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||Ted Hughes (1930-1998) - byname of Edward J. Hughes|
English poet, dramatist, critic, and short story writer, married to the American poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963. Hughes stated that poems, like animals, are each one "an assembly of living parts, moved by a single spirit." In his early works Hughes questioned man's function in the universal scheme. Seriously interested in shamanism, hermeticism, astrology, and the Ouija board, Hughes examined in several of his later animal poems the themes of survival and the mystery and destructiveness of the cosmos.
For they will have their rights.
Edward James Hughes was born in Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire, but raised in Mexborough, a coal-mining town in South Yorkshire. The harsh landscape of the northern England moors had a strong influence in Hughes's poetry. From his earliest days he was hooked on fish, though the river by which he grew up was polluted by chemicals. His parents were warm-hearted people – his mother was famous for her jams and gooseberry pies; his father was a carpenter, who later turned news agent. He had participated during World War I in the battle of Gallipoli, and was one of the 17 who survived from his regiment.
After studies at the Mexborough Grammar School, Hughes served two years in the Royal Air Force. From grammar school he won a scholarship to Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied first English and then switched to archaeology and anthropology. One night he had a dream in which he saw a fox appearing in his room. It placed a bloody pawn on the blank page in front of him, and said, "Stop this. You are destroying us." Hughes specialized in mythological systems, which provided much material for his poetry. He graduated in 1954 and settled in London, where he worked as a zoo attendant, gardener, and script reader for J. Arthur Rank.
In Cambridge Hughes founded with his friends a literary magazine St Botolph's Review. At a student party he first saw an unknown poet, Sylvia Plath. The meeting anticipated their tumultuous relationship – she bit him on the cheek, so hard that it bled. They married within a few months; possibly it was Sylvia who proposed. In 1957 the couple moved to the US. Hughes taught English and creative writing at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Disgusted with American culture and mass-produced luxury, he wanted to return to England; "I'd rather eat mud than live in America", he said. For her birthday he gave a pack of tarot cards. Later on she purchased a crystal ball to see what their future holds. Hughes consulted the Quija board for bets on soccer.
Plath typed up the manuscript of Hughes's The Hawk in the Rain (1957), his first volume of verse. It included some of his best poems, such as 'The Thought-Fox' and the title poems, 'The Hawk in the Rain'. "I imagine this midnight moment's forest: / Something else is alive / Beside the clock's loneliness / And this blank page where my fingers move." (in 'The Thought-Fox') It was followed by Pike (1959) and Lupercal (1960), which won a Somerset Maugham Award (1960) and the 1961 Hawthornden Prize. Hughes's collection Selected Poems (1962), with Thom Gunn, is considered a new turn in English verse.
During this period Hughes also supported Plath through her depressions and encouraged her when publishers rejected her work. "I sometimes feel a paralysis come over me: his opinion is so important to me", she wrote in her journal. Hughes and Plath returned to England in 1959 and in 1961 they moved to Devon. Plath suspected him of infidelity, first falsely but then correctly when Hughes met Assia Wevill, a German-born, cosmopolitan woman who had been married three times. At that time she was married to the Canadian poet David Wevill.
Hughes's first collection of poetry for children was Meet My Folks! (1961). How the Wale Became (1963) was a collection of creation stories. Both How the Whale Became and The Iron Man (1968) were dedicated to his children. What Is Truth? A Farmyard Tale for the Young (1984) won the Guardian Children's Book Prize and the Signal Poetry Prize. The Iron Man was originally written for his own children. This widely translated book tells about a huge Iron Man whose origin is unknown. He steals all tractors, threshers and digging machines from local farmers – he has an insatiable appetite for metals. The farmers try to capture the strange, rusty being. However, the Iron Man escapes from a trap. A young boy befriends with him and leads him to a scrapyard, where the Iron Man has all kinds of metal scrap, from old cars and stoves to bicycles, to eat. A giant Space-Bat-Dragon-Angel appears from the space – its head is the size of Italy and it threatens to eat the villages and cities of the world. The Iron Man defeats the creature. The bat starts its journey back to Orion, its home star, singing a song which brings peace on earth. The book inspired the animated movie Iron Giant (1999) and had a sequel, The Iron Woman (1993).
