Can you help me understand the poem "Heptonstall" by Ted Hughes, including the historical/biographical background that might be connected to it? 

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Ted Hughes grew up in Heptonstall, a village set amidst the moors of West Yorkshire in the north of England. His wife, the poet Sylvia Plath, committed suicide and is buried in Heptonstall. Thus, the poem's first stanza can be read biographically. The opening line, beginning with "black," a color associated with mourning, and ending with "gravestones," can be understood as an allusion to his dead wife: 

       Black village of gravestones

       The hill's collapsed skull

However, the stanza can also be read universally. The village is full of gravestones and more people than just Hughes were born there only to find their dreams "die back." In the second and third quatrains, the poem becomes more fully universal with the image of the skull dominating. This repeated image ties the first three stanzas together. In the first stanza, the village graveyard and, by extension, the village itself (Hughes conflates the two) are described as the hill's "collapsed skull." In stanza two, we are introduced to the skull of a sheep surrounded by images of death, such as flies. These death images symbolize the town and its landscape. In stanza three, we encounter the skull of a bird, whose "great geographies"—its capacity to fly far and wide—have been "drained" and become the cracks in the windowsills of a weaving town known for its large windows.

In the final stanza, Hughes breaks the quatrain into four separate lines for emphasis, repeating the word "tries." He states that "life tries," "death tries," and "the rock tries" but then ends the poem by changing the lettering of "tries" to "tires," stating: "Only the rain never tires." In other words, everything is subjected to the relentless, ceaseless will of nature, personified in the untiring rain. The mood of the poem is consistently grim and the imagery is dark, though one might take some comfort at the end in nature's persistent energy.

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Heptonstall is an ancient village in Yorkshire, England, the birthplace of Ted Hughes. Before the Industrial Revolution, it was home to weavers, who had large windows in their dwellings so that the sunlight would brighten the area where they worked. However, as Hughes's poetry demonstrates, humanity cannot truly dominate nature. Furthermore, there is something savage about nature in Hughes's poems. Hughes himself wrote that his poetry exhibited

"The collision of the pathos of the early industrial revolution – that valley was the cradle of it – with the wildness of the place."

Heptonstall is also where the writer Sylvia Plath, wife to Ted Hughes, is buried.

In the first stanza of his poem "Heptonstall," Hughes describes this village where life has long struggled against death. It is black from age and the Industrial Revolution's pollution and dead dreams. A poet who describes his poems "as a sort of animal" (Poetry in the Making, London, 1967, p.15), Hughes uses the skulls of the sheep in the second stanza and the bird to metaphorically describe the tragic history of the old industrial town. 

The final four lines convey humanity's struggles in this ancient area. Hughes expresses the relentless cruelty of experience as both life and death try, but "Only the rain never tries." Humanity cannot dominate nature.

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