Unknown trees, Ted Hughes, a poem and rabbits!

Happy New Year to everyone.  My aim this year is to post more regularly here, once a week if I can, and I’m thinking that Sunday might be the day for it.  Let’s see.

Christmas has been and gone.  This year the cost-effectiveness and renewability of an artificial tree appealed, so we set out on 14th December to buy one.  Neither Andrew (my husband) or I are good in crowds so deciding to tour shops selling Christmas trees in the middle of December wasn’t our finest hour.  And the colours, the shapes, the sizes, the prices were never right.  Plus there was so much noise outside Santa’s grottoes (how magnanimous of him to build one in every shop).  So we came home without a tree.  But we always have a tree in our house sometime after 13th December (which is my birthday).  It’s the final week of school and I like to think that our street, with lit-up trees in so many windows, brightens people’s spirits as they trudge passed on those final days of school and work.

So here’s what we did: armed with a step-ladder and a hack-saw, we went into our back garden and sawed off some branches of an over-hanging tree (the tree-edged grounds of a secondary school back onto the end of our garden).  Then we dragged it into the house, fastened it into the usual stand and hung baubles and lights on it.  I wish I’d taken a photo of the bare tree (or, even better, the step-ladder moment) but here are a few once it was decorated.

I have no idea what species of tree this is but it certainly wasn’t evergreen, as tradition dictates, and my not knowing about the names of trees and plants reminds me of the time I met Ted Hughes, in 1992, at Totleigh Barton.

It was June, I was on a Starting to Write course run by the two founders of Arvon, John Moat and John Fairfax, and a rumour went round that Ted Hughes, an early supporter of Arvon and friends with Michael Baldwin who was the visiting writer for the course, was going to join us for our evening meal and stay for Michael’s reading afterwards.

Far too shy to do anything but stare at him as we ate our communal meal around the huge farmhouse table, I was determined to say something as all twenty or so of us moved into one of the large sitting rooms.  Shaking with nerves, I went to sit next to him on a window seat.

I said something stupid and bumbling like “Hello, I’m sorry that I haven’t read very much of your poetry.”

“That’s alright,” he said, rather kindly.

“But I’ve never forgotten that poem about the crow,” I said, feeling more confident because of his friendliness, “that bit about its beak, bouncing and stabbing the ground.  I read that at school.  That’s always stayed with me.”

Ted looked at me for a second and I sensed that something was wrong.

“It was a thrush,” he said.

As soon as he saw how embarrassed I was, he immediately became even kinder.  “I write these poems,” he said “and I really have no idea if anyone understands what they’re about” (clearly, I didn’t).

Then we went on to talk about how much I didn’t know about animals, flowers and plants and the countryside and then (fortunately)  Michael Baldwin began reading, the embarrassment passed and it was another warm, wine and conversation-filled, enriching evening at Totleigh Barton.

I never met Ted Hughes again but if I ever mention this anecdote, you can be sure that other ‘Ted tales’ surface.  He was clearly a hard-working poet, visiting lots of schools,  and so on,  to give readings, and sometimes it feels as if everyone has a Ted Hughes Story which led me to write this poem which New Linear Perspectives kindly published last year.

And as for the Christmas tree, my daughter hated it, naming it the Christmas twig and I felt bad.  But I’ll tell you this much, now that we’ve dismantled it, our rabbits love it.  I put it into their hutch (since I know they like chewing on bark and branches) and I figured that if they didn’t want to eat it, they’d ignore it.  But they have devoured almost every last scrap of it.  So it really has been an efficient Christmas but perhaps we’ll try something different next year.

….and talking about rabbits…. well you know there is already a post about them.  In fact Poetry in Rabbits was my most viewed post of 2013.  Who knows what 2014 has in store?!

12 thoughts on “Unknown trees, Ted Hughes, a poem and rabbits!”

  1. Ah Josephine, I am so jealous! Loved your Ted Hughes anecdote – there are some fun poems about meeting TH, so he clearly had an effect on future poets! I never met him, but like a lot of kids in the seventies doing English O level, I loved his stuff and it made me see poetry in a whole new light. The weird thing is back then it didn’t occur to me he was even still alive, let alone doing so many school visits, or else I would have badgered my English teacher to try to get him in! Duh! Then again I was a bit silly (more silly?) in those days. Thanks for a lovely blog post, looking forward to seeing more! And Happy New Year too 🙂


    1. It’s interesting to think of which poets people will be writing about in the future. I really regret not going to the T S Eliot Readings a few years back (in 2010, was it?) when Seamus Heaney read. He’s one poet I wish I’d met or at least heard read. Happy New Year to you, Robin and thanks for commenting 🙂 – and you, silly? – never!


  2. Hughes had a similar experience in America which he mentions in his letters He often bemoaned the fact that nobody understood his poetry. Auden said something similar ‘ … but who would get it’.


    1. I dipped in and out of his letters last year – interesting reading. I suppose it is a constant concern of any artist; anyway, meaning is owned by readers as much as writers. Thanks very much for your comment.


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