Ted Hughes: Wikis


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For the Canadian judge, see Ted Hughes (judge).
Ted Hughes
Born 17 August 1930(1930-08-17)
Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, England
Died 28 October 1998 (age 68)
London, England
Cause of death Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
Known for Poet Laureate
1 Aspinall Street, Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, where Ted Hughes was born.

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.[1] Hughes was British Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death.

Hughes was married to the American poet Sylvia Plath, from 1956 until her death. She committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 30. His part in the relationship became controversial to some feminists and (particularly) American admirers of Plath. Hughes himself never publicly entered the debate, but his last poetic work, Birthday Letters (1998), explored their complex relationship. To some, it put him in a significantly better light whereas, to others, it seemed a failed attempt to deflect blame from himself and onto a neurotic father fixation he ascribed to Plath.[2][3]

In 2008, The Times ranked Hughes fourth on their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".[4]


Early life

Hughes was born on 17 August 1930 at 1 Aspinal Street, in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire to William Henry and Edith (née Farrar) Hughes[5] and raised among the local farms in the area. According to Hughes, "My first 6 years shaped everything."[6] When Hughes was seven his family moved to Mexborough, South Yorkshire, where they ran a newsagents and tobacco shop. His brother Gerald was 10 years older and his sister Olwyn, two years older. He attended Mexborough Grammar School, where his teachers encouraged him to write. In 1946 one of his early poems Wild West and a short story were published in the grammar school magazine The Don and Dearne, followed by further poems in 1948.

During the same year Hughes won an Open Exhibition in English at Pembroke College, Cambridge, but chose to do his National Service first. His two years of National Service (1949–51) passed comparatively easily. Hughes was stationed as a ground wireless mechanic in the RAF on an isolated three-man station in east Yorkshire — a time of which he mentions that he had nothing to do but read and reread Shakespeare and watch the grass grow.

Personal life and death

Hughes studied English, anthropology and archaeology at Pembroke College, Cambridge.[7] 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 at St George the Martyr Holborn on 16 June 1956, four months after they had first met.

Hughes and Plath had two children, Frieda Rebecca and Nicholas Farrar, but separated in the autumn of 1962. He continued to live at Court Green, North Tawton, Devon irregularly with his lover Assia Wevill after Plath's death on 11 February 1963. 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 claimed 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.

On 25 March 1969, six years after Plath's suicide by asphyxiation from a gas stove, Assia Wevill committed suicide in the same way. Wevill also killed her child, Alexandra Tatiana Elise (nicknamed Shura), the four-year-old daughter of Hughes, born on 3 March 1965.

In August 1970 Hughes married Carol Orchard, a nurse, and they remained together until his death. He was appointed a member of the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II just before he died.

Hughes continued to live at the house in Devon, until his fatal myocardial infarction in a London hospital on 28 October 1998, while undergoing treatment for colon cancer. His funeral was held at North Tawton church, and he was cremated at Exeter.

Séamus Heaney, speaking at Ted Hughes' funeral, in North Tawton on 3 November 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.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10]

Hughes' son with Plath, Nicholas Hughes, committed suicide on 16 March 2009 after battling depression.[11]


Hughes' earlier poetic work is rooted in nature and, in particular, the innocent savagery of animals, an interest from an early age. He wrote frequently of the mixture of beauty and violence in the natural world. Animals serve as a metaphor for his view on life: animals live out a struggle for the survival of the fittest in the same way that humans strive for ascendancy and success. A classic example is the poem "Hawk Roosting."

His later work is deeply reliant upon myth and the bardic tradition, heavily inflected with a modernist, and ecological viewpoint. Hughes' first collection, Hawk in the Rain (1957) attracted considerable critical acclaim. In 1959 he won the Galbraith prize which brought $5,000. 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 verse. Hughes worked for 10 years on a prose poem, "Gaudete", which he hoped to have made into a film. It tells the story of the vicar of an English village who is carried off by elemental spirits, and replaced in the village by his enantiodromic double, a changeling, fashioned from a log, who nevertheless has the same memories as the original vicar. The double is a force of nature who organises the women of the village into a "love coven" in order that he may father a new messiah. When the male members of the community discover what is going on, they murder him. The epilogue conists of a series of lyrics spoken by the restored priest in praise of a nature goddess, inspired by Robert Graves's white goddess. It was printed in 1977. Hughes was very interested in the relationship between his poetry and the book arts and many of his books were produced by notable presses and in collaborative editions with artists, for instance with Leonard Baskin.[12] In Birthday Letters, his last collection, 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 his own poetry, Hughes wrote a number of translations of European plays, mainly classical ones. HisTales from Ovid (1997) contains a selection of free verse translations from Ovid's Metamorphoses. He also wrote both poetry and prose for children, one of his most successful books being The Iron Man, 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.

