Public Bar TV, by Ted Hughes

2 April 2012

On a flaked ridge of the desert

Outriders have found foul water. They say nothing;
With the cactus and the petrified tree
Crouch numbed by a wind howling all
Visible horizons equally empty.

The wind brings dust and nothing
Of the wives, the children, the grandmothers
With the ancestral bones, who months ago
Left the last river,

Coming at the pace of oxen.


This is a rare poem, in that the title does all the work. Hughes exercises considerable restraint: the title situates the narrator, watching a television – so tempting to say otherwise ignored, but we have no clue –  in the corner of a bar peopled by drinkers. They and all the surroundings – the smoke, the gloom, the voices – are made up entirely of the reader’s own imaginings. The body of the poem is resolutely desolate, which may or may not be your thing; the versification is fairly orthodoxly phrased, though there are things to disentangle: the inclusion of ‘all’ up at the end of the fourth line, where there should be a line break, or at least a comma, is a device  that scatters the sense out of the poem a bit, making the reader pay attention to having to fit all the images together again … Well, maybe the body of the poem grabs you, maybe it doesn’t. But the restraint, the choice to make pure, unadorned juxtaposition rather than really rub in the contrast in the text – that’s what makes the poem, for me.

[Read in Poems selected by Simon ArmitageFaber & Faber.]


One Response to “Public Bar TV, by Ted Hughes”

  1. […] Typical Heaney: the moving of a load. The closing line is not his subtlest. But there is also something implied that is most un-Heaney: a screen, which is presumably where the narrator is ‘seeing’ the aid workers. A slightly different theme, but in the remote viewing of ‘somewhere else’, it’s interesting to compare with Ted Hughes’ ‘Public Bar TV’. […]

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