Shifting my clarities (opheliablue) wrote,
Shifting my clarities

The Offers (from Howls & Whispers) - Ted Hughes

At last I get the one I find most moving and intriguing typed up. From 'Howls & Whispers' (originally part of Birthday Letters - about Sylvia Plath)

The Offers

Only two months dead
And there you were, suddenly back within reach.
I got on the Northern Line at Leicester Square
And sat down and there you were. And there
The dream started that was no dream.
I stared and you ignored me.
Your part in the dream was to ignore me.
Mine was to be invisible - helplessly
Unable to manifest myself.
Simply a blank, bodiless gaze - I rested
The whole weight of my unbelieving stare
On your face, impossibly real and there.
Not much changed, unchanging under my pressure.
You only shuddered slightly as the carriage
Bored through the earth Northward.
You seemed older - death had aged you a little.
Paler, almost yellowish, as you had been
In the morgue, but impassive.
As if the unspooling track and shudder of the journey
Were the film of your life that occupied you.
Your gaze, inward, resisted my gaze.
Your basket on your knee, heavy with packages.
Your handbag on a long strap. Your hands
Folded over the heap. Unshifting
My gaze leaned against you as a gaze
Might lean its cheek on a hand. The impossible
Went on sharing your slight shuddering, your eyelids,
Your lips lightly pursed, your melancholy,
Just as in the dream that insists
On the plainly impossible, and lasts
Second after second after second,
Growing more and more incredible -
As if you slowly turned your face and slowly
Smiled full in my face, daring me
There, among the living, to speak to the dead.
But you seemed not to know the part you were playing.
And just as in the dream, I did not speak.
Only tried to separate the memory
Of your face from this new face you wore.
If you got out at Chalk Farm, I told myself,
I would follow you home. I would speak.
I would make some effort to seize
This offer, this saddened substitute
Returned to me by death, revealed to me
There in the Underground - surely as if
For my examination and approval.
Chalk Farm came. I got up. You stayed.
It was the testing moment.
I lifted your face from you and took it
Outside, onto the platform, in this dream
Which was the whole of London's waking life.
I watched you move away, carried away
Northwards, back into the abyss,
Your real new face unaltered, lit, unwitting,
Still visible for seconds, then gone,
Leaving me my original emptiness
Of where you had been and abruptly were not.

But everything is offered three times.
And suddenly you were sitting in your own home.
Young as before, untouched by death. Like
A hallucination - not to be blinked away.
A migraine image - warping my retina.
You seemed to have no idea you were yourself.
Even borrowing the name of your oldest rival -
As if it had lain handiest. Yet you were
So much yourself my brain's hemispheres
Seemed to have twisted slightly out of phase
To know you you yet realise that you
Were not you. To see you you and yet
So brazenly continuing to be other.
You had even kept your birthdate - exact
As a barb on the impossibility.
And lived only two miles from where we had lived.
Other spirits colluded in a support team
Of new parents for you, a new brother.
You courted me all over again - covertly.
I breathed a bewildering air - the gas
Of the underworld in which you moved so easy
And had your new being. You told me
The dream of your romantic life, that had lasted
Throughout our marriage, there in Paris - as if
You had never returned until now.
Death had repossessed your talent. Or maybe
Had converted it to a quieter thing -
A dumbly savage longing, a submerged
Ferocity of longing in eyes
So weirdly unaltered. I struggled awhile
In my doubled alive and dead existence.
I thought: 'This is coincidence - the mere
Inertia of my life's momentum, trying
To keep things as they were, as if the show
Must at all costs go on, same masks, same parts,
No matter who the actors.' Gasping for air,
At the bottom of the Rhine, barely conscious,
Indolently like somebody drowning
I kicked free.
Your gentle ultimatum relaxed its hold.
True to your ghostly humour, next thing
You sent me a pretty card from Honolulu.
After that, an afterworld memento,
Every year a card from Honolulu.
It seemed you had finessed your return to the living
By leaving me as your bail, a hostage stopped
In the land of the dead.
                                 Less and less
Did I think of escape.
Even in my dreams, our house was in ruins.
But suddenly - the third time - you were there.
Younger than I had ever known you. You
As if new made, half a wild roe, half
A flawless thing, priceless, facetted
Like a cobalt jewel. You came behind me
(At my helpless moment, as I lowered
A testing foot into the running bath)
And spoke - peremptory, as a familiar voice
Will startle out of a river's uproar, urgent,
Close: 'This is the last. This one. This time
Don't fail me.'

- TH
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