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Celebrating the life and work of Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes


Ted Hughes (1930-1998) was born at 1 Aspinall Street, Mytholmroyd, in the West Riding of Yorkshire on the 17th August 1930. Ted was  a pupil at the Burnley Road School until he was seven, when his family moved to Mexborough, in South Yorkshire. As a child he spent many hours exploring the countryside around Mytholmroyd, often in the company of his older brother, Gerald, and these experiences and the influences of the landscape on him were to inform much of his later poetry.

 

After serving in the Royal Air Force, Hughes attended Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied anthropology and archaeology.  In 1956 he married the American poet Sylvia Plath, who encouraged him to submit his debut collection The Hawk in the Rain (1957) to a first book contest run by The Poetry Center. Awarded first prize, the collection secured Hughes’s reputation as a poet of international standing. 

 

Hughes never lost contact with the Calder Valley.  In 1952, when Hughes was in his second year at Cambridge, his family came to live at The Beacon at Heptonstall Slack, only a mile or so from Mytholmroyd. In 1956 Hughes brought his first wife, Sylvia Plath there, and although the couple eventually settled in Devon, after Plath’s suicide in 1963 she was interred in the graveyard of St Thomas's at Heptonstall.

 

In 1969 Hughes bought a half-derelict mill-owner’s house, Lumb Bank, at Heptonstall Slack. In 1970 he married Carol Orchard, a Devon farmer’s daughter. Hughes, Carol, and the two children from his marriage to Plath lived at Lumb Bank for a time, but later returned to Devon. After renovating Lumb Bank, in 1975 Hughes leased it to the Arvon Foundation. Lumb Bank is now known as the Ted Hughes Arvon Centre,

 

One of the greatest poets of his generation, Hughes also wrote stories, plays, reviews and essays. He translated the work of, amongst others, Ovid, Racine, Aeschylus and Euripides. He wrote extensively for children, including the story The Iron Man, which was turned into the Disney blockbuster The Iron Giant. The Iron Man is retold on a series of storyboards on the platforms of Mytholmroyd Station. Hughes's interests in other art forms led to many collaborations with other artists, most famously with the American sculptor and illustrator, Leonard Baskin.


Although best known in the UK, Hughes was a writer of international standing. He won numerous awards throughout his career, including four for his final collection, Birthday Letters. Hughes was Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death on 28th October 1998.

 

Ted described looking out of the skylight window of his bedroom in Mytholmroyd onto the Zion Chapel. The Chapel is long gone, but Zion Terrace remains, its name a reminder of more God-fearing times. In The Rock, an autobiographical piece about his early childhood, Hughes writes about Scout Rock, whose cliff face provided 'both the curtain and back-drop to existence'.  The area continued to be a powerful source of inspiration in his poetry long after he had left Yorkshire.

 

In his classic and richly personal collection Remains of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence, with photographs by Fay Godwin, [Rainbow Press (London, England), 1979] Hughes suggests that the Calder Valley was originally the kingdom of Elmet, the last Celtic land to fall to the Anglo-Saxons. a second revised edition was published as Elmet: Poems, [Faber and Faber, 1994].

       

However, others of Hughes’ poems also relate to the Calder Valley. ‘Six Young Men’, for example,was written at Hughes’ parents’ house at Heptonstall Slack in 1956. The poem describes a photograph belonging to Hughes’ father of six of his friends on an outing to Lumb Falls, taken just before the first world war.

 

For more about Ted Hughes, go to the Poetry Archive

 

For more about Ted Hughes and Calderdale go to  http://www.keithsagar.co.uk/tedhughes.html

 

 

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