Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes (1930-1998) went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1951 as an undergraduate in English, although in his third year he switched to studying Archaeology and Anthropology, feeling that the English Tripos was doing his poetry little good and that the syllabus was 'too superficially wide, and so much more a knowledge of opinions about literature, than a real knowledge' (quoted from his Letters, p.15). It was after graduating, but nonetheless in Cambridge, that he met Sylvia Plath, whom he married and whose suicide in 1963 is difficult to ignore in any discussion of Hughes's life and work. His 1998 collection Birthday Letters deals openly with many different aspects of their relationship, and was well-received upon publication. But it was published as the latest, and the last, book of poetry by a writer who was already held in high regard, not simply due to his fourteen-year tenure as Poet Laureate. From his debut The Hawk in the Rain (1957) onwards, through collections like Wodwo (1967), Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow (1970), Remains of Elmet (1979), Moortown Diary (also 1979), Rain-Charm for the Duchy (1992) and Tales from Ovid (1997), to name a few, Hughes demonstrated that he was a writer as adept at writing and rewriting creation myths as he was at confronting and evading the myths that surrounded his own life.  Finding humanity in the inhuman and vice versa, his poetry also carries the weight of poetic responsibility, and the poet's juggling, or bridging, of the public and the private. His diverse, fascinating collections are all worth pursuing as such, many in the 'slim volumes' for which the publisher Faber and Faber became famous. Faber has also produced a Hughes volume that is anything but slim (but sometimes not too expensive): the 1300 and more pages of the Collected Poems (London, 2003).

The Hughes pages of Cambridge Authors include thought-provoking introductions to two very different collections: Crow and Birthday Letters. Another essay considers the poetry he wrote while Poet Laureate. Amid the diversity of his work the final essay explores a recurring theme: his interest in the natural world and the value of an 'eco-critical' perspective. We also include a resource devoted to the poetry magazine Hughes and his friends produced at Cambridge, St Botolph's Review.

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