Football at Slack

A departure in honour of the world cup: not a moon poem, but it does have an flying orb, and a final sun. It comes from Ted Hughes’s mordant Remains of Elmet (1979), an elegy in landscape for lost generations made religious by Wesleyan hymns, made to work by industrialized concerns, and then lost in the First World War. The book comes with photographs by Fay Godwin: brooding, magnificent black and white images, some featuring grey gradations of mist, or wet cobblestones, others pairing shafts of light cutting through cloud with shafts of churches and industrial towers black against the sky. Elmet is the old kingdom of West Yorkshire, the Calder valley near Heptonstall, north of Halifax: Bronte country. Like the photographs, most of the poems in the volume are not populated: but this poem is, and by shouts that cause heaven to take note. The lowering cloud over the whole volume lifts just for a moment – to reveal a ‘holocaust’, literally a burnt offering. This momentarily uplifting sporting post is also in honour of the Tour de France, which cut through this same landscape with such colour this weekend. The Tour has moved on to Ypres, perhaps the final destination for some of these footballers, many of whom brought their balls and shouts to the Western Front, explaining I suppose the vocabulary of glares, steel, darkening, glooms, fiery holes, plunging, foundering and even blown balls that underlies and perhaps undercuts the poem’s buoyancy. If someone in heaven is looking on fondly they might also be jealous to take these footballers back, too soon.

Football at Slack

Between plunging valleys, on a bareback of hill
Men in bunting colours
Bounced, and their blown ball bounced.

The blown ball jumped, and the merry-coloured men
Spouted like water to head it.
The ball blew away downwind –

The rubbery men bounced after it.
The ball jumped up and out and hung on the wind
Over a gulf of treetops.
Then they all shouted together, and the ball blew back.

Winds from fiery holes in heaven
Piled the hills darkening around them
To awe them. The glare light
Mixed its mad oils and threw glooms.
Then the rain lowered a steel press.

Hair plastered, they all just trod water
To puddle glitter. And their shouts bobbed up
Coming fine and thin, washed and happy

While the humped world sank foundering
And the valleys blued unthinkable
Under depth of Atlantic depression –

But the wingers leapt, they bicycled in air
And the goalie flew horizontal

And once again a golden holocaust
Lifted the cloud’s edge, to watch them.


~ by thebicyclops on July 8, 2014.

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