Ted Hughes at Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey

Last night I joined the ceremony dedicating the memorial to Ted Hughes at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. (See photo at the bottom.) It felt historic – and thanks to Seamus Heaney and Juliet Stevenson, also moving.

The “Very Reverend” Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, opened proceedings thus:

We have come to Poets’ Corner, where the word is celebrated. Here Geoffrey Chaucer lived and died, and was buried in 1400. Here William Caxton  set up his printing press in 1476. Here writing in English and its publication were first achieved.

Buried here is all that could be buried of Edmund Spenser and John Dryden, Tennyson and Browning. They are remembered; their words live on. Buried elsewhere, but honoured here, are the names of Milton. Wordsworth, Kets, and Shelley, Byron, Blake, Hopkins 20th century poets, and so many more. They are remembered here; their words continue to resonate around the world.

Now the name of Ted Hughes is to be found here too, his ledger stone at the foot of T S Eliot’s, his hero and champion. Thus we honour the memory of one of the greatest English poets. May his words continue to inspire, to challenge, to encourage. May his name live for evermore.

In 1998, when Hughes died, Seamus Heaney said:

No death in my lifetime has hurt poetry or poets more than the death of Ted Hughes.

I don’t remember ever doing Ted Hughes at school – maybe because I didn’t grow up in England or maybe because I’m too old. I feel I lost out – especially after hearing Juliet Stevenson read aloud his poem Full Moon and Little Frieda.

A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket –
And you listening.
A spider’s web, tense for the dew’s touch.
A pail lifted, still and brimming – mirror
To tempt a first star to a tremor.

Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm
wreaths of breath –
A dark river of blood, many boulders,
Balancing unspilled milk.
‘Moon!’ you cry suddenly, ‘Moon! Moon!’

The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work
That points at him amazed.

Yesterday was an odd day. A covert rendevous in a back alley in the east of the city, then hob-nobbing with assorted Lords and Ladies, blah-de-blah, poets and family in the Abbey (ooh ooh and Melvyn “In Our Time” Bragg) to end up in a basement in Peckham. A good day in the greatest city on earth.

Here’s Ted reading his own poem Pike:

And here’s his memorial stone – next to T S Eliot, Tennyson and Lewis Carroll.

The verse round the edge is from his poem That Morning.It reads: Ted Hughes OM (Order of Merit) 1930 1998 ‘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’



Filed under art, poetry

27 responses to “Ted Hughes at Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey

  1. I was there too- absolutely stunned by Seamus Heaney’s address. What a wonderful corner of England, preserving the memory of so many greats.
    Awesome, deserved tribute to Ted Hughes. Great photo too.

  2. So there is more to Westminster Abbey, than just gawking, as I did as a wet and soggy itinerant. I need to get back someday.

  3. I really wish I liked poetry, I just cringe at it half the time. Perhaps if it was put to music… ah yes, then it would just be lyrics

    • blackwatertown

      I love it – some of it.
      Here’s one for you:

      Oh Lord above
      Send down a dove
      With wings as sharp as razors,

      To cut the throats
      Of them there blokes
      Wot sells bad beer to sailors

      I know what you’re thinking – that my erudition knows no bounds.

  4. I think I went wrong in my school day, poetry was read learned or recited with the same enthusiasm as the six times tables! I think I need to be reintroduced to the art, by someone with a rich chocolatey voice!

  5. Radio 4 has readings from Ted Hughes work at 8 pm on Saturday, I hope that may be encouraging. Do consider reading poetry to children- if it’s funny or ‘light’, you may find you can catch the youngster’s joy and enthusiasm, maybe exploring further together. I recall being asked to help a reluctant 14 year old Bangladeshi lad with his pending GCSE English exam- he was slightly below average in his studies overall. He obtained a good degree and is now a junior English teacher in a good grammar school, hoping to specialise in English literature. So there is hope for all of us.

