Ted Hughes: The Wound.

Transcript of the interview with Ted Hughes from the Adelaide Festival, March 1976,
reproduced by permission of Radio National and the ABC (Australia).

Transcribed by Ann Skea.

Hughes: Well it was a freak production really. At the time I was writing a scenario of the Bardo Thodol - Tibetan Book of the Dead, and I’d been working at this for maybe – oh, maybe six months, on and off, and I’d just about completed the whole thing (I was doing it with a Chinese composer in America) and at the end of it I had a dream, which was the dream of The Wound. A long… much, much more complicated than the play as it is now – but, maybe… Well it was just like a full-length play, with many scenes, many things going on, but along with it was a full text. So I dreamed the action of the play, and was in the play, but simultaneously dreamed a very full text. And came out of the dream – woke up – and in the dream, this play had been written by John Arden – do you know Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance? It must have been some memory of that.

And I was furious that this play, which seemed to be so absolutely what I wanted to write, should have been written by somebody else, and that he’d got it. And then as I lay there, it gradually dawned on me that, in fact, if I had dreamed it, it was my play.

Anyway, I went off to sleep again and I dreamed the whole thing exactly the same again, from beginning to end again. Text – everything. So I got up – it was very early – and I just wrote down as much of the text and situations as I could catch. And as I wrote it, it was already fading. I lost the text. But I got the main situation and the main, sort of, sequence of episodes.

But in the dream, it had been a film. And yet the text was like a poetic text, it was sort of poetic-prose text. And I had no intention of making it a film. I didn’t see how I could make it a film, but I was interested in writing a radio-drama at that time. So I tried to make a radio play of it. Which meant, in fact, knocking out most of the episodes – most of the purely visual things in the piece. I just couldn’t work them into a radio play. I just didn’t know how. Anyway, I gradually boiled it down to what it is now.
Interviewer: It is very visual, nevertheless. With those things of – I mean – the disembodied dog, like a kind of white scarf in an Edgar Allen Poe story...
Hughes: That’s right. And a lot of the text, in fact, as I eventually wrote it was of course just describing...

It’s really a commentary rather than monologues and so on. It’s really a narrative description of what’s going on.
Interviewer: I was curious about the relationship between Ripley and – Massey, is it?
Hughes: Yes. The solider and the sergeant. Well I interpreted all this afterwards very… My first feeling was that this was my Bardo Thodol. The story of the Bardo Thodol is the soul who goes to… the soul of the dead man who goes to visit the various Buddhas and at each point he has an opportunity to enter that particular stage of enlightenment that that Buddha represents. And he fails, and he goes on to the next Buddha – and so on. I don’t know if you know it. And then, it’s assumed that he fails all those and so he goes to Hell. And then he has to go through all the suffering of Hell and, having gone through all that, he then has to find a new womb. The whole last episode of the Bardo Thodol is the search for the womb to be reborn in.
Interviewer: It’s very curious that you remembered so exactly. I mean – dreams have an infuriating way of disappearing when...
Hughes: Well, to have dreamed the thing twice. You see the dream obviously intended to be remembered, didn’t it? But, in fact, when I woke up and started writing it down the text disappeared very quickly – I just got odd phrases and sentences. And it was a much fuller text – a much longer thing. I cut out most of the episodes, finally.
Interviewer While some of it – came from Ireland. You must have...
Hughes: I must have read that poem – er – that play of his fairly recently before that. I can’t remember that I had. Maybe that was in my mind.

So I interpreted it first of all as a sort of Celtic Bardo Thodol – a Gothic Bardo Thodol – because, in fact, it’s full of all the stock imagery of a journey to the Celtic Underworld. And there was a definite, odd, meaningfulness about the two – about the Massy and Ripley.

I didn’t know what to make of that. I didn’t like that, really. I didn’t look into that too deeply.
Interviewer: The fact that Massey seems to join in the bizarre festivities was, I thought, particularly curious. Is it because he was in a position of authority and could join in these without any danger of...er...
Hughes: I don’t know that I can explain it. It was just that… it was just enormously impressive that it came that way in a dream and so that was a thing that was obviously to be kept. But he’s a stock – that figure that goes on that kind of adventure, with a hero who’s torn to bits in the Underworld – he’s a sort of sacrifice to the Underworld, so the other one can escape. He’s a standard figure. He appears often in epics – the twin who doesn’t come back. But what he means specifically, in the dream sense of my… whatever he meant for me at that time, I couldn’t say.
Interviewer: Did you relate the dream to a state of mind that you might have – that you were having at around that time?
Hughes: No. I just interpreted it immediately as my counter to… of my experience of the Bardo Thodol – translated into Celtic Gothic terms.

