Hughes in the Abbey

March 23, 2010

Today’s good news is that Ted Hughes is to be given a memorial tablet in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

He was a huge presence, and deserves to be there – and since his gloriously nutty ideas encompassed Christianity as well as a load of other religions and the occult, there is no great disparity between his poetry and its remembrance in a church, as there is with – say – Larkin.I wonder how the literary feminists will take this, though. One of the troubles of Hughes’s later life was his struggle to maintain the grave of Sylvia Plath at Heptonstall. Partisan fans of Sylvia kept chiselling off the ‘Hughes’ from ‘Sylvia Hughes Plath’. They also stole the pebbles which Hughes had imported specially from Devon to decorate the grave.

I only ever saw Hughes once. He came to do a reading at Manchester University when I was there in the mid-sixties. It was just after Sylvia’s death, though I don’t think I knew about that at the time. He was a large dark impressive presence, wearing, I think, a suit and a pink shirt. He read his verse with great authority, in a resonant voice that gave a sense of the emotional power behind the words.

In the late eighties, one of my ex-students met Hughes in a night club. He chatted her up, and tried to persuade her to go to America with him. She didn’t take him up on the offer.


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