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:
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’