begin at the beginning and put it down after reaching the last page. It is the kind of book which needs to be savoured. Read it when you want to enter a world of enigma and imagination and put it down to return to a seemingly sane world.

It contains some stories, a play and several poems of which perhaps Wodwo is better known for it provides the title of the book.

There are altogether six short stories in the collection, most of them enigmatic surrealistic and hallucinatory all of them with a haunting quality. The Rain Horse for example leaves the reader with an uncertain feeling whether there was really a horse or a creation of the visitor's troubled imagination. He returns to a place which he remembers with love and affection but finds instead an inclement weather which takes the shape of a frightening horse.

Rain was dissolving land and sky together like a wet water colour as the afternoon darkened. He concentrated raising his head, searching the skyline from end to end. The horse had vanished. The hill looked lifeless and desolate, an island lifting out of the sea, awash with every tide.......
The ordeal with the horse had already sunk from reality. It hung under the surface of his mind, an obscure confusion of fright and shame, as after a narrowly-escaped street accident.
{From Ted Hughes, Wodwo: Faber and Faber: 1985}

There is probably not a single village or urban neighbourhood in Britain which is not served by a public house commonly known as a pub. It is a place where alcoholic drinks are sold and consumed. However, it is not only a purveyor of inebriation but also a place for social interaction. The pub circuit patronises artistes, musicians and novelty performers and entertainers. In fact it is seen as one of the places where artistic talent is tested and groomed. It is also an established venue for the game of darts.

Since the main actors in Sunday are two rats I felt that I could not do justice to them in my overview of the story and it is better read without third party intervention. But after a great deal of soul searching I thought perhaps I should attempt it as an exercise in search of meaning and as an endeavour to look behind the metaphor.

It is in a pub that the story unfolds itself. It is multi-layered replete with a collage of symbolism.
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{N.B. The story is not in the public domain. So there appear to be no links to it on the web.}