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Plath's husband honored - Ted Hughes, the British poet who was known as much for his doomed marriage to the American poet Sylvia Plath as for his powerful, evocative poetry, replete with symbolism and bursting with dark images of the Devonshire countryside in which he lived, died Wednesday, his publisher said. He was 68. Mr. Hughes, Britain's poet laureate, had been suffering from cancer for about 18 months, but had told only his closest friends and had never discussed details of his illness, said Matthew Evans, the chairman of Faber and Faber, Mr. Hughes's publisher. "He felt that being ill was, for him, very private," Mr. Evans said. Mr. Hughes died at his home in North Tawton.  Plath's husband honored,

It was his illness, and his sense that time was running out, that persuaded Mr. Hughes to publish his last work, "Birthday Letters," a collection of poems about his fraught, fragile relationship with Plath, who committed suicide in 1963, soon after the two separated. After a silence of 35 years, in which Mr. Hughes had steadfastly refused to discuss Plath publicly or to respond to charges -- leveled in her own work and by her admirers -- that his callousness had led to her death, Mr. Hughes's decision to finally speak out was extraordinary. The book became a best seller in Britain and the United States, rare for a book of poetry, and was a personal turning point for Mr. Hughes. Ted Hughes death,

"It was a piece of work he wanted to get out before he died," Mr. Evans said in an interview. "He regarded it as being of personal importance. It was the nearest thing to an autobiography."  The Bell Jar,

The book, which drew a sometimes loving picture of a brilliant but emotionally unstable woman with a passion for suicide that seemed hard-wired into her very being, was widely praised. Friends of Mr. Hughes saw it as a vindication of a man who had lived for decades in the shadow of his far more famous wife, taking on a guilt that should not have been his.

But the book did not end the debate over the strange, terrible time surrounding Plath's death, already described in her own remarkable poems and journals, jagged cries of pain that at times laid the blame for her troubles on Mr. Hughes's broad shoulders. Many Plath scholars said that Mr. Hughes had behaved with remarkable callousness toward his wife, neglecting her genius and abandoning her and their two small children at a time when she was clearly crying out for help.

Whatever the truth, Mr. Hughes, by then ill with the disease that would kill him, got the last word in the 35-year discussion. "The publication was a very important moment for him," Mr. Evans told the Press Association. "He was putting another side, and there was a great deal of understanding after that book was published."  Geoffrey Chaucer,

Edward James Hughes was born on Aug. 17, 1930, in Mytholmroyd, a small mill town in West Yorkshire surrounded by bleak, barren moors. When he was 7, his family moved to Mexborough, a coal mining town to the south, and his father gave up his old profession -- making portable wooden buildings -- and bought a newspaper store. By then, the young Ted had developed a lifelong passion for the countryside, for animals, and for hunting, a passion that would inform his poetry in the years to come.

"He wanted to capture not just live animals, but the aliveness of animals in their natural state: their wildness, their quiddity, the fox-ness of the fox and the crow-ness of the crow," wrote Thomas Nye in The Times of London. Surviving Isolation Steeped in Shakespeare After attending the local schools, Mr. Hughes served for two years in the Royal Air Force, working as a radio mechanic on an isolated three-man station in northern Yorkshire, with "nothing to do but read and re-read Shakespeare and watch the grass grow," he said. He then went to Cambridge, where he was celebrated as a clever, handsome student with great personal magnetism and an aura of brooding mystery that made him particularly attractive to women. He took a number of jobs after graduation, working variously as a gardener, a night watchman, a zoo attendant and a script reader. Hughes That morning,

He met Plath, an American studying at Cambridge, at a party there in 1956. Their attraction was instantaneous. Plath wrote in her journal: "That big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me, who had been hunching around over women, and whose name I had asked the minute I came into the room, but no one told me, came over and was looking hard into my eyes and it was Ted Hughes."

The two got married just four months later, and woke each morning at dawn, brimming with ideas. "We would write poetry every day," Mr. Hughes once said. "It was all we were interested in, all we ever did. We were like two feet, each one using everything the other did." In 1957, Mr. Hughes published his first volume of poetry, "Hawk in the Rain," full of brutal, dramatic images of nature, to a chorus of praise in which he was acclaimed as the most important British poet to emerge after World War II.

"Hughes's poetry signaled a dramatic departure from the prevailing modes of the period," wrote the critic Robert B. Shaw. "The stereotypical poem of the time was determined not to risk too much: politely domestic in its subject matter, understated and mildly ironic in style. By contrast, Hughes marshaled a language of nearly Shakespearean resonance to explore themes which were mythic and elemental." A Brutal Winter Exacerbates Misery Though Plath found herself living in the shadow of her increasingly well-known husband, the two made up a celebrated and, for a time, happy literary couple, living briefly in the United States, where both spent several months writing at Yaddo, the artists' colony in upstate New York, and Mr. Hughes worked for a year as an English teacher at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Birthday Letters Hughes,

Their life together in England was less successful. Plath found the Devon countryside, which her husband loved, heartless, bleak and uninviting. When they moved back to an unheated, uncomfortable flat in north London before one of Britain's bitterest winters in half a century, she fared no better, finding it increasingly difficult to beat back the suicidal tendencies that had plagued her on and off for years.