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. In 1993 his monumental work inspired by Graves' The White Goddess was published. Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being is considered to be a unique work among Shakespeare studies. His definitive 1,333-page Collected Poems (Faber & Faber) appeared in 2003.

In popular culture

In 2003, he was portrayed by British actor Daniel Craig in Sylvia, a biographical film of Sylvia Plath.




Anthologies edited by Hughes


  • A Dancer to God
  • Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being
  • Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose
  • Difficulties of a Bridegroom
  • Poetry in the Making

Books for Children

  • Meet my Folks!
  • How the Whale Became
  • The Earth Owl and Other Moon-People
  • Nessie the Mannerless Monster
  • Poetry Is ISBN 0-385-03477-6
  • The Iron Man
  • Coming of the Kings and Other Plays
  • Season Songs
  • Moon-Whales
  • Moon-Bells
  • Under the North Star
  • Ffangs the Vampire Bat and the Kiss of Truth
  • Tales of the Early World
  • The Iron Woman
  • The Dreamfighter and Other Creation Tales
  • Collected Animal Poems: Vols. 1–4
  • The Mermaid's Purse
  • The Cat and the Cockoos

Limited Editions

  • The Burning of the Brothel (Turret Books, 1966)
  • Recklings (Turret Books, 1967)
  • Scapegoats and Rabies (Poet & Printer, 1967)
  • Animal Poems (Richard Gilbertson, 1967)
  • A Crow Hymn (Sceptre Press, 1970)
  • The Martyrdom of Bishop Farrar (Richard Gilbertson, 1970)
  • Crow Wakes (Poet & Printer, 1971)
  • Shakespeare's Poem (Lexham Press, 1971)
  • Eat Crow (Rainbow Press, 1971)
  • Prometheus on His Crag (Rainbow Press, 1973)
  • Crow: From the Life and the Songs of the Crow (Illustrated by Leonard Baskin, published by Faber & Faber, 1973)
  • Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter (Rainbow Press,1974)
  • Cave Birds (Illustrated by Leonard Baskin, published by Scolar Press, 1975)
  • Earth-Moon (Illustrated by Ted Hughes, published by Rainbow Press, 1976)
  • Eclipse (Sceptre Press, 1976)
  • Sunstruck (Sceptre Press, 1977)
  • A Solstice (Sceptre Press, 1978)
  • Orts (Rainbow Press, 1978)
  • Moortown Elegies (Rainbow Press, 1978)
  • The Threshold (Illustrated by Ralph Steadman, published by Steam Press, 1979)
  • Adam and the Sacred Nine (Rainbow Press, 1979)
  • Four Tales Told by an Idiot (Sceptre Press, 1979)
  • The Cat and the Cuckoo (Illustrated by R.J. Lloyd, published by Sunstone Press, 1987)
  • A Primer of Birds: Poems (Illustrated by Leonard Baskin, published by Gehenna Press, 1989)
  • Capriccio (Illustrated by Leonard Baskin, published by Gehenna Press, 1990)
  • The Mermaid's Purse (Illustrated by R.J. Lloyd, published by Sunstone Press, 1993)
  • Howls and Whispers (Illustrated by Leonard Baskin, published by Gehenna Press, 1998)

Many of Ted Hughes' poems have been published as limited-edition broadsides.[13]

Compositions with words by Ted Hughes

  • Paul Crabtree: Songs at Year's End. Vier Gesänge nach Gedichten von Ted Hughes. for five-part mixed choir a cappella. Berlin 2006. (There came a Day; The Seven Sorrows; Snow and Snow; The Warm and the Cold)[14]


  • In addition to material held by other institutions including Emory University, Atlanta and Exeter University in the UK, a large archival collection of Hughes' papers, comprising over 220 files containing manuscripts, letters, journals, personal diaries and correspondence has been acquired by The British Library. Such a large and varied collection will enable researchers to gain a greater understanding of the life and work of the poet. Before the collection can be made available to researchers it first needs to be catalogued and this process, which began at the beginning of December 2008, will be completed by the end of 2009. Once completed the catalogue should be able to act as a guide to the archive and will be accessible via The British Library’s website. A British Library blog relating to the cataloguing of the Hughes collection has been created and can be accessed at http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/ted_hughes_archive/. It is designed to provide updates about the cataloguing process, whilst also sharing information about any interesting or unexpected things found within the collection and any events coming up at The British Library relating to it.[15]


