Ted Hughes is probably best known in this country -- when he's known at all -- as the husband of Sylvia Plath, and for the controversial role he played in her tumultuous life and tragic death. But across the pond, Hughes is remembered as one of the great poets of the last half-century.
On Tuesday night, Hughes was celebrated as great English poets often are: with a memorial in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. His memorial stone quotes his poem "That Morning":
So we found the end of our journey,
So we stood alive in the river of light,
Among the creatures of light, creatures of light.
The ceremonies included Hughes' friend and fellow poet Seamus Heaney reading a passage from Beowulf that describes the construction of "a hero's memorial" -- a fitting tribute to a poet whose literary lineage traces back to Anglo-Saxon poetry. Heaney and the actress Juliet Stevenson also read six of Hughes' poems: "Some Pike for Nicholas," "For the Duration," "That Morning," "Full Moon and Little Frieda," "Anniversary," and "Where I Sit Writing My Letter," along with a letter Hughes wrote to Plath shortly after their marriage.
Reflecting on the occasion, Heaney told the BBC, "Ted would be utterly honored to be at the foot of T.S. Eliot's stone, and he would be indeed honored to be in the corner because he was a poet of England." Hughes' stone also lies beside the memorial stone honoring England's World War I poets -- a stone that Hughes himself unveiled in 1985.
The English press likes to poke fun at the long list of unworthies buried in Poets' Corner, but it holds the remains of many giants of English literature, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Alfred Tennyson and Rudyard Kipling. Thomas Hardy's ashes are also interred at Westminster, save his heart (and I don't mean that metaphorically), which is buried in Dorset.
The corner also features memorials to many great English writers who are not buried there, including Milton and Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth and the Brontë sisters. In recent years, the Abbey has added controversial memorials to Gerard Manley Hopkins (a Catholic), Percy Bysshe Shelley (an atheist), and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (gasp! an American).
Ted Hughes died in October of 1998. You can listen to him read some of his best works here.
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