Ted Hughes takes his place in Poets' Corner

AP News
Posted: Dec 06, 2011 4:08 PM
Ted Hughes takes his place in Poets' Corner

British poet Ted Hughes was honored Tuesday with a memorial stone in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, joining a line of great British writers going back to Chaucer.

The stone in the abbey floor was placed at the foot of a memorial honoring T.S. Eliot, Hughes' mentor and publisher.

Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney unveiled the memorial as some 300 guests _ including Hughes' widow Carol and daughter Frieda _ looked on.

"I think it's what he deserves, it's his due," Heaney told the BBC ahead of the ceremony. "I think Ted is at home with that company."

Heaney was referring to the 111 writers memorialized in Poets' Corner in the area where Geoffrey Chaucer was buried in 1400 _ not because he wrote "The Canterbury Tales," but because he was Clerk of the Works at the nearby Palace of Westminster, now almost entirely rebuilt.

Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Samuel Johnson, Rudyard Kipling, John Masefield and Alfred Lord Tennyson are among the writers buried in the Abbey, and many others including William Blake and P.B. Shelley are memorialized there.

Hughes' stone is inscribed with his name and words from "That Morning," one of his "River" poems: "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."

At the ceremony, Heaney and others took turns reading Hughes' works, including an extract from a letter Hughes wrote to his wife, fellow poet Sylvia Plath, who killed herself in 1963 after they split up. The letter was dated from 1956, four months after the couple married.

Hughes died of cancer in 1998, months after publishing "Birthday Letters," a powerful collection reflecting on the troubled marriage.

Hughes was born Aug. 17, 1930, in the mill town of Mytholmroyd in Yorkshire, northern England.

"Hawk in the Rain," his first volume of poetry published in 1957, immediately established him as one of the most interesting of Britain's young poets. He was appointed Poet Laureate in 1984.

"Birthday Letters" brought Hughes sympathy and a torrent of praise after years of keeping silent about his marriage to Plath.

Hughes described the collection as "a gathering of the occasions _ written with no plan over about 25 years _ in which I tried to open a direct, private, inner contact with my first wife, not thinking to make a poem, thinking mainly to evoke her presence to myself and to feel her there listening."

The Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey is a tradition that is some 600 years old.

A magnificent tomb for Chaucer was installed around 1550, and the poet Edmund Spenser, author of "The Fairie Queene," was buried nearby in 1599, establishing a tradition.

Many more are honored with tablets and other memorials, often placed there long after death. Shakespeare was buried in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1616, and no memorial was placed in Poets' Corner until 1740. Lord Byron died in 1824 but, because of his scandalous lifestyle, wasn't honored until 1969.