  1. ^ Daily Telegraph, "Philip Hensher reviews Collected Works of Ted Hughes, plus other reviews", April 2004
  2. ^ Middlebrook, D. Her Husband: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, A Marriage. London, Penguin: 2003.
  3. ^ Ted Hughes: A Talented Murderer: Guardian journalist Nadeem Azam, writing in 1Lit.com, 2006
  4. ^ (5 January 2008). The 50 greatest British writers since 1945. The Times. Retrieved on 2010-02-01.
  5. ^ "Ted Hughes Homepage". ann.skea.com. http://ann.skea.com/THHome.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-30. 
  6. ^ "Ted Hughes: Timeline". http://ann.skea.com/timeline.htm. Retrieved 2006-08-22. 
  7. ^ "Ted Hughes". www.kirjasto.sci.fi. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/thughes.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-30. 
  8. ^ Centre for Ted Hughes Studies - Ted Hughes timeline
  9. ^ BBC Devon - Ted Hughes Trail
  10. ^ BBC Devon - Ted Hughes memorial
  11. ^ Sylvia Plath's Son Commits Suicide Yahoo News, March 23, 2009
  12. ^ Richard Price, Ted Hughes and the Book Arts
  13. ^ Keith Sagar & Stephen Tabor, Ted Hughes: A bibliography 1946-1980 Mansell Publishing, 1983
  14. ^ Willkommen beim Berliner Chormusik-Verlag
  15. ^ Helen Broderick, Ted Hughes cataloguer, Modern Poetry Manuscripts, The British Library, January 2009


  • The Epic Poise: a celebration of Ted Hughes, edited by Nick Gammage, Faber and Faber, 1999.
  • Ted Hughes: the life of a poet, by Elaine Feinstein, W.W. Norton, 2001.
  • Bound to Please, by Michael Dirda pp 17–21, W.W. Norton, 2005.
  • Ted Hughes: a literary life, by Neil Roberts, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

External links

Preceded by
John Betjeman
British Poet Laureate
Succeeded by
Andrew Motion


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Edward James Hughes, OM (1930-08-171998-10-28) was an English poet, translator and children's writer who for the last 14 years of his life occupied the role of Poet Laureate. His first wife was Sylvia Plath.



  • Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
    A fox's nose touches twig, leaf;
    Two eyes serve a movement, that now
    And again now, and now, and now
    Sets neat prints into the snow.
    • "The Thought-Fox", line 10, from The Hawk in the Rain (1957).
  • With a sudden sharp hot stink of fox,
    It enters the dark hole of the head.
    The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
    The page is printed.
    • "The Thought-Fox", line 21.

Lupercal (1960)

  • Pike, three inches long, perfect
    Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold.
    Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin.
    • "Pike", line 1.
  • The jaws' hooked clamp and fangs
    Not to be changed at this date;
    A life subdued to its instrument.
    • "Pike", line 13.
  • Stilled legendary depth:
    It was as deep as England. It held
    Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old
    That past nightfall I dared not cast.
    • "Pike", line 33.
  • I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
    Inaction, no falsifying dream
    Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
    Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.
  • It took the whole of Creation
    To produce my foot, my each feather:
    Now I hold Creation in my foot.
    Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly –
    I kill where I please because it is all mine.
    There is no sophistry in my body:
    My manners are tearing off heads –
    The allotment of death.
    • "Hawk Roosting", line 10.

The Iron Man (1968)

The Iron Man : A Children's Story in Five Nights; also published as The Iron Giant : A Story in Five Nights
  • The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff. How far had he walked? Nobody knows. Where did he come from? Nobody knows. How was he made? Nobody knows. Taller than a house the Iron Man stood at the top of the cliff, at the very brink, in the darkness.
    • Ch. 1 : The Coming of the Iron Man
  • He swayed in the strong wind that pressed against his back. He swayed forward, on the brink of the high cliff. And his right foot, his enormous iron right foot, lifted-up, out, into space, and the Iron Man stepped forward, off the cliff, into nothingness.
    • Ch. 1 : The Coming of the Iron Man
  • Nobody knew the Iron Man had fallen.
    Night passed.
    • Ch. 1 : The Coming of the Iron Man

Quotes about Hughes

  • 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.
  • Hughes began (The Hawk in the Rain, 1957; Lupercal, 1960) as an elemental poet of power; he was inchoate, but fruitfully aware both of the brute force of creation and of the natural world. Then…he began to assume a mantic role; he has now turned into (Crow, 1970) a pretentious, coffee-table poet, a mindless celebrant of instinct.
  • The sky split apart in malice
    Stars rattled like pans on a shelf
    Crow shat on Buckingham Palace
    God pissed Himself.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

Ted Hughes (17 August 1930 – 28 October 1998) was an English poet and writer of children's stories. He was born in Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire. He was married to Sylvia Plath from 1956 until her suicide in 1963. From 1984 until his death, he was the British Poet Laureate. He died in London, aged 68.


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