Wolves in Poetry

Following my previous post on wolf children and books featuring wolves I wanted to post this moving poem which was mentioned in one of the lists. It is written by Ted Hughes remembering the suicide of his then wife Sylvia Plath. Consumed by grief, Hughes and his young children are consoled by the wolves howling nightly nearby in London Zoo.

‘Life After Death’ Ted Hughes

What can I tell you that you do not know
Of the life after death?

Your son’s eyes, which had unsettled us
With your Slavic Asiatic
Epicanthic fold, but would become
So perfectly your eyes,
Became wet jewels,
The hardest substance of the purest pain
As I fed him in his high white chair.
Great hands of grief were wringing and wringing
His wet cloth of face. They wrung out his tears.
But his mouth betrayed you – it accepted
The spoon in my disembodied hand
That reached through from the life that had survived you.

Day by day his sister grew
Paler with the wound
She could not see or touch or feel, as I dressed it
Each day with her blue Breton jacket.

By night I lay awake in my body
The Hanged Man
My neck-nerve uprooted and the tendon
Which fastened the base of my skull
To my left shoulder
Torn from its shoulder-root and cramped into knots –
I fancied the pain could be explained
If I were hanging in the spirit
From a hook under my neck-muscle.

Dropped from life
We three made a deep silence
In our separate cots.

We were comforted by wolves.
Under that February moon and the moon of March
The Zoo had come close.
And in spite of the city
Wolves consoled us. Two or three times each night
For minutes on end
They sang. They had found where we lay.
And the dingos, and the Brazilian-maned wolves –
All lifted their voices together
With the grey Northern pack.

The wolves lifted us in their long voices.
They wound us and enmeshed us
In their wailing for you, their mourning for us,
They wove us into their voices. We lay in your death.
In the fallen snow, under falling snow.

As my body sank into the folk-tale
Where the wolves are singing in the forest
For two babes, who have turned, in their sleep,
Into orphans
Beside the corpse of their mother

About Lucy Northenra

Senior Lecturer in Literature, University of Hertfordshire
This entry was posted in OGOM: The Company of Wolves and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to Wolves in Poetry

  1. firekrank says:

    Beautiful poem. I’m not normally a fan of Hughes but this is incredibly moving. And the sound of wolves comfort or vocalising pain that transcends human language is an evocative image.

  2. Yes, I am going to be drawing on the closing image of the orphaned children and the wolves in my paper. Hughes is our best nature poet (troubled relationships aside) I love ‘Crow’ as a collection and also ‘Hawk in the Rain’ but as a woman of course I side with Plath – whose poetry is wonderful but deeply unsettling. Her father was an entomologist and so she uses a lot of bee imagery in her poems which interests me…I am still writing something on insects….

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