On December 6th 2011, Edward James Hughes was inducted into the most elite literary group in the world. You may know him better as Ted.
13 years after his death, the Poet Laureate from 1984 -1998 was given a spot in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey. Hughes is certainly in esteemed company, rubbing shoulders with British literary greats, such as Blake, Wordsworth and his hero, Eliot, at whose ‘feet’ Hughes’ slab is placed. There was a great rush of people eager to sing the praises of Hughes, with friend Seamus Heaney saying that:
‘ I think Ted would be utterly honoured to be at the foot of TS Eliot and he would indeed be honoured to be in the Corner.’
and fellow former Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion (in perhaps typically poetic fashion) stating:
‘It almost literally cements his place in the great tradition of great British writers and that seems completely well deserved to me and I dare say to all and sundry.’
It would be a case of litotes (which i’m sure the poet himself would’ve appreciated) to say that Hughes hasn’t always been the most popular figure. When I ask people what they think of Mr Hughes, invariably I am greeted with a disdainful look and a series of mumbles about Sylvia and it is this troubled, destructive and abusive relationship with Ms Plath that does not endear Ted to the public at large.
Despite his disturbing biography, there are few who can deny the man’s brilliance.
As Armitage begins to touch on, Hughes was able to strike a remarkable balance between being an Aesthete and a Philistine. His themes are often dark, complex and challenging and yet his language rarely is; he is a fine example of the fact that good literature does not have to have pretensions. His richly emotive, passionate, raw language renders him accessible to a public who seem to have relatively little interest in ‘high’ poetry. This is certainly an admirable feat, highlighted by the fact that his collection Birthday Letters managed to find its way onto several best-sellers lists upon its release in 1998.
He was a troubled man, there is little doubting that, but he was most certainly a brilliant one too. There have been few post-war poets who have written such exquisite poetry in such a readable manner and it is because of this that Hughes deserves his place amongst his great predecessors. The tagline of my blog quotes Hawthorne in stating that ‘Easy reading is damn hard writing’. Ted, for one, had the measure of this. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite Hughes poems:
The Thought Fox
I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Besides the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.
Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:
Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now
Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come
Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Coming about its own business
Till, with sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.