And the other notion that came with the dream, too, was that the whole thing happened in a dead body. At the moment of his death – the moment of him being killed. So the hole in the chateau was the hole in the head. That was part of my sense of the dream but I made nothing of that, because that is too – that’s too interpretative, isn’t it?
Interviewer: What about the end ’though, when his comrades catch up with him? In fact, it doesn’t appear – in spite of the...
Hughes: That was faked. That was no part of the dream.
Interviewer: Of course, I know, but that’s in fact the end.
Hughes: I mean, I put that on – just to get him out of it. In the dream – in the film of the dream, he didn’t come out.
Interviewer: Why did you put that on?
Hughes: Because I didn’t want to leave him in Hell – [laughs]. I had to bring him back – for my sake. I wanted to end it upbeat, rather than downbeat – simply – so I rigged the end of it.
Interviewer: Is that rather rigged?
Hughes: Rigged? Yes.
Interviewer: It’s like a Hollywood happy ending.
Hughes: Yes.
Interviewer: Do you still feel that was the right way to end it?
Hughes: Well, I’m just superstitious about ending works downbeat, because if they’re very involved with your own private psychology, where the work ends – that’s where you end, too.

You’ve taken yourself through this process and it’s very important that you bring yourself out of a bad process. And if you stop the work in the bottom, in the bad part of the process, that’s where, inwardly, you stop.

That’s just a superstition.

So I like to bring them out of it in the end.
Interviewer: It struck me, I must say, as not convincing, because of that. I realize you can say “Well, stuff you!”, but I thought The Wound was so complete…
Hughes: Well, that was perceptive of you. You see, that is the part I stuck on.
Interviewer: Do you get many works out of dreams?
Hughes: I’ve had one or two – short things – but never anything as elaborate. If only I’d managed to make a film of the whole dream. The thing would have been much longer – many more episodes – that would have been interesting.
Interviewer: What kind of things do you remember leaving out? See, radio is so visual in as much as… I mean, all that tramp across the mud, the castle, the wind – could be done on movie but so much more successfully, I think, on radio, unless there’s some fantastic budget. So it seems that other kind of things...
Hughes: I can’t remember really now. Just a vague sense of odd things. I can’t really remember.
Interviewer: It was done on radio in U.K.?
Hughes: Yes. Long time ago. 1962 or 61. But since then – well, at that time, I told the story to a friend of mine, a writer, and I described this magnificent film that I’d dreamed and how I was trying to write it into a play. And he came to me about a week later and he said, “I’ve dreamed the most fantastic novel”. He’d dreamed a complete novel. And he wrote the novel. So it’s an epidemic, you see – that’s obviously something that takes hold.
Interviewer: It’s certainly… It’s an easier way than most methods of writing… What kind of things do you remember – what scenes transferred most easily from the dream to paper.
Hughes: They were all quite difficult, because the whole thing was, finally, not a satisfactory representation of the dream. Some scenes were obviously much more vivid and meaningful for me but they weren’t any easier for that. It’s very difficult to say now, it’s along time ago. It’s a long time since I even read it.
Interviewer: We played a… partly because it’s very difficult for us Australian actors - there aren’t many actors we have who can do… I’ve only heard it. I haven’t read it… so I… Was he cockney?
Hughes: Yes. In the dream he was cockney.
Interviewer: Yes, we played it as cockney.
Hughes: It was done immediately in Germany. It was quite well translated into German, I believe.
Interviewer: Is there much foreign interest in your work?
Hughes: I’m not aware of a lot. There is some. You know, things are translated, then I hear – I get letters from people – and so on.
Interviewer: Obviously the Gothic aspect appealed to the… to them.
Hughes: Well, I suppose that’s what appealed to the German audience, yes.
Interviewer: All right.That’s, I guess, that. Can I just talk to you briefly about festivals as such meetings of writers -
Hughes: [Laughing] I’ve just refused to talk about that, to a friend of mine, so let’s not talk about that.
Interviewer: Well, you came here because...[indistinct]
Hughes: Well, I was interested to see Australia. This was an opportunity.
Interviewer: [Indistinct]… I think it’s very funny and rich for people to, as I heard yesterday, to come to festivals and then shit on us. It’s so damned easy to do that. I think that they are… I’m involved in Theatre Australia. We have an annual playwright’s conference and much the same thing goes on – except it’s very good for the few people who really do get something out of it.
Hughes: Yes. You’ve to go right into it and give yourself to it, to make it work. The ones I’ve been involved in in England are very valuable, I think. We have a sort of regular international poetry festival there. They’ve been tremendous.
Interviewer: Where are they held?
Hughes: In London. And they’ve had a big effect. Just familiarizing quite a big audience with a lot of – a great range of literature.

