Ted Hughes

1930 –

Edward James (Ted) Hughes was born in Mytholmroyd, in the West Riding district of Yorkshire, on August 17, 1930. His childhood was quiet and dominately rural. When he was seven years old his family moved to the small town of Mexborough in South Yorkshire, and the landscape of the moors of that area informed his poetry throughout his life. After high school, Hughes entered the Royal Air Force and served for two years as a ground wireless mechanic. He then moved to Cambridge to attend Pembroke College on an academic scholarship. While in college, he published a few poems, majored in anthropology and archaeology, and studied mythologies extensively. He graduated from Cambridge in 1954.

A few years later, in 1956, Hughes cofounded the literary magazine St. Botolph’s Review with a handful of other editors. At the launch party for the magazine, he met Sylvia Plath. A few short months later, on June 16, 1956, they were married. Plath encouraged Hughes to submit his first manuscript, The Hawk in the Rain, to The Poetry Center’s First Publication book contest. The judges—Marianne Moore, W. H. Auden, and Stephen Spender—awarded the manuscript first prize, and it was published in both England and America in 1957, to much critical praise.

Hughes lived in Massachusetts with Plath and taught at University of Massachusetts Amherst. They returned to England in 1959, and their first child, Freida, was born the following year. Their second child, Nicholas, was born two years later.

In 1962, Hughes left Plath for Assia Gutmann Wevill. Less than a year later, Plath died by suicide. Hughes did not write again for years, as he focused all of his energy on editing and promoting Plath’s poems. He was also roundly lambasted by the public, who saw him as responsible for his wife’s suicide. Controversy surrounded his editorial choices regarding Plath’s poems and journals. In 1965, Wevill gave birth to their only child, Shura. Four years later, like Plath, she also committed suicide, killing Shura as well. The following year, in 1970, Hughes married Carol Orchard, with whom he remained married until his death.

Hughes’s lengthy career included more than a dozen books of poetry, translations, nonfiction, and children’s books, such as the famous The Iron Man (Faber & Faber, 1968). His books of poems include: Wolfwatching (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1991); Flowers and Insects (Knopf, 1986); Selected Poems 1957–1981 (Faber & Faber, 1982); Moortown (Harper & Row, 1980); Cave Birds (Viking Press, 1978); Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow (Faber & Faber, 1971); and Lupercal (Faber & Faber, 1960). His final collection, The Birthday Letters (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998), published the year of his death, documented his relationship with Plath.

Hughes’s work is marked by a mythical framework, using the lyric and dramatic monologue to illustrate intense subject matter. Animals appear frequently throughout his work as deity, metaphor, persona, and icon. Perhaps the most famous of his subjects is “Crow,” an amalgam of god, bird, and man, whose existence seems pivotal to the knowledge of good and evil.

Hughes won many of Europe’s highest literary honors and was appointed poet laureate of England in 1984, a post that he held until his death. He passed away in October 28, 1998, in Devonshire, England.