About Ted Hughes

Edward James Hughes was an English poet and children's writer, known as Ted Hughes. His most characteristic verse is without sentimentality, emphasizing the cunning and savagery of animal life in harsh, sometimes disjunctive lines.

The dialect of Hughes's native West Riding area of Yorkshire set the tone of his verse. At Pembroke College, Cambridge, he found folklore and anthropology of particular interest, a concern that was reflected in a number of his poems. In 1956 he married the American poet Sylvia Plath. The couple made a visit to the United States in 1957, the year that his first volume of verse,
The Hawk in the Rain
, was published. Other works soon followed.

Hughes stopped writing poetry almost completely for nearly three years following Plath's suicide in 1963 (the couple had separated earlier), but thereafter he published prolifically, often in collaboration with photographers and illustrators, as in Under the North Star (1981). He wrote many volumes for children, including Remains of Elmet (1979), in which he recalled the world of his childhood. From 1965 he was co-editor of the magazine Modern Poetry in Translation in London. Some of Hughes's essays on subjects of literary and cultural criticism were published as Winter Pollen (1994). After decades of silence on the subject of his marriage to Plath, Hughes addressed it in the poems of
Birthday Letters
(1998). In 1984 he was appointed Britain's poet laureate.

Quotes by Ted Hughes

“In a cage of wire-ribs The size of a man’s head, the macaw bristles in a staring Combustion, suffers the stoking devils of his eyes. In the old lady’s parlour, where an aspidistra succumbs To the musk of faded velvet, he hangs in clear flames, Like a torturer’s iron instrument preparing With dense slow shudderings of greens, yellows, blues, Crimsoning into the barbs: Or like the smouldering head that hung In Killdevil’s brass kitchen, in irons, who had been Volcano swearing to vomit the world away in black ash, And would, one day; or a fugitive aristocrat From some thunderous mythological hierarchy, caught By a little boy with a crust and a bent pin, Or snare of horsehair set for a song-thrush, And put in a cage to sing. The old lady who feeds him seeds Has a grand-daughter. The girl calls him ‘Poor Polly’, pokes fun. ’Jolly Mop.’ But lies under every full moon, The spun glass of her body bared and so gleam-still Her brimming eyes do not tremble or spill The dream where the warrior comes, lightning and iron, Smashing and burning and rending towards her loin: Deep into her pillow her silence pleads. All day he stares at his furnace With eyes red-raw, but when she comes they close. ’Polly. Pretty Poll’, she cajoles, and rocks him gently. She caresses, whispers kisses. The blue lids stay shut. She strikes the cage in a tantrum and swirls out: Instantly beak, wings, talons crash The bars in conflagration and frenzy, And his shriek shakes the house. Read more...
Ted Hughes
Topics: poetry
“Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it... Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It’s been protected by the efficient armour, it’s never participated in life, it’s’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs, it’s never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it’s never properly lived. That’s how it is in almost everybody. And that little creature is sitting there, behind the armour, peering through the slits. And in its own self, it is still unprotected, incapable, inexperienced... And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool—for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful... And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, and suddenly the artificial self of adaptations proves inadequate, and fails to ward off the invasion of raw experience, that inner self is thrown into the front line—unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears. And yet that’s the moment it wants. That’s where it comes alive—even if only to be overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt. And that’s where it calls up its own resources—not artificial aids, picked up outside, but real inner resources, real biological ability to cope, and to turn to account, and to enjoy. That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self—struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence—you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself. Read more...
Ted Hughes