- Category : Poet
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Split - Small (1,10,25,34,57)
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Revolution 2
Edward James Hughes OM (17 August 1930 – 28 October 1998) was an English poet and children's writer, known as Ted Hughes. Critics routinely rank him as one of the best poets of his generation. Hughes was British Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death.
Ted Hughes was married from 1956-63 to the American poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 30. His part in the relationship became controversial, particularly to some feminists and (particularly) US admirers of Plath, who even accused him of murder. Hughes himself never publicly entered the debate, but his last poetic work, Birthday Letters (1998), explored their complex relationship, and to many, put him in a significantly better light.
In 2003 he was portrayed by British actor Daniel Craig in Sylvia, a biographical film of Sylvia Plath.
Ted Hughes was born on August 17, 1930 at number 1, Aspinal Street, in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire and raised among the farms in the area. According to Hughes, "My first six years shaped everything". When Hughes was seven, his family moved to Mexborough, South Yorkshire, where they ran a newsagents and tobacco shop. He also had a brother, Gerald, who was ten years older than him, as well as a sister, Olwyn, two years older.
Hughes studied English, anthropology and archaeology at Pembroke College, Cambridge. At this time his first published poetry appeared in the journal he started with fellow students, St. Botolph's Review, and at a party to launch the magazine he met Sylvia Plath. He and Plath married on June 16, 1956, after just four months of knowing one another.
A year later, the couple moved to the United States, settling in western Massachusetts. Hughes and Plath worked as visiting writers at University of Massachusetts Amherst and Smith College, respectively. After spending time in Boston, they returned to England in October 1959, moving first to London, then to Devon in 1961 (Court Green, North Tawton).
Hughes and Plath had two children, but separated in the autumn of 1962. Ted continued to live at Court Green on and off, with his lover Assia Wevill, after Plath's death on February 11, 1963, but the relationship eventually lost its luster for him, and he became involved with other women. As Plath's widower, Hughes became the executor of Plath’s personal and literary estates. He oversaw the publication of her manuscripts, including Ariel (1966). He also claims to have destroyed the final volume of Plath’s journal, detailing their last few months together. In his foreword to The Journals of Sylvia Plath, he defends his actions as a consideration for the couple's young children.
Six years after Plath's suicide by gas stove, on March 25, 1969, Assia Wevill killed herself and Shura (her four-year old daughter by Hughes), in the same way; Alexandra Tatiana Elise, nicknamed Shura, had been born on March 3, 1965.
In August 1970, Hughes married Carol Orchard, a nurse. They remained together (despite his continued affairs over the years), until his death. He received the Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth II just before his death.
Ted Hughes continued to live at the house in Devon, until his death by heart attack on October 28, 1998, while undergoing treatment for colon cancer. His funeral was held at North Tawton church, and he was cremated at Exeter, with the ashes scattered on Dartmoor, near Cranmere Pool (by special Royal permission).
Seamus Heaney, speaking at Ted Hughes' funeral, in North Tawton on November 3rd, 1998, said:
"No death outside my immediate family has left me feeling more bereft. No death in my lifetime has hurt poets more. He was a tower of tenderness and strength, a great arch under which the least of poetry's children could enter and feel secure. His creative powers were, as Shakespeare said, still crescent. By his death, the veil of poetry is rent and the walls of learning broken."
A memorial walk from the Devon village of Belstone to Hughes' memorial stone above the River Taw was inaugurated in 2005 on land belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall. The granite memorial is somewhat controversial locally - according to some sources, it was airlifted into place on the moors using Prince Charles' helicopter, an honour not afforded to any other Devon figure.
Hughes' earlier poetic work is rooted in nature and, in particular, the innocent savagery of animals (Tennyson's phrase "nature, red in tooth and claw" could have been written for Hughes). His later work is deeply reliant upon myth and the bardic tradition, heavily inflected with a modernist, existential and satirical viewpoint. Hughes' first collection, Hawk in the Rain (1957) attracted considerable critical acclaim. In 1959 he won the Galbraith prize which brought $5000. His most significant work is perhaps Crow (1970), which whilst it has been widely acclaimed also divided critics, combining an apocalyptic, bitter, cynical and surreal view of the universe with what appears to be simple, sometimes (superficially) badly constructed verse. Tales from Ovid (1997) contains a selection of free verse translations from Ovid's Metamorphoses. In Birthday Letters, Hughes broke his silence on Plath, detailing aspects of their life together and his own behaviour at the time. The cover artwork was by their daughter Frieda.
In addition to poetry, Hughes wrote classical opera librettos and children's books. One of these, The Iron Man, was written to comfort his children after Sylvia Plath's suicide. It later became the basis of Pete Townshend's rock opera of the same name, and the animated film The Iron Giant. Hughes was appointed as Poet Laureate in 1984 following the death of John Betjeman. It was later known that Hughes was second choice for the appointment after Philip Larkin, the preferred nominee, declined, because of ill health and writer's block. Hughes served in this position until his death in 1998. His definitive 1333-page Collected Poems (Faber & Faber) appeared in 2003.