Ted Hughes, Britain's Poet Laureate
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Ted Hughes, Britain\'s Poet Laureate
Edward James Hughes is one of the most outstanding living British poets. In 1984 he was awarded the title of the nation\'s Poet Laureate. He came into prominence in the late fifties and early sixties, having earned a reputation of a prolific, original and skilful poet, which he maintained to the present day.
Ted Hughes was born in 1930 in Yorkshire into a family of a carpenter. After graduating from Grammar School he went up to Cambridge to study English, but later changed to Archaeology and Anthropology. At Cambridge he met Sylvia Plath, whom he married in 1956. His first collection of poems Hawk in the Rain was published in 1957. The same year he made his first records of reading of some Yeats’s poems and one of his own for BBC Third Programme. Shortly afterwards, the couple went to live to America and stayed there until 1959. His next collection of poems Lupercal (1960) was followed by two books for children Meet My Folks (1961) and Earth Owl (1963). Selected Poems, with Thom Gunn (a poet whose work is frequently associated with Hughes\'s as marking a new turn in English verse), was published in 1962. Then Hughes stopped writing almost completely for nearly three years following Sylvia Plath\'s death in 1963 (the couple had separated earlier), but thereafter he published prolifically, often in collaboration with photographers and illustrators. The volumes of poetry that succeeded Selected Poems include Wodwo (1967), Crow (1970), Season Songs (1974), Gaudete (1977), Cave Birds (1978), Remains of Elmet (1979) and Moortown (1979).
At first the recognition came from overseas, as his Hawk in the Rain (1957) was selected New York’s Poetry Book Society’s Autumn Choice and later the poet was awarded Nathaniel Hawthorn’s Prize for Lupercal (1960). Soon he became well-known and admired in Britain. On 19 December 1984 Ted Hughes became Poet Laureate, in succession to the late John Betjeman.
Hughes has written a great deal for the theatre, both for adults and for children. He has also published many essays on his favourite poets and edited selections from the work of Keith Douglas and Emily Dickinson (1968). Since 1965 he has been a co-editor of the magazine Modern Poetry in Translation in London. He is still an active critic and poet, his new poems appearing almost weekly (9:17)
Judging from bibliography, Ted Hughes has received a lot of attention from scholars and literary critics both in the USA and Britain. However, most of these works are not available in Lithuania. Hence my overview of Hughes’ criticism might not be full enough. The few things I have learned from reading about Ted Hughes could be outlined as follows.
Some critics describe Hughes as “a nearly demonic poet, possessed with the life of nature”, “a poet of violence” (4:162), his poetry being “anti-human” in its nature (12:486). According to Pat Rogers, his verse reflect the experience of human cruelty underlying the work of contemporary East European poets such as Pilinszky and Popa, both admired by Hughes. Hughes’ concern with religion gave inspiration to his construction of anti-Christian myth, which was mainly based on the famous British writer and critic Robert Ranke Graves’ book The White Goddess (1948) and partly on his own studies of anthropology (12:486).
Speaking of his early poems, the critics note that at first they were mistakenly viewed as a development of tradition of English animalistic poetry (6:414) started by Rudyard Kipling and D.H. Lawrence. G. Bauzyte stresses that Hughes is not purely animalistic poet, since in his animalistic verse he seeks parallels to human life (4:163). In I. Varnaite’s words, “nature is anthropomorphised in his poems” (5:61). Furthermore, G. Bauzyte observes that Hughes’ poetics are reminiscent of the Parnassians and in particular Leconte de Lisle’s animalistic poems. She points out, however, that the latter were more concerned with colour, exotic imagery and impression, while Hughes work is marked by deeper semantic meaning. His poetical principals are fully displayed in the poem Thrushes - “spontaneous, intuitive glorification of life, akin to a bird’s song or Mozart’s music” (4:162).
The four main sources of Hughes’s inspiration mentioned are Yorkshire landscape, where he grew up as a son of a carpenter, totemism studied by the poet at Cambridge and
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Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Hughes, Langston Hughes, Rosamund Marriott Watson
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