London Calling by diegoperez74

fulbright scholars and the shot by ted hughes, daddy by sylvia plath

Fulbright Scholars by Ted Hughes

Where was it, in the Strand? A display
Of news items, in photographs.
For some reason I noticed it.
A picture of that year’s intake
Of Fulbright Scholars. Just arriving –
Or arrived. Or some of them.
Were you among them? I studied it.
Not too minutely, wondering
Which of them I might meet.
I remember that thought. Not
Your face. No doubt I scanned particularly
The girls. Maybe I noticed you.
Maybe I weighed you up, feeling unlikely.
Noted your long hair, loose waves –
Your Veronica Lake bang. Not what it hid.
It would appear blond. And your grin.
Your exaggerated American
Grin for the cameras, the judges, the strangers, the frighteners.
Then I forgot. Yet I remember
The picture: the Fulbright Scholars.
With their luggage? It seems unlikely.
Could they have come as a team? I was walking
Sore-footed, under hot sun, hot pavements.
Was it then I bought a peach? That’s as I remember.
From a stall near Charing Cross Station.
It was the first fresh peach I had ever tasted.
I could hardly believe how delicious.



I have included three poems today. First this main poem, Fulbright Scholars. About language. The Strand is a street in London. It is near Fleet Street where many newspapers used to be published. Ted Hughes might have confused the streets. Or used the name the Strand deliberately for the sound and the metre. Or perhaps there actually was a newspaper office or a display window with news and photos in the Strand itself. The Fulbright Program is a prestigious international exchange programme. Veronica Lake was a popular actress in the forties. She starred in some cool film noir movies with Alan Ladd and she was famous for her bang or fringe. In fact bang is very rarely used in British English for hair but Ted Hughes was perhaps influenced by her song The Girl with the Peek-a-boo Bang. Charing Cross Station is a mainline train station in central London off the Strand.

The poet is looking back at a trivial thing he did on a walk in London. He had noticed a news story in a window. It only became significant later. Did he really remember? Or did he think he remembered.

The question Was it then I bought a peach? immediately makes you think of Do I dare to eat a peach? in T S Eliot’s The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. It was the first fresh peach he had ever tasted. In the nineteen-fifties canned peaches would have been available but fresh peaches might have been rare.


In The Bank Robber by Robert Service I pointed out that the context of some poems  can add another dimension to the understanding and pleasure you get from them. For some poems context isn’t necessary. For some poems it is interesting and helpful. And for some poems it is almost essential. Fulbright Scholars is Ted Hughes looking back at the first time he would have known about the existence of Sylvia Plath, also a poet and the woman he married. They met shortly after the event in the poem in February 1956 and were married a few months later. They had two children. Sylvia Plath suffered constantly from depression. Ted Hughes turned to another woman. They separated in 1962 and Sylvia Plath committed suicide in February 1963 in the middle of one of the coldest winters ever recorded in London.

The Shot by Ted Hughes

Your worship needed a god.
Where it lacked one, it found one.
Ordinary jocks became gods –
Deified by your infatuation
That seemed to have been designed at birth for a god.
It was a god-seeker. A god-finder.
Your Daddy had been aiming you at God
When his death touched the trigger.
In that flash
You saw your whole life. You ricocheted
The length of your Alpha career
With the fury
Of a high-velocity bullet
That cannot shed one foot-pound
Of kinetic energy. The elect
More or less died on impact –
They were too mortal to take it. They were mind-stuff,
Provisional, speculative, mere auras.
Sound-barrier events along your flightpath.
But inside your sob-sodden Kleenex
And your Saturday night panics,
Under your hair done this way and that way,
Behind what looked like rebounds
And the cascade of cries diminuendo,
You were undeflected.
You were gold-jacketed, solid silver,
Nickel-tipped. Trajectory perfect
As through ether. Even the cheek-scar,
Where you seemed to have side-swiped concrete,
Served as a rifling groove
To keep you true.
Till your real target
Hid behind me. Your Daddy,
The god with the smoking gun. For a long time
Vague as mist, I did not even know
I had been hit,
Or that you had gone clean through me –
To bury yourself at last in the heart of the god.
In my position, the right witchdoctor
Might have caught you in flight with his bare hands,
Tossed you, cooling, one hand to the other,
Godless, happy, quieted.
I managed
A wisp of your hair, your ring, your watch, your nightgown.


Daddy by Sylvia Plath

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time –
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one grey toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You –

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two –
The vampire who said he was you
and drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat, black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.


afterword: The Shot and Daddy

I won’t say much about The Shot and Daddy. I think they both gain something from being read together. Both poems look at Sylvia Plath’s relationship with her father and how it affected their marriage. Fatally. Literally fatally. Ted Hughes called his poem The Shot. Sylvia Plath continued ricocheting like a high-velocity bullet through his life long after her death. Daddy is a very powerful poem. It is full of virulent raw emotion and Nazi and devil images. One thing I noticed was that her father’s foot was amputated. That might change how you read the second and third lines of Daddy:

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot

One point where the two poems intersect is Ted Hughes writing:

You were gold-jacketed, solid silver,

Echoing the lines in Daddy:

The vampire who said he was you 


There’s a stake in your fat, black heart

It is a tragic story. Sylvia Plath was a disturbed woman who had already attempted suicide and been in psychiatric care before she met Ted Hughes. She apparently didn’t tell him until long after they were married. Ted Hughes was a young man – twenty-five when they met – who found himself married to a very sick woman. He wasn’t able to give her the support she needed and eventually he turned to another woman. Could anyone have given her that support?  The right witchdoctor might have caught you in flight with his bare hands. Or was she a suicide waiting to happen? Ted Hughes called her suicide inevitable. The tragedy became compounded when the woman he left Sylvia Plath for murdered their daughter and committed suicide.

Did Sylvia Plath exact her revenge? The poetic muse of Ted Hughes was irrevocably affected. But in the end it – she? – was not shocked into silence.


Ted Hughes on wikipedia.

Sylvia Plath on wikipedia.

Prufrock and Other Observations on project gutenberg free e-book

Collected Poems by Ted Hughes on Amazon

Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath on Amazon

photo: London Calling by diegoperez1974 


  1. niall

    Thanks Carina. This is a more interesting reading of his poetry because it’s by him. There are many more in the related videos beside it.

  2. Thank you Niall,by reading you I always learn something new. A coincidence is that Ted Hughes wrote “Crow From the Life and Songs of the Crow”:
    The Crow is the most intelligent of birds. He lives in
    just about every piece of land on earth and there’s a
    great body of folk lore about crows, of course. No carrion
    will kill a crow. The crow is the indestructible bird who
    suffers everything, suffers nothing…
    Crow is the bird of Bran, is the oldest and highest totem
    creature of Britain … England pretends to a lion – but
    that is a late fake import. England’s autochthonous Totem
    is the Crow. Whatever the colour of Englishman you scratch
    you come to some sort of crow.
    I found two poems by Ted Hughes reflected on Sylvia Plath.
    here The Horses by: Ted Hughes

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