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Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK


Ted Hughes: 'A born poet' remembered

The late Poet Laureate: Honoured at Westminster Abbey

The voice of the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes echoed around Westminster Abbey at his own memorial service.

Mr Hughes died from cancer in October at the age of 68 but has continued to draw critical acclaim, picking up posthumous titles including the Whitbread Book of the Year prize for Birthday Letters.

[ image: Seamus Heaney paid tribute to a fellow poet]
Seamus Heaney paid tribute to a fellow poet
His reading of Shakespeare's Song from Cymbeline was played in the abbey where hundreds joined Prince Charles and the Queen Mother to celebrate the writer's life.

Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, a close friend of Hughes, called him "a guardian spirit of the land and language".

"He was a born poet in as far as his first impulse was to give glory to creation," said Mr Heaney.

Referring to the tragedies which plagued Mr Hughes's life, such as the suicide of his first wife Sylvia Plath, he said: "The learning in his art was marked by personal and historic sorrows.

"He was a great man and a great poet, because of his fullness and his simplicity."

Mr Heaney made reference to the kings and poets buried at the abbey and said: "It's impossible not to think of Ted Hughes with figures in the tapestry of the permanent and the distant."

'Unusual service for unusual man'

The service was peppered with Hughes' poetry, read by people such as Mr Heaney and former arts minister and ex-Arts Council boss Lord Gowrie.

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev Dr Wesley Carr, told the congregation: "To speak about a poet risks losing his genius and spirit. So an unusual man requires an unusual remembrance.

[ image: Sylvia Plath: First wife who committed suicide]
Sylvia Plath: First wife who committed suicide
"We shall therefore hear Ted Hughes' friends read his words and in the setting of his poetry remember him."

The readings dealt with recurring themes of the natural world and war.

Dr Caroline Tisdall, a friend of the former Poet Laureate, read his poem Fern and said of the writer: "Ted Hughes was the voice of our countryside. He pleaded with passion against the poisoning of the pure source in nature and the reduction of the living and working countryside to a museum park.

'Nature was magical and cruel'

"He looked nature in the eye with all her magic and all her cruelty. As Poet Laureate he added relevance to poetry, nature and royalty by fusing them together."

Mr Heaney read the late poet's Anniversary, written about the death of his mother. He pointed out the relevance of the date of Thursday's service.

"May 13 is the anniversary of Ted Hughes's mother's death so the fact of calling his memorial service on this day is as appropriate as it is sorrowful."

He also recalled Mr Hughes funeral in Devon, and alluded to the rivers of which the poet himself had written many times in his works.

Mr Heaney said his body was carried at knee height out of the church by the family.

He said: "The coffin floated out of the door on a clear channel of light and air.

"His instinct for wholeness and harmony made him a great Poet Laureate," he added, comparing him to Shakespeare and Blake.

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