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Ted Hughes

"Work And Play"


The swallow of summer, she toils all the summer,
A blue-dark knot of glittering voltage,
A whiplash swimmer, a fish of the air.
      But the serpent of cars that crawls through the dust
      In shimmering exhaust
      Searching to slake
      Its fever in ocean
      Will play and be idle or else it will bust.

The swallow of summer, the barbed harpoon,
She flings from the furnace, a rainbow of purples,
Dips her glow in the pond and is perfect.
      But the serpent of cars that collapsed on the beach
      Disgorges its organs
      A scamper of colours
      Which roll like tomatoes
      Nude as tomatoes
      With sand in their creases
      To cringe in the sparkle of rollers and screech.

The swallow of summer, the seamstress of summer,
She scissors the blue into shapes and she sews it,
She draws a long thread and she knots it at the corners.
      But the holiday people
      Are laid out like wounded
      Flat as in ovens
      Roasting and basting
      With faces of torment as space burns them blue
      Their heads are transistors
      Their teeth grit on sand grains
      Their lost kids are squalling
      While man-eating flies
      Jab electric shock needles but what can they do?

They can climb in their cars with raw bodies, raw faces
      And start up the serpent
      And headache it homeward
      A car full of squabbles
      And sobbing and stickiness
      With sand in their crannies
      Inhaling petroleum
      That pours from the foxgloves
      While the evening swallow
The swallow of summer, cartwheeling through crimson,
Touches the honey-slow river and turning
Returns to the hand stretched from under the eaves –
A boomerang of rejoicing shadow.

© Ted Hughes
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