For Poetry Friday: The Shell, by Ted Hughes

My older boy has an enlightened second grade teacher--instead of set assignments, they have homework choices each week, and one of these is always the memorization of a poem. Here's the poem all of us ended up memorizing this past week:

The Shell, by Ted Hughes

The sea fills my ear
with sand and with fear.

You may wash out the sand,
but never the sound
of the ghost of the sea
that is haunting me.

This poem is anthologized in The Mermaid's Purse, by Ted Hughes, illustrated by Flora McDonnell (2000). I looked at it with some suspicion when my husband brought it home (associating Ted Hughes, in my ignorance, with suicide and darkness), but now I think it is a lovely book. Ostensibly it's for children 4-8, but to heck with that. I think that with poems such as this, the older you get the more meanings you can see.

In this case, we talked about what "the ghost of the sea" might mean. The children do not yet (I think) have much experience with regret, loss, and the cruel relentless inexorable erosion of the coast of life by the passage of years (ha ha), although they are aware of global warming and we are all glad we live on high ground. Nor do they truly realize that even though we live within 45 minutes of beaches we didn't go once this summer (although there's still tomorrow) and therefore they have Bad Parents (but I really hate sand in my shoes). So the ghost of the sea might not have as many layers of meaning for them as it does for me, but they will come. And in the meantime, the children still like the poem.

For more about Ted Hughes, here's a review of his collected poems from Kelly at Big A littl a.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at here at Hipwritermama today!


  1. I was prejudiced against Ted Hughes when I was a college freshman (having just discovered Sylvia Plath), but I've really come around to appreciating both his work and his side of things in the whole personal life drama. Really, I should just close my mind to personal drama and just focus on the artists' work at hand.

  2. The poem is nice, but I like your extended analysis of regret better. :)

  3. That poem gives me a chill! We only went to the shore twice this summer, but had a lovely time on both days. The sand and the fear, I can realate to that...

  4. Thank you! I was not familiar with Ted Hughes. I will have to seek him out.


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