Monday, February 22, 2010

Trenches Full of Poets

I visited Spain for the first time a few days after graduating from high school. I spent most of my time there feeling frantic, and wrote nearly two dozen poems in the two weeks we were there. It's one of the most intense places I've ever been, and I both loved and hated it.

I'd like to write more about it one day and share some of the poems I wrote there, but I think it will be some time before I can do that, so instead, I'm posting "You Hated Spain," one of my favorite poems by Ted Hughes, and one which I think captures the place as it is in my mind.

You Hated Spain
Ted Hughes, from Birthday Letters (1998)

Spain frightened you.
Spain.
Where I felt at home.
The blood-raw light,
The oiled anchovy faces, the African
Black edges to everything, frightened you.
Your schooling had somehow neglected Spain.
The wrought-iron grille, death and the Arab drum.
You did not know the language, your soul was empty
Of the signs, and the welding light
Made your blood shrivel.
Bosch Held out a spidery hand and you took it
Timidly, a bobby-sox American.
You saw right down to the Goya funeral grin
And recognized it, and recoiled
As your poems winced into chill, as your panic
Clutched back towards college America.
So we sat as tourists at the bullfight
Watching bewildered bulls awkwardly butchered,
Seeing the grey-faced matador, at the barrier
Just below us, straightening his bent sword
And vomiting with fear. And the horn
That hid itself inside the blowfly belly
Of the toppled picador punctured
What was waiting for you. Spain
Was the land of your dreams: the dust-red cadaver
You dared not wake with, the puckering amputations
No literature course had glamorized.
The juju land behind your African lips.
Spain was what you tried to wake up from
And could not. I see you, in moonlight,
Walking the empty wharf at Alicante
Like a soul waiting for the ferry,
A new soul, still not understanding,
Thinking it is still your honeymoon
In the happy world, with your whole life waiting,
Happy, and all your poems still to be found.

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