Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education



Front Page

World

UK

UK Politics

Business

Sci/Tech

Health

Education

Sport

Entertainment

Talking Point
On Air
Feedback
Low Graphics
Help

Thursday, October 29, 1998 Published at 13:25 GMT


UK

Quiet man of intense verse

Ted Hughes: his intense poetry stirred the nation


The BBC's Nick Higham on Ted Hughes
Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, who has died aged 68, had a reticent, ascetic personality which was greatly at odds with his deeply passionate verse.

He is likely to be remembered as one of Britain's greatest 20th-century poets.

Ted Hughes was one of the most acclaimed and significant poets of his generation.

He won many national and international awards, including the Hawthornden prize and the Queens Medal for poetry.

He was appointed Poet Laureate in December 1984 - in some ways a surprise choice to succeed Sir John Betjeman.

Ted Hughes was born in West Yorkshire. The son of a carpenter, he went to grammar school, and Cambridge University.


[ image: His marriage to Sylvia Plath was troubled]
His marriage to Sylvia Plath was troubled
As a boy he used to go for walks on the moors, where his deep understanding of nature developed. At Cambridge he met and married his first wife, the American poet Sylvia Plath, who was later to commit suicide.

Hughes was much influenced by the recollections of his father, who fought at Gallipoli in World War I, and some of his poems include references to the slaughter there.

Hughes' unsentimental images of animal life are not to everyone's taste, but he rejected charges that his poems were violent. These lines are from Hawk Roosting, published in 1960:

I kill where I please because it is all mine
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads.

Hughes said: My poems are not about violence, but about vitality. What excites my imagination is the war between vitality and death in the natural world.

Acclaim at 30

His first major collection of poems, The Hawk in the Rain, published in 1957, won instant acclaim and four years later Lupercal took the Hawthornden prize. Hughes was still only 30.

After that nearly all his books had more than one element - drawings, photographs, prose, as well as the verse.

Crow - a nihilistic book with no lack of death and blood - and Gaudete, published in 1977, were the other main collections on which Hughes' reputation was based.

He wrote children's verse, plays and stories, notably The Iron Man, published in 1968.

A private man

Hughes was a tall, powerful man with a hawk-like profile. He was also a very private person.

When he was made Poet Laureate in 1984, a writer in The Times said it was a bit like appointing a grim young crow to replace a cuddly old teddy bear.

A small New Poetry poll in 1979 voted him best poet writing in English, ahead of Philip Larkin and Seamus Heaney.

Hughes and Sylvia Plath had two children. He married again in 1970.

New heights

In January 1998 Ted Hughes' reputation hit new heights when he was awarded the prestigious Whitbread Book of the Year Award for Tales Of Ovid, a re-working of classical Greek mythology.

This year also saw the Birthday Letters - a collection of poems which, for the first time, shed light on his troubled marriage to Sylvia Plath.

Many feminists and admirers of Plath had held Hughes responsible for his wife's suicide in 1963, accusing him of abandoning her for another woman at a time when she was emotionally unstable.

His name was repeatedly removed from Plath's grave by vandals.

Critics said the Birthday Letters showed Hughes as a man deeply in love and tortured by his wife's unstable nature and not as an indifferent betrayer as he has often been depicted.

His last public appearance came on 16 October when the Queen awarded him the Order of Merit - a rare honour in the gift of the monarch bestowed on only 24 people at any one time.



Advanced options | Search tips




Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©


UK Contents

Northern Ireland
Scotland
Wales
England

Relevant Stories

27 Jan 98 | UK
Poet Laureate wins Whitbread Book Award

29 Oct 98 | Entertainment
Poet Ted Hughes dies

10 Aug 98 | UK
New honour for Poet Laureate





Internet Links


Ted Hughes


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.




In this section

Next steps for peace

Blairs' surprise over baby

Bowled over by Lord's

Beef row 'compromise' under fire

Hamilton 'would sell mother'

Industry misses new trains target

From Sport
Quins fightback shocks Cardiff

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

IRA ceasefire challenge rejected

Thousands celebrate Asian culture

From Sport
Christie could get two-year ban

From Entertainment
Colleagues remember Compo

Mother pleads for baby's return

Toys withdrawn in E.coli health scare

From Health
Nurses role set to expand

Israeli PM's plane in accident

More lottery cash for grassroots

Pro-lifers plan shock launch

Double killer gets life

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer

From UK Politics
Straw on trial over jury reform

Tatchell calls for rights probe into Mugabe

Ex-spy stays out in the cold

From UK Politics
Blair warns Livingstone

From Health
Smear equipment `misses cancers'

From Entertainment
Boyzone star gets in Christmas spirit

Fake bubbly warning

Murder jury hears dead girl's diary

From UK Politics
Germ warfare fiasco revealed

Blair babe triggers tabloid frenzy

Tourists shot by mistake

A new look for News Online