Biography of Ted Hughes
Ted Hughes is consistently described as one of the twentieth century’s greatest English poets. Born August 17th, 1930 in Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire, his family moved to Mexborough when he was seven to run a newspaper and tobacco shop. He attended Mexborough grammar school, and wrote his first poems from the age of fifteen, some of which made their way into the school magazine. Before beginning English studies at Cambridge University (having won a scholarship in 1948), he spent much of his National service time reading and rereading all of Shakespeare. According to report, he could recite it all by heart. At Cambridge, he he 'spent most..time reading folklore and Yeat's poems,' and switched from English to Archaeology and Anthropology in his third year.
His first published poem appeared in 1954, the year he graduated from Cambridge. He used two pseudonyms for the early publications, Daniel Hearing and Peter Crew. From 1955 to 1956, he worked as a rose gardener, night-watchman, zoo attendant, schoolteacher, and reader for J. Arthur Rank, and planned to teach in Spain then emigrate to Australia. February 26 saw the launch of the literary magazine, the St Botolph's Review, for which Hughes was one of six co-producers. It was also the day he met Sylvia Plath; they were married in four months.
Hughe's first book of poems, Hawk in the Rain, was published in 1957 to immediate acclaim, winning the Harper publication contest. Over the next 41 years, he would write upwards of 90 books, and win numerous prizes and fellowships including the following (in that order):
Harper publication contest, Guiness Poetry Award, Guggenheim fellowship, Somerset Maughan award, city of Florence International Poetry Prize, Premio Internazionale Taormina Prize, Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, OBE, vote for the best writing in English in the New Poetry Poll, Whitbread Book of the Year, W.H. Smith Literature award, Forward Prize for Poetry, Queen’s Order of Merit, T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, South Bank Award for Literature, Whitbread Prize for Poetry, and the Whitbread Book of the Year again.
In 1984, he was appointed England’s poet laureate.
Hughes is what some have called a nature poet. A keen countryman and hunter from a young age, he viewed writing poems as a continuation of his earlier passion. ‘This is hunting and the poem is a new species of creature, a new specimen of the life outside your own.’ (Poetry in the Making , 1967)
Hughes and Plath
A strong indirect source of interest in the person of Hughes (aside from his poetry) is his seven-year marriage to the well-known American Poet, Sylvia Plath. Birthday Letters is a sequence of lyrics written by Hughes in the first year of their marriage, cast as a continued conversation with Plath.
When Plath committed suicide in 1963 (they had separated in 1962), many held Hughes responsible for her death as a consequence of his adulterous relationship with Assia Wevill; recent biographies such as Elaine Feinstein’s Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet have attempted to ‘set the record straight and clear the air of rancor and recrimination’ (Brooke Allen, The New York Times ).
Though deeply marked by the loss, Hughes was publicly silent on the subject for more than 30 years out of his sense of responsibility to protect the couple's two young children, whose perceptions of their mother would have otherwise been impossibly spoiled by external interference. The publication of Birthday Letters has been seen as a 'retaking' of the histories that had been stolen from the family through the cracks in the armour.
‘Each image denotates another, so that the whole poem throbs’ – Edward Lucie Smith on Hughes’ poetry, British Poetry since 1945
‘Imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it.’ –Ted Hughes, Poetry in the Making
‘You write interestingly only about the things that genuinely interest you. This is an infallible rule.. in writing, you have to be able to distinguish between those things about which you are merely curious –things you heard about last week or read about yesterday- and things which are a deep part of your life… So you say, ‘What part of my life would I die to be separated from?’ –Ted Hughes, Poetry in the Making
‘It is occasionally possible, just for brief moments, to find the words that will unlock the doors of all those many mansions in the head and express something – perhaps not much, just something – of the crush of information that presses in on us from the way a crow flies over and the way a man walks and the look of a street and from what we did one day a dozen years ago. Words that will express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are.’-Ted Hughes, Poetry in the Making
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Ted Hughes Poems
I imagine this midnight moment's forest: Something else is alive Beside the clock's loneliness And this blank page where my fingers move.
He loved her and she loved him. His kisses sucked out her whole past and future or tried to He had no other appetite She bit him she gnawed him she sucked
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.
This house has been far out at sea all night, The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills, Winds stampeding the fields under the window Floundering black astride and blinding wet
Full Moon And Little Frieda
A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket - And you listening. A spider's web, tense for the dew's touch. A pail lifted, still and brimming - mirror
Remember how we picked the daffodils? Nobody else remembers, but I remember. Your daughter came with her armfuls, eager and happy, Helping the harvest. She has forgotten.
The Seven Sorrows
The first sorrow of autumn Is the slow goodbye Of the garden who stands so long in the evening- A brown poppy head,
Pike, three inches long, perfect Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold. Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin. They dance on the surface among the flies.
Terrifying are the attent sleek thrushes on the lawn, More coiled steel than living - a poised Dark deadly eye, those delicate legs Triggered to stirrings beyond sense - with a start, a bounce,
The Harvest Moon
The flame-red moon, the harvest moon, Rolls along the hills, gently bouncing, A vast balloon, Till it takes off, and sinks upward
When Crow was white he decided the sun was too white. He decided it glared much too whitely. He decided to attack it and defeat it.
The Warm And The Cold
Freezing dusk is closing Like a slow trap of steel On trees and roads and hills and all That can no longer feel.
Examination At The Womb-Door
Who owns those scrawny little feet? Death. Who owns this bristly scorched-looking face? Death. Who owns these still-working lungs? Death. Who owns this utility coat of muscles? Death.
I saw my world again through your eyes As I would see it again through your children's eyes. Through your eyes it was foreign. Plain hedge hawthorns were peculiar aliens,
Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men
Thistles spike the summer air
And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.
Every one a revengeful burst
Of resurrection, a grasped fistful
Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up
From the underground stain of a decayed Viking.