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Wodwo -- Ted Hughes

Guest poem submitted by David McKelvie,  :
(Poem #1550) Wodwo
 What am I? Nosing here, turning leaves over
 Following a faint stain on the air to the river's edge
 I enter water. Who am I to split
 The glassy grain of water looking upward I see the bed
 Of the river above me upside down very clear
 What am I doing here in mid-air? Why do I find
 this frog so interesting as I inspect its most secret
 interior and make it my own? Do these weeds
 know me and name me to each other have they
 seen me before do I fit in their world? I seem
 separate from the ground and not rooted but dropped
 out of nothing casually I've no threads
 fastening me to anything I can go anywhere
 I seem to have been given the freedom
 of this place what am I then? And picking
 bits of bark off this rotten stump gives me
 no pleasure and it's no use so why do I do it
 me and doing that have coincided very queerly
 But what shall I be called am I the first
 have I an owner what shape am I what
 shape am I am I huge if I go
 to the end on this way past these trees and past these trees
 till I get tired that's touching one wall of me
 for the moment if I sit still how everything
 stops to watch me I suppose I am the exact centre
 but there's all this what is it roots
 roots roots roots and here's the water
 again very queer but I'll go on looking
-- Ted Hughes
Favourite poems are an odd thing. They're not necessarily the best in the
world and almost certainly not the worst. They just creep up and stick
there. I can't really say why Wodwo is my favourite poem but since I first
read it (sitting in Hamilton Library, drying off from the rain, staying in
the Main Section rather than going to study upstairs in the Reference
Section) it has stuck with me.

At first it confused me. "What's Wodwo? Is it a thing? What kind of creature
is it? Is this a poem about Hughes in the forest? Is it an animal in the
forest?" It's a poem of confusion. But with that confusion there was also an
exhilaration at the language, the lack of punctuation, at questions like
"What am I doing here in mid-air? Why do I find this frog so interesting as
I inspect its most secret / interior and make it my own? Do these weeds know
me ... do I fit in their world?" The sheer breathlessnesss of it all hit me

The poem is one big long question, summed up in the first three words. To
the little lost student I was at the time it came to to be the most
important thing in the world. And of course it wasn't then and it isn't now.
It's not Hughes' best poem, and it's not his worst. But it is my favourite.

Oh, and what *is* a wodwo? I wrote an article about this poem some time ago
and you can get the answer there if you want:
Well, co-wrote. My knowledge of Middle English is slightly lacking!


Ted Hughes on the Minstrels:
  Poem #42, Hawk Roosting
  Poem #98, The Thought Fox
  Poem #417, Thistles
  Poem #671, Lineage
  Poem #723, Full Moon and Little Frieda
  Poem #768, Theology
  Poem #882, Wind
  Poem #1306, A Cranefly in September
  Poem #1550, Wodwo

47 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

anne_gibson said...

I suppose it has the potential to ruin the poem in light of David's
well-written article, but my first thought on the identity of the speaker
(and I still maintain it) was "golden retriever". I can see the calm
curiosity of a retriever sniffing through the leaves and following scents,
chasing frogs and then relaxing on a warm fallen log... or maybe pawing at
it to see if it's got any good smells. A lost dog might ask all of these
questions, not in an anxious rush, but more in a "I'll get around to it"
mood, yet ever pressing forward.


kafkatrial said...

I think the poem is mystical in its simplicity of language.The mystical experience is hard to contain.The questioning persona does not stop;the dynmics;the slow creep contribute to the gothic mystery.

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