Its strange how knowledge of one thing can lead you to interests and knowledge of another. About a month or so ago I went out with my camera determined to grab the last few summer shots before the year and conditions turned all wet and mushy. The photos and the weather turned out fine and the knowledge I researched afterwards became the post called….”The sugar beet is long gone”. In that post I met and mentioned for the first time a photographer called Humphrey Spender,who happened to live near where I was shooting. Fast forward to today and I find myself watching a programme about the poet laureate Ted Hughes and heard about his traumatised life and also the fact he hung around with Stephen Spender,brother of the previously mentioned Humphrey. The programme about Hughes was called: Ted Hughes Stronger than death and told the moving story of the tormented poet.He was British Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998.Ted Hughes, also known as Edward James Hughes, was one of the best English poets and children’s writers of his generation. Hughes wrote several important works which included, The Hawk in the Rain (1957), Crow (1970), Flowers and Insects (1986), and Birthday Letters (1998).
Ted Hughes was born on August 17, 1930 in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, England. His parents were William Henry and Edith Hughes. When he was seven, his family moved to Mexborough, South Yorkshire. As a kid, Hughes had fascination over animals and had the habit of collecting and drawing toy lead creatures. He attended the Mexborough Grammar School, where he received encouragement from his teachers to write. This helped him to develop his poetic skills. One of his earliest poems, “Wild West” and a short story was published in the grammar school magazine, The Don and Dearne in 1946. Hughes whilst doing National Service was posted to an isolated three-man station in east Yorkshire as a ground wireless mechanic in the RAF. During this time, he had ample amount of free time to read books.
In 1951, Hughes enrolled at Pembroke College to study English. He was mentored by M. J. C. Hodhart, who encouraged and supported him. But Hughes attended very few lectures during this period and wrote no more poetry. He transferred to anthropology and archaeology in the third year but didn’t excel as a scholar. During this time, Hughes published a poem in Chequer.
Another poem, “The Little Boys and the Seasons” was published in Granta, under the pseudonym Daniel Hearing. After graduating from the university, Hughes worked a variety of jobs including working as a rose gardener, a night watchman and a reader for the British film company J. Arthur Rank. He also worked in a local zoo which gave him ample opportunities to watch animals closely, fulfilling his childhood fascinations for animals.
Hughes and his friends held a party to launch St. Botolph’s Review on February 26, 1956. This student-made poetry journal had Hughes’s four poems in it. At the party, he met for the first time American poet Sylvia Plath, who was studying at Cambridge on a Fulbright scholarship. Sylvia Plath had already published several poems and had won numerous awards. The two started dating and after duration of four months, they married at St George the Martyr Holborn, on June 16, 1956. When the couple spent their honeymoon to Benidorm on the Spanish coast, Plath’s mother accompanied them. The first few years of their married life went happily. They supported each other along with avidly pursuing their writing careers. Their poems were published in The Nation, Poetry and The Atlantic.
Plath typed the manuscript of Hughes’s collection, collection “Hawk in the Rain” which won the poetry competition run by the Poetry centre of the young men and young women’s Hebrew association of New York. The book was published by Harper in September 1957 and Hughes received critical acclaim for his work. Then the couple moved to America where they taught at the University of Massachusetts. After spending couple of years in America, they returned to England and found a small flat in Primrose Hill, London. Hughes got a job of writing programmes for the BBC as well as producing essays, articles, reviews and talks. Plath had her first child, Frieda Rebecca in 1960. In 1961, they bought the house Court Green, in North Tawton, Devon. The next year, 1962, Sylvia gave birth to their second child, Nicholas Farrar. Hughes began his affair with Assia Wevill in the summer of 1962 which led to his separation from Plath in the autumn of 1962. Plath moved to a new flat with her children. Following a state of depression and constant regular suicide attempts, Plath finally committed suicide on 11 February 1963.
Hughes was devastated on her death but was heavily accused by the feminists of forcing Plath to commit suicide. Many feminists accused him of the murder of Plath and some even threatened to kill him. As her widower, Hughes was the legal executor of Plath’s personal and literary estates. In his supervision, Plath’s manuscripts were published. Many feminists questioned his authority over Plath’s literary legacy on grounds of being responsible for her suicide.
Six years after the suicide of Sylvia Plath, Assia Wevill also committed suicide on March 25, 1969. The next year in August 1970, Hughes married Carol Orchard, a nurse. They remained together for the rest of his life.
They bought the house Lumb Bank near Hebden Bridge and also maintained the property at Court Green. The same year in October 1970, his book “Crow” was published. In 1984, he was made the Poet Laureate following the death of Sir John Betjeman. In later years, he wrote many children books and also collaborated with Peter Brook and the National Theatre Company. He also tutored at the Arvon Foundation which promotes writing education. He also wrote a number of translations of European plays, especially the classical ones. In 1997, he published Tales from Ovid which had a selection of free verse translations from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Just before his death, Hughes was appointed a member of the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II.Ted Hughes breathed his last on October 28, 1998 while he was undergoing treatment for colon cancer. His funeral was held on 3rd November 1998, at North Tawton church, and was cremated in Exeter