The horizons ring me like faggots,
Tilted and disparate, and always unstable.
Touched by a match, they might warm me,
And their fine lines singe
The air to orange
Before the distances they pin evaporate,
Weighting the pale sky with a soldier color.
But they only dissolve and dissolve
Like a series of promises, as I step forward.
There is no life higher than the grasstops
Or the hearts of sheep, and the wind
Pours by like destiny, bending
Everything in one direction.
I can feel it trying
To funnel my heat away.
If I pay the roots of the heather
Too close attention, they will invite me
To whiten my bones among them.
The sheep know where they are,
Browsing in their dirty wool-clouds,
Gray as the weather.
The black slots of their pupils take me in.
It is like being mailed into space,
A thin, silly message.
They stand about in grandmotherly disguise,
All wig curls and yellow teeth
And hard, marbly baas.
I come to wheel ruts, and water
Limpid as the solitudes
That flee through my fingers.
Hollow doorsteps go from grass to grass;
Lintel and sill have unhinged themselves.
Of people and the air only
Remembers a few odd syllables.
It rehearses them moaningly:
Black stone, black stone.
The sky leans on me, me, the one upright
Among all horizontals.
The grass is beating its head distractedly.
It is too delicate
For a life in such company;
Darkness terrifies it.
Now, in valleys narrow
And black as purses, the house lights
Gleam like small change.
Sylvia Plath (1930 – 1963)
This is a poem of place and SP lived in Yorkshire with Ted Hughes for a time and must have gone walking on the moors. I lived in Ilkley Yorkshire while studying so I can identify with these words as they convey the nature of the windswept moors.
Mention the word ‘wuthering’ and you immediately think of blustery winds, Yorkshire moors and Emily Bronte. And the title takes the mind to that most well-known of books ‘Wuthering Heights’. See this review.
S1 – Faggots and peat are a feature of moorland and were used as fuel, a faggot being defined as a bundle of sticks. The imagery is about sunset likened to the glow and death of singeing faggots. The sun catching the edges of cloud as it lowers in the sky. The moors are vast open expanses and the horizon features in all directions. Distances evaporate with the changing light like promises. SP touches an air of disappointment.
S2 – There is no life higher than the bending grasses and the odd sheep. The wind hurries with unending force bending nature in the prevailing direction. It hurries like destiny. SP stands out like a lone tree and must confront the onslaught as it continually chills. She wouldn’t want to stumble and join the white sheep-bones seen along the way in the heather. From my own experience there are vast tracks of land with little opportunity of shelter.
S3 – A very apt description of the moorland sheep. They do match the bleakness of the moors with their dirty wool-clouds – an appropriate combination of nouns. And of course they are used to the terrain. Grandmotherly disguise belies their more timid nature. And when alone on the moors you are in another world with only the sheep for company.
S4 – The track, ruts and grass clumps are likened to fallen architecture imagined as homes with hollow doorsteps the lintels and stills unhinged of people. The only conversation is from the wind which makes a few odd moaning syllables. The loneliness or solitude is reinforced. The repetition of black adds to the mood as well as implying it is now dark.
S5 – SP has sympathy for the grass terrified by the wind and the dark how can it survive. But SP is approaching the homeward descent and the lights of homes in the distance give anticipation of warmth and company in contrast to the moorland. The lights are likened to loose change. Indicating something personal that will give comfort when she returns. Something perhaps she has had with her all the time in her pocket which she now values very much.
Not that long later Sylvia plath had her final resting place in West Yorkshire for her grave is at St Thomas’ churhyard in the village of Heptonstall.