Climbing into Heptonstall

Ted Hughes

The Tourist Guide, with his Group, in the ring of horizons,
Looked down onto Hebden. ‘You will notice
How the walls are black.’
                            ‘Wash the black walls!’
Came the madman’s yell. Birdlike, wordless.

It meant ‘Wash the blood
Wash the Calder
Of all that still drains down
Out of the walls

The weaver’s baffled, half-deaf shout
Condensed in the walls

The birth-death confinement
A candle over the psalms
The breathed-in and breathed-out
Sour odour of mould
In the survival cells

Soots of the cold
And substitute
Flame lit by Wesley.

So spring-clean the skull. Sweep from the soul’s attic
Spinners, weavers, tacklers, dyers and their infants.
All agitators of wool and cotton
Caught in the warp and the woof. In a nook of the hills,
In the web of the streets, the Mill’s own web –
All the jackets that hung there, the prayers that twitched!
And in the web of the Chapel, the graveyard web –
The shiver of empty names! So scrub

The stomach lining, rid it
Of the arthritic and vinegar cud
Of their swallowed heart-burn. “Penny-hunger”,
The anaesthetic herb, choked this valley.
Spirit-flower of a stone-deep deprivation.
Rampant – perennial – their sole plenty.

Burn the record break the monument.
Time broke their machine. Let forgetting
Ease down the old gut of the glacier.
Let the seas recycle their atoms.

What survived
Nothing’s left
Only a temper
Less than a nothing
                     a hymn a hymn
Of going without – of going without –’

           And he kicked up his legs,
A clowning dance, and let out a tuneless yodel –

‘This is what made the wild hareball
So beautifully witless,
The trout under the stone so light-hearted!’

Then his voice hardened – to a wail

And he lurched off, bird-faced, stiff-kneed, downhill.
                                                       The Guide
Half-smiled, recovering his flock. And
With a sweep of the arm, as if he’d heard nothing:

‘Before us – stands yesterday!’