I used to tutor year 12 students in English and always loved when Ted Hughes came up. Birthday Letters is one of the most startling collections, the scope and detail of his poems about Sylvia Plath a whole new insight into creativity and love, of the rages of betrayal and loss and the madness between. I once spent twenty or so minutes trying to talk about the sweetness of the peach, of imagining a life of dour, tinned fruit, of a grey post-war London and years of rations and awful British cooking, and then a fresh peach, in the midst of it. A peach that is a blonde American, bold and radiant, beautiful and full of life and emotion.
It’s a rare thing when you can inspire a quiet 17 year old boy to love a poem, but I think we got there with this one.
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.
At twenty-five I was dumbfounded afresh
By my ignorance of the simplest things.