As I was searching for poems related to our current bimonthly theme Festival of Asian Literature and the Immigrant Experience, I came across this poem by Ted Hughes entitled Wodwo. While the poem is not about the Asian culture per se, I thought that the core and the essence of this poem touches the very soul of the immigrant experience with the unremitting search for one’s self, the avid questioning of one’s identity, and the universal desire to find home. As I read through it, I thought that it would be a perfect contribution to Poetry Friday which is hosted this week by the fabulous, the beautiful, the incredibly talented Jama Rattigan from Jama’s Alphabet SoupMake sure that you check out her round-up post which I am certain would be tastefully crafted for everyone’s delectation and aesthetic pleasure.

I confess that I am not as familiar with Ted Hughes’ work as I should be. I know him tangentially through Sylvia Plath whose The Bell Jar, deliciously-dark poetry, and the movie Sylvia painted a less-than-flattering portrait of Hughes. I also knew that he was quite the attractive fellow, but I did not realize just how handsome until I searched for a few of his images to be included in this post. No wonder. He has the eyes of a heartbreaker.

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath during their honeymoon. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

I also learned that this poem marked a different turn in Hughes’ writing, since it is more experimental, exploratory, and touches on mythology. Apparently, wodwo refers to the wild man. Jack of Sweatshirt Poesy describes wodwo as “a missing link of sorts between forest creatures – such as elves and nymphs – and modern man.” It is this elusive quest for the purpose of one’s existence, the burning need to situate one’s self in a particular space and define one’s self in it and discover ‘roots roots roots’- that provided, for me, that tenuous link to the immigrant experience.

Wodwo by Ted Hughes

What am I? Nosing here, turning leaves over
Following a faint stain on the air to the river’s edge
I enter water. Who am I to split
The glassy grain of water looking upward I see the bed
Of the river above me upside down very clear
What am I doing here in mid-air? Why do I find
this frog so interesting as I inspect its most secret
interior and make it my own? Do these weeds
know me and name me to each other have they
seen me before do I fit in their world? I seem
separate from the ground and not rooted but dropped
out of nothing casually I’ve no threads
fastening me to anything I can go anywhere
I seem to have been given the freedom
of this place what am I then? And picking
bits of bark off this rotten stump gives me
no pleasure and it’s no use so why do I do it
me and doing that have coincided very queerly
But what shall I be called am I the first
have I an owner what shape am I what
shape am I am I huge if I go
to the end on this way past these trees and past these trees
till I get tired that’s touching one wall of me
for the moment if I sit still how everything
stops to watch me I suppose I am the exact centre
but there’s all this what is it roots
roots roots roots and here’s the water
again very queer but I’ll go on looking

How about you Poetry Friday folks, are you still looking?

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Singapore. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she serves as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads or meeting up with her book club friends, she is smashing that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life.

6 comments on “Poetry Friday: Ted Hughes’ Wodwo

  1. Good Morning, Fabulous, Beautiful and Incredibly Talented Myra! 🙂

    Wow! Mr. Hughes is quite the hunk. I didn’t realize, but that first photo — yes, definitely a heartbreaker.

    And what a poem. I see why you tied it to the immigrant experience. The earnest search for a new identity can indeed be very elusive, and when you’re living between cultures, trying to find firm footing, it can feel like flailing about in the water. What is there to hold onto? Can you establish new roots when you’ve left everything behind?

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  2. Pingback: poetry friday (breakfast edition) is here! « Jama's Alphabet Soup

  3. I came to Hughes’ poetry through Plath, and then discovered that he was a huge talent all his own. He was really critical in the development of Plath as a poet, he freed her (I think) from her rather Restriced view of poetry. I don’t think she would have arrived at a place artistically where she could have produced the Ariel poems without hiss influence. But there was the whole drama of their lives…and all the tragedy that followed tragedy. Thank y ou for sharing “Wodwo”Myra! And thank you for the gorgeous pictures….hard to see the one of the two of them without feeling a pang of sorrow that it all went so badly for those two…

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  4. I was a Plath fanatic in high school, and just yesterday I was listening to her read “Daddy” and other poems on YouTube (which I highly recommend doing). And though I’ve got poetry on my shelf by Ted Hughes, I think my view of his work is colored by his relationship with Sylvia, and he never really stuck with me — I can’t help it! Sylvia and I go way back! 🙂

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  5. haitiruth

    I didn’t know much about Hughes except, as others have said, that he was married to Sylvia Plath when she committed suicide. I just Googled him and read more about his life. It certainly was a sad one.

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  6. I too went back to find out more. I know it went so badly with them, but this poem to me shows his own angst and selfishness, the looking looking and then that line toward the end “I suppose I am the exact centre”. If he was egocentric, it might explain some of the tragedy. Wonderful searching, never-ending poem of paths, isn’t it?

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