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This report is taken from PN Review 146, Volume 28 Number 6, July - August 2002.

Ted's Spell Ben Sonnenberg

Our friendship began in 1959 at Bill and Dido Merwin's house in London. Ted Hughes was twenty-eight years old and I was twenty-two. I had never met anyone I admired so much who was at the same time so approachable. Ted's voice was a level baritone with overtones of his birthplace in the North-west of England. I listened to him so intently, literally on the edge of my seat, that I fell off my chair. When he helped me up from the floor, he didn't stop talking and I felt the vibration of his voice running down his arm. To borrow words from his poem 'Pike', his voice seemed to come from a 'Stilled legendary depth: / It was as deep as England.'

We took long walks together, Ted with his daughter, Frieda, in a baby carriage, gossiping some (quite a lot, actually) but talking of poetry mostly. He would declaim long passages of Chesterton and Kipling. He would quote at length from Lawrence and the poets of the First World War. His quotations from Shakespeare, by contrast, were short. 'As the Clown says in Measure for Measure...' I remember that last quotation. I remember his voice as he spoke it. I wish I could remember of what it was apropos. 'Groping for trouts in a peculiar river.'

We were good friends in those days. Not close friends exactly, not intimate friends, but good friends nonetheless. I remember encountering him in Marylebone Road one fine ...


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