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Profile of poet Ted Hughes

By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

Ted Hughes
Yorkshire-born Ted Hughes made Devon his home

The late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes (1930-1998) may have been born in Yorkshire, but he made Devon his home.

He was born Edward James Hughes in Mytholmroyd, but he moved to North Tawton in mid Devon in 1961, and he remained in the county until his death from cancer in 1998.

Hughes' life was a tragic one. After going to Cambridge University, he met American poet Sylvia Plath, and they married in 1956.

They initially lived in America before moving to London and then Devon. Plath helped Hughes publish his first collection, The Hawk in the Rain, in 1957.

However, Hughes started an affair with another woman - Assia Wevill - and Plath found out.

She committed suicide by gassing herself in an oven in her London flat in 1963. She was just 30, and the couple had two young children, Frieda and Nick.

Hughes was devastated by her death and didn't write poetry for some time afterwards.

Carol Hughes
Ted Hughes' widow, Carol, opened the poetry trail at Stover

He had a daughter, Shura, with Assia Wevill, but this relationship also ended tragically when Wevill killed herself and four-year-old Shura. Wevill took an overdose of pills and also gave some to Shura, before turning on the gas stove.

That was in 1969, and in the following year Hughes married his second wife, Carol Orchard.

Following the tragedies, Hughes decided to keep a low profile during the 1970s.

He was awarded the OBE in 1977 and was Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death.

He spent much of his time farming at his home in Devon, and walking on northern Dartmoor. He loved this area and wrote about its beauty in his poems.

However, his life was cut short by cancer, which he fought for 18 months before his death at his north Devon home in October 1998.

Just 13 days before he died, he was awarded the Order of Merit by the Queen.

Also in 1998, he stunned the literary world by publishing a collection called "Birthday Letters," which was about his life with Plath.

After all those years of silence about that period in his life, he decided to tell the world all about it. The work was highly acclaimed.

In 2003 - five years after his death - the BBC in the South West tracked down a memorial stone in his honour in a remote part of northern Dartmoor - one of his favourite places.

The granite slab
The granite slab on Dartmoor - the poet's favourite spot

Hughes had requested his name be cut in a long slab of granite and placed between the sources of the rivers Teign, Dart, Taw and East Okement.

There is speculation the slab must have been airlifted into place. The spot is on Duchy of Cornwall land, and Prince Charles - a friend of the poet - gave special permission for it.

Hughes also asked for his ashes to be scattered in the area.

In 2006, the poet's widow, Carol Hughes, officially opened the Ted Hughes Poetry Trail at Stover Country Park in south Devon.

The trail features 16 of his poems, which are on poetry posts in the park. All relate to an element of wildlife which can be found in the area.

In March 2010, it was announced that Hughes is to honoured with a permanent memorial in Poet's Corner.

He was accepted for the accolade by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall.

The memorial will be in the South Transept, alongside the graves and memorials of other great writers including Tennyson, Betjeman and Wordsworth.

Click onto the links on this page for more about the Stover trail and the memorial stone on Dartmoor.

Poets' Corner memorial for Hughes
22 Mar 10 |  Devon
Poets' Corner call for Ted Hughes
01 Dec 09 |  Devon



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