This festival’s been valuable for me. I don’t know whether I’ve been valuable for it but it’s given me an awful lot. It was very much worth coming.
Interviewer: Why?
Hughes: Because of what I’ve got out of it and being tret [?] so nicely.
Interviewer: Being...?
Hughes: For a festival, you know, it’s been very handsomely tret[?].

Interviewer: OK. I’ve got nothing else.

What you’ve given us, it’s very good and we’ll cut it together and use it as an introduction. It’s a good point for… I think in radio – people, if they’re not patient for the first two minutes – they’re gone.
Hughes: Yes. I think it needs that kind of explanation really, because it’s a grotesque thing, isn’t it really? And to know that it is just a curiosity – a sort of literary curiosity – redeems it a bit.
Interviewer: I thought the thing about the throat was quite compelling. The whole idea of that very unusual… [?] takes… nose… it’s easy to take a prick or a hand or something disembodied – but an actual throat which you don’t think of as a separate part but, which the poem brought out, is where the voice is, where you shave, where you get kissed – seems a strange, disembodied thing.
Hughes: The dream was full of that kind of detail. Going into that kind of very literary detail – or at least poetic detail – coming out of the film and the drama and going heavily into the textual sort of detail. It was full of that. I got very little of that. That was the real richness of it. And, of course, what I was really trying to get all the time, was the extraordinary atmosphere of this dream. I don’t know how much of that I got.
Interviewer: I must tell you, years ago, being a great fan of Auden’s, I came across a picture in Books and Bookmen.And you must know it. It’s that picture of you standing and looking reticent – Eliot – and Louis McNeice -
Hughes: Fools in a circle. Yes.
Interviewer: You know, I had great pleasure in projecting what each one was saying.
Hughes: Do you know what we were saying? Do you know what was being said?
Interviewer: No.
Hughes: Well we were just gathering. And the photographer was saying, “come closer together. Come closer together”. And Eliot was going, “Ducdame! Ducdame! Ducdame!”. Do you know that? It’s the – it’s from some obscure point in Shakespeare where - but it’s a charm to call fools into a circle. [Laughing] It was very good!. He was very witty.
Interviewer: That’s good! Just the whole lot – McNeice died not long after that – not long after I saw that picture, anyway.
Hughes: That’s right, he did.
Interviewer: He was looking very droll, leaning against the – as if he’d seen all these events many times. And I remember Auden was...
Hughes: Auden was – I suppose Auden was saying something. I can’t remember what he was saying.
Interviewer: He looked very pleased.
Hughes: It’s a weird picture, isn’t it?
Interviewer: I think you look the most… You look very tense.
Hughes: I look as if I’m ready to leap through the window don’t I?
Interviewer: Yes, you look very dark. Very much, I suppose, the new boy in the school.
Hughes: That was at a party. There was George Barker in the room behind us. There was my wife, Sylvia Plath, standing beside the camera -
Interviewer: Was Plomer in that picture?
Hughes: No.
Interviewer: Because I so enjoy his generous mind and, I suppose, particularly the humorous verse. We’re doing a thing on him in the months to come. Did you...?
Hughes: I met him once or twice, yes.
Interviewer: Well it’s hardly… Just at literary affairs – you didn’t have any kind of - employ or association with him?
Hughes: No, I didn’t. In fact, last time I met him was at a reading and a long reading in London – where people read poetry for twenty-four hours. [Laughing] I can’t imagine anyone on stage for twenty-four hours. I was reading with him, right at the end, very late at night – I suppose it was round about one o’clock in the morning - and a character came on and started bombarding him with cabbages.
Interviewer: [Ploomer ?]? What did he say?
Hughes: He took it very well. I can’t remember what he said, but he was quite… Just lobbing them over like grenades.
Interviewer: Well, the picture I saw is still somewhere. And, as my grandfather said after, "If I get one more – one more funeral and I’m the last of the bunch". And I think in that picture you are -
Hughes: Oh dear – bad[?]. [Sharp sucking in of breath] -
Interviewer: - Well, I mean in the picture -
Hughes: Bad omens.
Interviewer: Bad omens, is it? All right I won’t do any more.
Hughes: I shall have to rush… I’m supposed to be...
Interviewer: Yes. Well, thank you very much. Thanks for your time. O.K… I’ll see you at circuit...
Hughes: [indistinct]

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