Ted Hughes – Life and Works

Birth; Parentage; and Early Influences
Edward James. Hughes (or Ted Hughes for short) was born on the 17th August 1930 in the little town of Mytholmroyd, in the West Riding region of Yorkshire (in England). His father, William Hughes, had been a carpenter but had subsequently enlisted in the army in the course of World War I, and had fought on the GallipoliPeninsula in April 1915. William Hughes was one of the only seventeen survivors of the battalion which participated in that campaign; and, on his return home, he used to tell his family the stories of the fighting in the war and his own participation in it.

He had seriously been wounded in the fighting, and Ted Hughes has enshrined a memory of William Hughes’s suffering in one of his poems, entitled Out. In fact, William Hughes’s accounts of the fighting in World War I made a permanent impression on Ted Hughes who was in those days a mere child. As a consequence of his listening to those accounts, Ted Hughes became actually obsessed with war and death in war, and afterwards wrote a number of war poems. If war was a profound influence on Ted Hughes as a child, the region, where he was born, was another profound influence. He was born in the CalderValley; and his early impressions of this valley remained permanently engraved on his mind. One of his volumes of poems, which appeared in the late seventies of the twentieth century, and which is entitled Remains of Elmet, and another volume entitled The River (1980) contain graphic descriptions of the CalderValley, of the river Calder, and of the life of the rural people of that region.

Interest in Animals and Birds
When Edward James Hughes (or Ted Hughes as he subsequently came to be known) was just seven years old, the family moved from the town of his birth to Maxborough, a coal-mining town in South Yorkshire. This was a great change in the life of the boy who had begun to love his rural surroundings and who had now to adapt himself to urban life. In the rural surroundings of the town of his birth, he had begun to take great interest in animals and birds, and had wanted to capture them to enjoy their company, though he never succeeded in capturing any. This interest in animals, dating from his childhood, remained with him throughout his life, and it accounts for a large number of animal poems which he subsequently wrote.
At School; National Service; and at CambridgeUniversity
Hughes attended MaxboroughGrammar School and, after passing his final examination there, proceeded to the University of Cambridge on a scholarship which he had won though, before going up to the university, he did National Service for two years as a wireless mechanic in the Royal Air Force. At CambridgeUniversity he first took up English literature as his chief subject of study, but two years later switched over to archaeology and anthropology. At Cambridge he also happened to meet an American girl, Sylvia Plath, who had gone there to study English language and literature. In 1956, two years after graduating from CambridgeUniversity, he married her.
The Failure of His Marriage; and Another Marriage; More Publications
In 1957 Hughes published his first collection of poems, giving it the title of “The Hawk in the Rain” which was also the title of one of the poems in this collection. In the same year he went with Sylvia Plath to live in America where they stayed until 1959. In 1960, he and his wife returned to England, and published his second collection of poems, giving it the title of “Lupercal”. He and his wife were now living in a small flat in London; and there they had their first child, Frieda Rebecca, in 1960. The second volume of his poems confirmed his reputation as a young poet of great promise. In fact, his very first publication, namely, “The Hawk in the Rain” had brought him recognition and much critical acclaim. Sylvia Plath too was an author, and she too now published some of her work. A second child, a boy named Nicholas Ferrer, was born to the couple in 1962 in their home in North Tawton, Devon, to which they had shifted from London in 1961. However, the marriage was already showing signs of strain; and the couple separated. Sylvia and the two children moved to a flat in London. Hughes too moved to London, and began to stay there separately from his family. In 1963 Sylvia Plath committed suicide in her flat. It seems that Hughes had been having an affair with another woman, and that Sylvia took recourse to the extreme step because of her frustration. For three years after her suicide, Hughes did not write much except a few magazine articles and book reviews. After a trip to Ireland in 1966, he seemed to have recovered his creative vigour; and in 1967, he published his next volume of poems, entitled “Wodwo”. But tragedy struck him again when the woman, with whom he had formed a friendship, died in 1969. In 1970 Hughes married a woman by the name of Carol Orchard. She was the daughter of a Devon farmer whom Hughes celebrated in his volume entitled “Moortown”. Around the same time (in the year 1970) Hughes joined several other writers to form “The Arvon Foundation” to promote and sponsor budding poets, novelists, and playwrights. In the summer of 1971, he went to Iran with Peter Brook’s international company to write a play for an Iranian theatrical organization. A volume of poems entitled “Crow” had been published by him in 1970; and now other volumes of poems by him followed: “Season Songs” in 1974; “Gaudete”, in 1977; “Cave Birds” in 1978; “Remains of Elmet” in 1979; and “The River” in 1983.
The Poet Laureate in 1984
By now Hughes had been recognized as one of the most outstanding English poets; and in 1984 he was appointed the Poet Laureate of England in succession to Sir John Betjernan at the latter’s death.
His Poetry, Not Autobiographical to Any Appreciable Extent
Hughes’s life has been very eventful, and even turbulent. However, the facts of his life did not have much of an impact on his poetry. In other words, his biography has not much affected his poetry, even though his volume of poems entitled “Wodwo”, which appeared about four years after Sylvia Plath’s suicide, contains some of the most pessimistic poems he ever wrote. The pessimism of these poems may be attributed to the personal disaster of his first wife’s death but, on the whole, his poetry cannot be described as autobiographical to any appreciable degree. This statement again needs to be qualified because the two later volumes of his poems— “Remains of Elmet” and “The River”—contain realistic and authentic pictures of the natural scenery in the midst of which he had spent the earliest years of his life. In this connection a critic writes: “Of course the dark tones of “Wodwo”‘ and the urge that gave rise to “Crow” have to do with autobiography. But, the closer one looks, the more one is struck by the near absence of direct literary or biographical influence.” According to this critic, Hughes’s poetry is not written in the “confessional” mode.

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