Ted Hughes: Mytholmroyd's master of words
By Christine Verguson and Martin Coldrick
The late Ted Hughes, enigmatic wordsmith and Mytholmroyd's most famous son, could soon be voted Britain's favourite poet as part of the BBC's Poetry Season. We've been out to his old Calder Valley stomping ground to discover more about him...
Ted Hughes in 1985
Born on 17th August 1930 at Number 1 Aspinall Street - a small, stone-built end terrace in Mytholmroyd - Ted Hughes was at the start an incredible journey. At the other end of that journey, when he died in 1998, he had become one of the most critically lauded English language poets and had been awarded the ultimate accolade of poet laureate. His name would be forever associated with such luminaries as Betjeman, Dryden, Tennyson and Wordsworth. Not bad for a lad from the West Riding...
Ted Hughes' birthplace in Mytholmroyd
Living in the shadow of the Calder Valley with its unpredictable weather and its solid, unchanging landscape, it's no surprise that Hughes' work was often inspired by his birthplace and the surrounding countryside. At least eight of his poems are set in the house in which he spent his earliest years, many more are set in the surrounding area.
Ted Hughes became one of the leading poets of his generation and one of the big themes of his work, one which he often explored, was the cruelty of nature. It all started in the Calder Valley, the place where he first went hunting and trapping. Talking to the BBC in 2004, Hughes' childhood friend Donald Crossley was in no doubt that Ted was inspired by what he did and saw there: "This is where his rapport with nature began."
Donald Crossley also remembered going fishing with Hughes - another passion he shared with his childhood friend: "Ted was a great fisherman. He dearly loved fishing. It was his greatest love, salmon fishing, and it all began here when we were boys."
Blue plaque at Hughes' birthplace
The Hughes family moved to Mexborough in South Yorkshire in 1937 but this was not the end of Ted's association with the Calder Valley. His parents came back to live in Slack near Heptonstall and in 1969 Hughes and his family moved to nearby Lumb Bank. The family only lived there for a short time but in 1975 the poet leased the house to the Arvon Foundation as a centre for creative writing courses.
One only has to look as far as the titles of many of Ted Hughes' poems to see how they have a real sense of place and just how centred they are in the area and landscape he knew and loved. Wadsworth Moor, Wuthering Heights, Auction at Stanbury, Heptonstall Old Church, West Laithe Cobbles and Football at Slack are just a few titles from his 1979 collection of poems called Remains in Elmet - and they really give the game away! This was a man who loved where he came from, loved his roots, and loved everything about the place - the good, the bad and, just as importantly, the ugly.
Calder Valley: Hughes' inspiration
Ted Hughes died in 1998 just a couple of weeks after receiving the Order of Merit from the Queen and 14 years after becoming poet laureate. Speaking at the time of the poet's death, West Yorkshire novelist and poet Glyn Hughes said: "The image of Ted that people have is of a rather dour man that wrote gloomy poems full of violence but a better word would be energy. What people generally don't know from his reputation is what a warm-hearted, convivial, vivacious life-living man he was."
Hughes: Mytholmroyd's man of words
Interest in Ted Hughes continues into the 21st century. In 2004 a film, starring Daniel (James Bond) Craig as Hughes and Gwynneth Paltrow as his wife Sylvia Plath, hit cinema screens telling the story of the couple's turbulent relationship and how, a few months after the end of their six-year marriage, Plath committed suicide. She is buried in Heptonstall and her grave is still often visited by lovers of her work. In 2008, Hughes' birthplace was graced with a new blue plaque marking the house's significance and train passengers at Mytholmroyd station can now read from huge storyboards featuring chapters from Hughes' story The Iron Man complete with illustrations by children from schools in the village.
Ted Hughes, then, is sadly gone but clearly not forgotten. The power of his work continues to be felt today - not least by people who know the area and the landscape he so often depicted in verse. The last word must go to Marsden poet Simon Armitage, patron of the Elmet Trust which was set up to celebrate Hughes' life and works. Armitage was born just a few miles away from Mytholmroyd and it was he who unveiled the blue plaque at Number 1 Aspinall Street. Regularly said (by others) to be in line himself for the title of poet laureate, Armitage is the first to admit that Ted Hughes is an inspiration to many including himself: "Hughes, for me, was the man from over the top of the hill - from the next Yorkshire valley - and his poems make me want to read."
If you're passionate about a poet, you can have your say in our vote to find the Nation's Favourite Poet. The shortlist was compiled in consultation with The Poetry Society and The Arts Council. Click on the link below to vote now!
last updated: 04/08/2009 at 17:02