Read Gaudete Online

Authors: Ted Hughes




Ted Hughes


Title Page






In his hardening lenses

Hagen is striding

A mile away

Pauline Hagen


Mrs Westlake

The scherzo

But still the enraged

In Estridge’s lens


The Bridge Inn bar

Doctor Westlake

Mrs Holroyd



Behind the bar

Mrs Garten

Estridge’s younger daughter Jennifer

Dr Westlake


Westlake’s grey Daimler





Mrs Davies

The Alsatian






Lumb’s eyes







The Cathedral




Estridge and Evans






In the Bar at the Bridge Inn




The one glance

Easy and strong




What will you make of half a man

I hear your congregations at their rapture

Who are you?

At the top of my soul

The lark sizzles in my ear

I watched a wise beetle

In a world where all is temporary

Collision with the earth has finally come –

Trying to be a leaf

I heard the screech, sudden –

Once I said lightly

Music, that eats people

The rain comes again

This is the maneater’s skull

I see the oak’s bride in the oak’s grasp

She rides the earth

The huntsmen, on top of their swaying horse-towers

A primrose petal’s edge

Waving goodbye, from your banked hospital bed

I said goodbye to earth

The swallow – rebuilding –

The night wind, muscled with rain

The viper fell from the sun

A doctor extracted

The coffin, spurred by its screws

The grass blade is not without

Churches topple

I know well

The sun, like a cold kiss in the street –

Sometimes it comes, a gloomy flap of lightning

Having first given away pleasure –

Looking for her form

A man hangs on

When the still-soft eyelid sank again

The sea grieves all night long

Hearing your moan echo, I chill. I shiver

Faces lift out of the earth

I skin the skin

What steel was it the river poured

Calves harshly parted from their mamas

A bang – a burning –

The dead man lies, marching here and there

Every day the world gets simply

Your tree – your oak

Glare out of just crumpled grass –


About the Author



If it were not Hades, the god of the dead and the underworld, for whom these obscene songs are sung and festivals are made, it would be a shocking thing, but Hades and Dionysos are one.


Their battle had come to the point where I cannot refrain from speaking up. And I mourn for this, for they were the two sons of one man. One could say that ‘they’ were fighting in this way if one wished to speak of two. These two, however, were one, for ‘my brother and I’ is one body, like good man and good wife. Contending here from loyalty of heart, one flesh, one blood, was doing itself much harm.

(Book xv)






The Reverend Nicholas Lumb walks hurriedly overcobbles through the oppressive twilight of an empty town, in the North of England.


He has no idea where he is going. Or where he is.

Is it dusk or is it eclipse?

He urges himself, as if towards solid ground.

He concentrates on the jolt of his reaching stride and the

                                           dragging flap of his cassock.

The sky is darkening.

The charred black chimneys jag up into the yellowish


The stillness is every minute more awful

Like the dusk in a desert.

He walks with deliberate vigour, searching in himself for

                                                     control and decision.

He turns abruptly into a side-street

And is immediately stumbling.

He draws back to the wall.

All the length of the street, dead bodies are piled in heaps and strewn in tangles everywhere between the heaps.

Incredulous, he touches hands and faces.

He looks for wounds.

The jaws loll, as he lifts strengthless heads, which drop

                                                        back slack-necked.

Layered, interlocked, double-jointed, abandoned,

The corpses stare up into the purpled sky

Or at the black walls, or deeply into each other

As in the bottom of a mass-grave.

A mass-grave! The whole street is a mass-grave!

They were herded in here, then all killed together.

As they embraced each other, or fought to be free of each

                                     other, or clutched at each other.

Babies lie, tumbled separate, like refugee bundles.

He turns again to find the empty street where he first walked. But directions have shifted. And the street he comes into is carpeted with corpses – the same. He clambers over corpses, from street to street, turning and turning among the streets, and every street is the same – a trench of fresh corpses. Finally, he simply stands, listening to the unnatural silence. He realises he is lost. The whole town is a maze of mass-graves.

He begins to run.

He runs regardless of the soft hands, the spread hair.

As if he might outrun the swift developing cunning of this


Or the narrowing purpose of this twilight,

Or the multiplying corpses.

He begins to shout.

He shouts to strengthen his running.

And falls, and gets up from the dead, and shouts.

And as he runs he hears another shout, in among his own shouts. He stops and listens and shouts. And the shout which answers is no echo. He shouts again, listening joyfully. At this moment he thinks only of another like himself, a lost man in the same plight, a comrade. And he hears the shout searching through streets towards him. He runs, shouting, to head it off, and to meet it.

