They’re out of the dark’s ragbag, these two
Moles dead in the pebbled rut,
Shapeless as flung gloves, a few feet apart —-
Blue suede a dog or fox has chewed.
One, by himself, seemed pitiable enough,
Little victim unearthed by some large creature
From his orbit under the elm root.
The second carcass makes a duel of the affair:
Blind twins bitten by bad nature.
The sky’s far dome is sane and clear.
Leaves, undoing their yellow caves
Between the road and the lake water,
Bare no sinister spaces. Already
The moles look neutral as the stones.
Their corkscrew noses, their white hands
Uplifted, stiffen in a family pose.
Difficult to imagine how fury struck —-
Dissolved now, smoke of an old war.
Nightly the battle-snouts start up
In the ear of the veteran, and again
I enter the soft pelt of the mole.
Light’s death to them: they shrivel in it.
They move through their mute rooms while I sleep,
Palming the earth aside, grubbers
After the fat children of root and rock.
By day, only the topsoil heaves.
Down there one is alone.
Outsize hands prepare a path,
They go before: opening the veins,
Delving for the appendages
Of beetles, sweetbreads, shards — to be eaten
Over and over. And still the heaven
Of final surfeit is just as far
From the door as ever. What happens between us
Happens in darkness, vanishes
Easy and often as each breath.
Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes attended ‘Yaddo’ the artist retreat at Saratoga Springs, New York for eleven weeks between September and November 1959. This was one of the poems she wrote at that time. The poem followed her experience of finding two dead moles on the path while walking in the area.
Part 1 … the encounter …
S1 … a description on an unexpected sight … nice comparison with a couple of dropped gloves … she feels pity for them at the hands of some large creature … and they have left their underworld life – the world in which they ‘orbit’ … they could have been twins and had a fight … S1 ends by reflecting that this is ’bad nature’ – projecting her values on what she sees … seemingly the pointless death of the two creatures
S2 … it might have been a clear autumn sky on her walk and there is great contrast between the underground mystery dirt-orbit of the mole and the dome of clarity in the sky in the first line of this stanza …there is no evidence of their burrow from disturbing the surface leaves … they have been neutralised by coming to the surface and being killed become blended with the ground … SP always has a knack of using interesting words – ‘corkscrew noses’ … and then the closing thought how did this happen … the fury of the attack over – only the smoke of battle
Part 2 … the life of the mole personified …
S3 … SP enters the skin of the animal and goes to battle for mole food … imagining what it’s like down there while she is sleeping – the only evidence she has is the above ground mole-hills created as they tunnel … I don’t know though whether they are ‘alone’ presumably moles have underground families … note their killing for food appears legitimate in contrast to the death of the moles
S4 … SP concentrates on the foraging for food aspect … heaven is equated to a surfeit of food (well my dog Rani would agree!) … but what happens down there happens in darkness and continues constantly akin to our breathing in and out … the endless strive for nourishment and the maintenance of existence
SP wrote this on her stay stay at ‘Yaddo’ . She was aged 27 and pregnant with Frieda … not quite knowing where she was going with her work … perhaps at the time more interested in stories than poetry … and in the shadow of TH … in December 1959 the couple would return to England … in three years (Oct 62) much would have changed in her life – she would be separated from TH, in London, with two young children and bravely surviving the mental trauma that plagued her life as she penned her ‘Ariel’ poems. Her definitive work much recognised after her death.