After Sylvia Plath's suicide in London in 1963, Hughes stopped writing poetry for nearly three years while editing and publishing her poems. He also helped to gain public recognition for Plath's Ariel, a collection of poems, which had appeared in 1965. It was not until 1971, when Hughes explained to his children that their mother had committed suicide. According to Elaine Feinstein, whose well-balanced biography on the author came out in 2001, he never recovered from the loss. Hughes divided his time between London and Court Green, his Devon house. Plath's death made Hughes a pariah in the eyes of some writers. Many feminist critics cited her poems, in which Hughes was represented as a "brute". Moreover, his name was chipped off her tombstone in Yorkshire and his poetry readings were disrupted by shouts of "murder". The writer Germaine Greer later admitted, ''Ted Hughes existed to be punished..."
At the age of 40, Hughes produced perhaps his most famous work, Crow (1970), a series of story-poems. The protagonist, "Crow", is an embodiment of vitality that challenges the supremacy of "Death". At the end of the poem, a man and a woman are ready to whisper "Your will is our peace" in mistaken allegiance to the serpent; Crow kills and eats it.
The memory of Plath started to haunt Wevill, who feared that Hughes would leave her. In 1969, the tragedy continued when she killed herself and Shura, their four-year-old daughter. Wevill gave Shura sleeping pills and turned on the gas oven, lying down with her on a mattress. Two decades later, in Capriccion (1990) Hughes wrote: "After forty I'll end it," you said / laughing / (You were serious) as you folded / your future / Into your empty clothes. Which / Oxfam took."
Hughes edited a number of collections of verse and prose. He was a founding editor of Modern Poetry in Translation magazine and one of the founders of the Arvon Foundation. Hughes' adaptation of Seneca's Oedipus was produced in 1969 at the National Theatre. In 1971 Hughes travelled to Iran where he wrote the verse drama Orghast for the director Peter Brook. He was awarded in 1977 an OBE and in 1984 he was appointed poet Laureate, at the age of 54. Interested in the work of Yehuda Amichai, Hughes made the poetry of this prominent Israeli writer known for English readers. In addition to his literary career, Hughes took up various causes, such as the preservation of salmon in British rivers. He strongly spoke against the capture of salmon by nets. As a fisherman, he had several decades of experience on the rivers Taw and Torridge. In 1983 he contributed to Anne Voss Bark's book, West Country Fly Fishing. Writing to his friend he said, "Even twenty years ago they produced 1/3 of all salmon in the West Country. Last year only 43 salmon were caught on the Torridge. (It used to be a thousand to 1500.) It's become a far, sewer." (in Ted Hughes by Terry Gifford, 2009, p. 23) With the fishing photographer Peter Keen he collaborated in River (1983).
Hughes stated in Poetry in the Making (1970) that there is no ideal form of poetry or writing. His work ranged from free verse to highly structured rhyme schemes. He gradually abandoned traditional forms and stated that the "very sound of metre calls up the ghosts of the past and it is difficult to sing one's own tune against the choir." Though he wrote for young adults a wide variety of finely illustrated poems, plays and prose, he did not soften his themes of life and death with sentimentality. Hughes often embodied the primal forces of nature as mythical animals, such as the pike ("With a sag belly and the grin it was born with. / And indeed they spare nobody."), the hawk, and the crow. The element of death is a part of the cycles of nature as in 'There Came a Day' but not without a sudden humor: "There came a day that caught the summer / Wrung its neck / Plucked it / And ate it."
Hughes's study of Sylvia Plath's life, Birthday Letters (1998) became an immediate bestseller. He received all the major literary awards in Europe, but not the Nobel Prize. In 1998 he was appointed the Order of Merit. Hughes died of cancer on October 28, 1998, in Devon.
For further reading: Eight Contemporary Poets by C. Bedient (1974); The Art of Ted Hughes by K. Sagar (1978); Ted Hughes: The Unaccommodated Universe by E. Faas (1980); Ted Hughes: A Critical Study by T. Gifford and N. Roberts (1981); The Silent Woman by Janet Malcolm (1994); Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet by Elaine Feinstein (2001); Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes' Doomed Love by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev (2006); Ted Hughes by Terry Gifford (2009). Note: Andrew Motion followed Ted Hughes as Britain's poet laureate. Suom.: Hughesin runoja on myös julkaistu antologiassa Maailman runosydän, toim. Hannu Tarmio ja Janne Tarmio (1998)