And suddenly out of the twilight of corpses

A flapping shape –

A wild figure gyrating toward him.

A flailing-armed chimpanzee creature, bounding over the

                                                      bodies and shouting.

Lumb has stopped.

This swirling apparition is something horrible.

A horrible revelation is hurtling towards him.

That shout is nothing but a mockery of his own shout.

The blackest clot of the whole nightmare has found a

                                   shape and is leaping towards him.

Lumb’s shout becomes a roar.

And the other stops, as if weightless.

A surprisingly small hunched figure.

Going forward Lumb finds an old man, in scarecrow rags, gasping for breath – and laughing. Gasping not as if he had exhausted himself with running, but as if he had laughed himself helpless. Still gasping, and quaking with laughter, he glances up at Lumb from tear-streaming eyes. A small aged face, wild as a berry – the scorched, bristly, collapsed face of a tinker.

Lumb stares down at him, too astonished to speak. He waits for some explanation of the hilarity, and as if in obedience the old man becomes solemn. He tells Lumb he has been searching for him everywhere.

The voice is startling, abrupt, like a cattle-drover’s. A rough-snagged shillelagh of voice, hard and Irish. But courteous, apologetic, almost affectionate. Lumb will have to accompany him for some little distance.

But what about these corpses? What about these dead people all over the town? What has happened? Lumb’s questions erupt. The old man turns away and starts walking.

In a firelit, domed, subterranean darkness

Lumb stands, numbed

By a drum-beat, the magnification of heart-beat.

Who is the woman tangled in the skins of wolves, on the

                                 rock floor, under the dome of rock?

And who is the aged aboriginal crouching beside her, stroking her brow, stroking the hair off her brow, with glistening fingers, with a trembling tenderness?

Shadows wrestle overhead in the dome gouged with


Flames leap, glancing on the limbs of watchers under the


The firelight jerks in their eyes. Who are those watchers?

Lumb bends low

Over her face half-animal

And the half-closed animal eyes, clear-dark back to the

                                                                first creature

And the animal mane

The animal cheekbone and jaw, in the fire’s flicker

The animal tendon in the turned throat

The upper lip lifted, dark and clean as a dark flower

Who is this woman

And who is the ancient creature beside her?

Lumb kneels to understand what is happening

And what he is to do.

He thinks most likely this woman also is dead.

While the ancient man rocks back on his heels

And folds his long-boned hands over his skull

And mourns and cries.

Lumb feels for her absent pulse.

He lays his cheek to her lips

To feel her absent breath.

He lifts the moist eyelid open wider

And the startling brilliant gaze knifes into him

He stands in confusion

And looks round at the shadowed hollow faces

Crowding to enclose him

Eyepits and eyeglints

He declares he can do nothing

He protests there is nothing he can do

For this beautiful woman who seems to be alive and dead.

He is not a doctor. He can only pray.

He does not feel any blow. Only a sudden jagged darkness that rends him apart, from the top of his skull downwards. He sees lizard figures of lightning spurt up on all sides. They pounce on him with pins and needles of claws. A crushing weight rolls slowly across him. He understands it is the bristling back of a gigantic man. He is able to inspect minutely the leathery grain of the giant skin, a mosaic of tiny lights like the eye of a fly, radiant as under a microscope. He gazes into the widening beauty of this as the weight of it descends and squashes him dark.

And now he feels grass under his hands. He opens his eyes to a blue sky. Bright leaves hurt his head. He sits up in the clearing of a steep, rocky wood. At first, in his daze, it seems to him that lions lie all around him, watching him lazily, but as they get to their feet he sees they are men. He stands up with them, to be one of them, but their eyes separate him from them. He is ordered to choose a tree. So now, he thinks, they will hang me. And he looks at each man in turn, intending to fix each face in his memory. But even this exercise is frustrated. All these primitive, aboriginal faces around him are as alike as badgers.

He begins to speak. He would rather not choose a tree. He would rather understand what is happening. He hears his voice at a distance, as if he lay under anaesthetic. He is aware that an arm has moved violently. A hard, heavy whip, hard and heavy as a lump of wire cable, comes down over the top of his bald skull. He sees every detail of the pattern in the tight braid as a bright snake which bites his lungs and flashes away downwards. He must choose a tree.

