The youngest of the three children of Edith Farrar Hughes and William Henry Hughes, Ted Hughes grew up on the sprawling and barren moors of West Yorkshire, where he spent his boyhood scouting the wilderness with his older brother, an avid hunter and woodsman. These early experiences with nature began a lifelong preoccupation with animals which would form the basis for one of the most unique and powerful voices in English poetry.
While Hughes was still a boy his family moved to Mexborough, where Hughes began writing poetry, encouraged by an English teacher at the town’s only grammar school. Following his national service, Hughes enrolled at Cambridge University and studied archaeology and anthropology. With a group of classmates he founded a literary magazine, St. Botolph’s Review, and at its inaugural party in 1956 he met a young American college student, poet Sylvia Plath. They were married only four months later.
Hughes and Plath influenced each other’s writing and sensibilities, with her learning about “woods and animals and earth” (in her words) from Hughes, and him learning about American poetry from her. The manuscript for Hughes’s first book, The Hawk in the Rain, was submitted to a New York poetry contest by Plath, who typed the manuscript for Hughes. First prize, which Hughes won, was publication of the book. Hughes and Plath had two children, Frieda, born in 1960, and Nicholas, born in 1962. By mid-1962, however, their marriage was disintegrating—Hughes had become involved with another woman—and they returned to London separately from Devon, where they had been living. Plath sank into a deep depression and committed suicide in February, 1963.
For a few years after Plath’s death, Hughes primarily wrote books for children; his next book of poetry for adults was Wodwo, published in 1967. In 1969, tragedy struck again when Assia Gutzmann, his new partner, and her child died. In 1970 Hughes married Carol Orchard. Hughes spent time living in Yorkshire, London, and, primarily, Devon. He was named poet laureate of England in 1984, succeeding Sir John Betjeman.
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