    • I am a radio 4 fan and have it in mind to listen to that programme tomorrow at 8pm. As for helping others… I need to learn to read more than a paragraph a month myself first! Somehow I did manage to encourage my daughter (now 33) towards a love affair with books, she devours them for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

  6. I was in the same class as Grannymar, only I loved poetry.

  7. My favorite poet is Mary Oliver – I’ve had the opportunity to hear her in person on a number of occasions. As Grannymar said, “someone with a rich chocolatey voice.”

    • blackwatertown

      I’ll have to investigate her further.
      Here’s a taster for anyone else…

      Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
      Tell me, what is it you plan to do
      With your one wild and precious life?

      “”From “The summer day”;
      New and Selected Poems 1992

  8. So now I have to fork out a small fortune the next time I’m round that way, to investigate the Abbey. I was there as a child, but don’t recollect any of the detail.
    And I have to go and read some poetry.
    You’re a proper inspiration!

  9. Spot of namedropping, is it, Paul? I tell you – if I weren’t so bashful I’d have loved to have given you some stories on “The day I met …”. I was spoiled for choice (yes, really – now who is dropping?) so I left it. Some of your chums would have had me over hot coals.

    I love Ted Hughes. The man, the poet, the voice.

    Listen to, with or without children, to “How the Whale became and Other Stories” and “The Iron Man”, written and READ by Ted Hughes.


    PS What’s required to get Charles Dickens London to smuggle/usher me in anywhere? Will a reference that I actually read both Ackroyd’s “London – the Biography” and his “Dickens” suffice?

    • blackwatertown

      Of course – The Iron Man – we have the book at home. Good story.
      As for Charles Dickens London – you’ll just have to work on him. Or get him a gig where you are.

      • Greetings Madam B’ on the Blog
        Quoting from your blog, ‘crumb among many on the baking sheet of someone’s life’ does, unwittingly, have a certain je ne sais quoi ring to it- (though not yet in Dickensian / Hughes mode, alas). I hesitate whether to suggest ushering you into an advanced poetry teaching course, or to a decent bowl of whitebait at a favourite opium den in Greenwich! You fared well, reading the works of young Master Ackroyd.
        Your obedient servant
        Charles Dickens London

  10. Greetings Paul
    What, in Dickens name do you mean by a gig? Am I to be lured by someone I have not yet met, and made to go I know not where in a small boat? Am I to be ‘worked on’ while in the gig?

  11. 2 miles West of me in Hebden Bridge is Mytholmroyd.where Ted Hughes was born & brought up .His house is now open to the public.
    His poetry really reflects the country here.Raw.Elemental.Naturalistic.Emotions Buried Deep Within The View.
    Of Course,one mile West of Hebden Bridge is the Grave of Sylvia Plath.
    You have to be careful what you say about Ted around here! It can get political!
    Lots of people get really heated-up .Your expected to be either pro-Hughes or pro-Plath.You cant be both apparently ! A Bit silly, but ,still, Its nice to see such passion in regard to Literature!

    • Tony, I am disappointed. Don’t they say “Each marriage has its secret”? Exactly. People who are pro/against either partner in a relationship gone wrong need to go into their own hearts. It takes two to do a quick step. And if you do take your own life that is your responsibility, no one elses. I have little time (which is not to say empathy – which I do have) for a parent who kills herself. You don’t do that to your children. Full stop. Non negotiable.

      Hughes, not least in his “Birthday Letters”, has shown gravitas. My god, to live with what he had to post Plath. Heartbreaking.


  12. Greetings Charles Dickens London, since given the choice may I opt for the Whitebait. You may read me poetry afterwards – or during..Since style often wins over content please do recite any that takes your fancy, even your own, as long as your voice delivers. For your sake, and since Ted Hughes is dead, I hope you are either Richard Burton or Welsh, or both.

    Madam B’ on the Blog

    PS Do not look to Paul for help. No “small boats” for me. The Titanic more my style. Bring your own deckchair.

    • blackwatertown

      It’s all getting delightfully intimate…
      And re your requirements for a dining and declaiming companion – funny you should specific those particular qualifications…

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