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March 16, 2013

Thistles by Ted Hughes

by Mark Meynell
Painted Lady on Creeping thistle

Came across this highly evocative reflection on the archaeological secrets hidden under fields, in a sublime little book from Eland, The Ruins of Time (in their lovely Poetry of Place series).

This is what editor Anthony Thwaite has to say about it:

When Ted Hughes was an undergraduate at Cambridge in the early 1950s, he switched from English to Archaeology and Anthropology; and though I feel Hughes’s anthropological interests were probably stronger than his archaeological ones, there seems to be a strong flavour of what one could call linguistic archaeology in his poem Thistles. Remember that Hughes came from a partly Viking enclave of Yorkshire. (p46)

Eland - Ruins of Time

Thistles

by Ted Hughes

Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men
Thistles spike the summer air
And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.

Every one a revengeful burst
Of resurrection, a grasped fistful
Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up

From the underground stain of a decayed Viking.
They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects.
Every one manages a plume of blood.

Then they grow grey like men.
Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear
Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground.

Painted Lady on Creeping thistle

Painted Lady on Creeping thistle (Geography.org.uk – Wiki Commons)

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