Need Your Love So Bad………

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Need Your Love So Bad………

Sheep

Sheep in Fog

The hills step off into whiteness.

People or stars

Regard me sadly, I disappoint them.

The train leaves a line of breath.

O slow

Horse the colour of rust,

Hooves, dolorous bells –

All morning the

Morning has been blackening,

A flower left out.

My bones hold a stillness, the far

Fields melt my heart.

They threaten

To let me through to a heaven

Starless and fatherless, a dark water.

Plath’s Sheep in Fog is a poem of spare, beautiful imagery and economy of language. It has an understated sonorousness, with its short lines in which sounds subtly echo and repeat…

If it is a pastoral, it is pastoral at a distance, pastoral through a window – without nature even bringing the observer the small comforts it does to, say, Frost’s Hill Wife. Everything in the poem suggests distance. If there is a connection between the speaker and nature, it is a somewhat morbid one.

Plath’s nature is strangely abstract and strangely personal. Her hills ‘stepping off’ into whiteness (is this the terrible whiteness of Melville’s famous passage?) seem to suggest a persona disappearing into vagueness, dislocated from her surroundings. The stars – which stars, in what sky we don’t know – ‘regard me sadly’, and ‘far fields melt my heart’. The mood here is narrow and paranoid, as if everything can not but be an emanation of the persona’s unease.

And the sheep of the title don’t figure in the poem at all, perhaps lurking obscured from view, turning dank grass to cud; or symbolising the metaphysical terror of the personality disappearing into nothingness.

Plath’s husband, Ted Hughes, wrote poems about sheep too, but took a rather different approach. Hughes’ ‘Moortown Diaries’ recount in close and immediate detail some of his day to day experiences as a farmer in north Devon. If Plath does pastoral from a distance, Hughes does pastoral uncomfortably close up, with rubber gloves on, and a knife handy, and sometimes a shotgun, as in ‘Orf’:

I shot the lamb.

I shot him while he was looking the other way.

I shot him between the ears.

Hughes is no mere observer, but out there getting his hands dirty and bloody in the fields. This is not to say he is not observant, however; his method in ‘Sheep’ is to pile on detail after detail of description of an animal, relentlessly tracing out its- in this case awkward and painful – physical presence. Just like ‘Orf’ and ‘Februaury 17th’, ‘Sheep’ is about a botched birth, an occurence regular and surprising in the variety of its cruelties. Here is a small section of the two-part poem:

(Excerpt from Sheep)

He was only half the proper size.

And his cry was wrong. It was not

A dry little hard bleat, a baby-cry.

It was a despairing human smooth Oh!

Like no lamb I ever heard. Its hindlegs

Cowered in under its lumped spine,

Its feeble hips leaned towards

Its shoulders for support. Its stubby

White wool pyramis head, on a tottery neck

Had sad and defeated eyes, pinched, pathetic,

Too small, and it cried all the time

Oh! Oh! staggering towards

Its alert, baffled, stamping, storming mother

Who feared our intentions.

Source: World in 80 Poems

Sheep in Fog

The hills step off into whiteness.

People or stars

Regard me sadly, I disappoint them.

The train leaves a line of breath.

O slow

Horse the colour of rust,

Hooves, dolorous bells –

All morning the

Morning has been blackening,

A flower left out.

My bones hold a stillness, the far

Fields melt my heart.

They threaten

To let me through to a heaven

Starless and fatherless, a dark water.

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