He straightens from the pain and moves uphill and stops at the top, pointing to a young oak tree growing there on the summit between rocks. He considers taking his chance and bolting, but has already learned too well the reluctance of his limbs. At least he has picked a tree of distinction. But the next move surprises him, and without doubting for a moment that this is his own death in preparation, he becomes absorbed in watching.

Two men with axes fell the tree and trim the boughs, till the lopped trunk lies like a mutilated man, with two raised arms. Now Lumb is forced down, flat on his chest, and his arms are pulled above his head. Each of his wrists is tied to one of the two stumps. Because I am a priest, he is thinking, they will crucify me. The silent men arrange everything with great care. At last, Lumb and the tree lie, as if holding hands, their bodies stretched out opposite.

Now one of the men comes forward with a short heavy whip, and taking up his position starts to flog the senseless tree-bole. He swings the whip in a high arc, as if he intended each measured stroke to empty all his strength and be the last. As if he intended each stroke to cut the tree-bole through.

Lumb stares, uncomprehending, and tingling with the memory of that whip across his skull. Till a shock of real pain grips his back. His body clenches in spasm, like a fist. Hands lock round his ankles. Another whip is whistling in air, above him.

So, stroke by stroke, he and the tree-bole are flogged, tied together, until Lumb chews earth and loses consciousness.

He comes to, under heavy sloggings of cold water, naked and lying on concrete. Fingers unknot the cords which tie his wrists to the wrists of another man who sprawls, still unconscious, in torn and now sodden clerical garb. Through distorting water, Lumb sees this other is himself. He stares at him, in every familiar detail, as if he stared into the mirror. Seeing the ridged red track of the whipstroke across that glossy skull, Lumb feels gingerly over his own skull,
fingering for the corresponding welt or pain of it. He finds only clean whole skin, without any tenderness. He reaches to feel that lumped rawness on the skull of the other, but hands jerk him upright, and turn him and hold him. And so he stands, supported, on the wet concrete, under a high steel roof.

A colossal white bull stands in front of him

Like the ceremonial image of god

That needs wheels. Its hooves splay

Under its ton and a half.

Ropes sag from its nose-ring

To either side, held by attendants.

Just as two others hold Lumb by the arms, facing the bull

Which now steps towards him

Deep-hulled, majestic, lifting each hoof as if from a great


To join the momentum, getting its mountainous top-

                                                      heavy sway moving

With gentle massaging tread,

Lifting its long piling power-wave towards him.

Lumb looks over the broad hump of neck

And down the long undulating range of its shoulders and


Ugly with cobbled muscle, knotting and sliding

Under the silvered hide.

He sees its crooked knee-bosses calloused

By the kneeling weight of its own tonnage

As it halts, like a monument,

And sniffs ponderously towards his white naked feet

And the novel object of his streaming naked body

And, wakening a little, ponders him

With boyish, wicked, indifferent eyes.

Its head is like the capital

Of a temple column.

Then it forgets him, dozily masticating, happy behind the

                                                           wall of its curls.

Lumb is handed a pistol.

A finger indicates with a tap the target-spot on the bull’s


Steadying the pistol

With both wet hands, which are shaking unrecognisably,

Lumb rests the muzzle in the white curls

Below the straight-out stumps of horns.

The bull gazes inward, nodding very slightly to

                                 accommodate the work of its jaws,

Blinking sleepily, drooling a little,

And listening to the bull-music far back in the mountains

                                                                 of its body.

And Lumb

Squeezes the pistol

Squeezing his eyes shut as the shot slams into his brain.

The bull’s legs are in air.

Lumb huddles in a tight coil

On the puddled concrete, holding his splitting head

As if he had just dropped from a height.

Heavy cattle are surging through gangways

Driven through banging steel gates

By bellowing men

Who jab them with electrified clubs.

The white bull hangs from a winch

Like a cat swung up by the scruff of the neck.

Lumb is spreadeagled beneath it.

A long-handled hook rips the bull’s underbelly from ribs

                                                                  to testicles.

Half a ton of guts

Balloon out and drop on to Lumb.

He fights in the roping hot mass.

He pushes his head clear, trying to wipe his eyes clear.

Curtains of live blood cascade from the open bull above


Other books

No Place for a Dame by Connie Brockway
Quincannon by Bill Pronzini
Cuckoo's Egg by C. J. Cherryh
Bridged by Love by Nancy Corrigan
The Last Cadillac by Nancy Nau Sullivan
Rumors by Katy Grant