As her relationship with Mr. Hughes unraveled, she became distraught and wracked by self-doubt. In February 1963, soon after Mr. Hughes left her for his married lover, a fellow poet named Assia Wevill, Plath carefully laid out milk and bread for her sleeping children, put her head in the oven, and gassed herself. Reverence for Plath, Contempt for Hughes

Plath's suicide had far-reaching and unexpected consequences. It drew a blaze of attention to her work, much of which had been written in a burst of despairing, frenzied creativity in the last months of her life. She became a feminist icon, celebrated as a passionately creative woman stifled by the confines of motherhood and by a husband who misunderstood and betrayed her. Birthday Letters Hughes,

It also put terrible pressure on Mr. Hughes, who was vilified by many for what they saw as his complicity in Plath's death, but who never publicly tried to defend himself.

It didn't help his reputation that, six years later, Assia Wevill killed herself and the couple's 2-year-old daughter, Shura, using gas, as Plath had.

As executor of his late wife's estate, Mr. Hughes found himself caught in a thicket of conflicting interests. With each new work by Plath that he published -- her journals, her "Collected Poems," which won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1982, and various volumes of poetry -- he was accused of artfully omitting parts he found awkward or distasteful, of acting more like a censor than a champion.

And when he admitted that he destroyed the last volume of Plath's journals, saying that he did not want the couple's children to see it, he unleashed a barrage of criticism that never abated.

To make matters worse, Plath's posthumous fame threatened to completely overshadow his own career, particularly in the United States. Stymied by how fiercely he protected Plath's work -- he often refused to allow the use of quotations from her letters and poems -- some of Plath's biographers cast him as the villain in her life story. When he tried to read his own poetry in public, his readings were disrupted by pro-Plath protesters who accused him of murder. Plath's gravestone, which bore her married name, was repeatedly defaced, the "Hughes" chipped off. Plunging Into Writing With Roots in Nature

But Mr. Hughes, who married his second wife, Carol, in 1970, threw himself into his own writing, even as he became increasingly wary of intrusions into his private life and angry at the vast industry of people interested in him only because of Plath. He produced dozens of books of poetry and prose, writing for both adults and children. He also produced translations, wrote plays, campaigned for the environment, and edited volumes of poetry by Plath and others.

His best-known poetry, which includes "Moortown," a group of 34 poems that describe Mr. Hughes's experiences working on a Devonshire farm with his father-in-law, is rooted in the natural world, and can veer abruptly from tender lyricism to staccato violence.

Mr. Hughes's reputation went through ups and downs throughout his career. "He has been dismissed as a connoisseur of the habits of animals, his disgust with humanity barely disguised, labeled a 'voyeur of violence,' attacked for his generous choreographing of gore," wrote Carol Bere in the Literary Review. "Others consider him to be the best poet writing today -- admired for the originality and command of his approach; the scope and complexity of his mythic enterprise; and the apparent ease and freshness with which he can vitalize a landscape, free of any mitigating sentimentality." The Natural World Used Metaphorically Speaking to the Press Association today, the poet Andrew Motion, a longtime friend of Mr. Hughes, said he presented "a vision of England which managed to bring the whole of the history and traditional past into play with a present that is recognizably modern."

Mr. Motion continued: "On the face of it, his poems are about animals, nature and wildlife, but careful reading allows us to see them as a metaphorical or allegorical way of reconciling past and present."

The poems in "Birthday Letters," Mr. Hughes's often heartbreaking account of his relationship with Plath, were written much more simplistically, as straightforward narratives that behave like prose. When the book was published, the poet's legion of friends, who knew him as a loyal and generous man who was almost bigger than life, with his imposing physical presence, his strong, eagle-like face, his enormous, bushy eyebrows and his thatch of thick unruly hair, said that he had finally succeeded in exorcising the ghosts of the past. Birthday Letters Hughes,

In 1984, Mr. Hughes was made Britain's Poet Laureate, a high-profile but rather strange job that pays $112 and a case of wine a year, and requires the incumbent to write stately poems on solemn occasions like, in Mr. Hughes's case, the Queen Mother's 90th birthday and the death of the Princess of Wales.

He won numerous awards for his work over the years, including the Whitbread Book of the Year prize in 1997 for "Tales From Ovid," a translation of "Metamorphoses." Earlier this month, he was awarded the Forward Poetry Prize for "Birthday Letters," but, in a sign of his weakening condition, sent a speech instead of accepting the prize in person. "I would far sooner be here with you than where I am," the speech said.

Earlier this month, Mr. Hughes became one of just 24 holders of an Order of Merit in Britain (new ones are awarded only when holders of the title die). His acceptance of the honor, in Buckingham Palace two weeks ago, was his last public appearance.

He is survived by his wife and by his two children with Plath, Frieda and Nicholas.

In an interview in 1993, five years before "Birthday Letters" was published, Mr. Hughes mused about the benefits of using writing to understand the past. For 25 years, he had been secretly working on his poems about Plath, and although he didn't mention her, he was undoubtedly considering whether it was time to break his long and painful silence.

"It means the world becomes yours," he said. "If you don't do it, it drifts away and takes a whole piece of yourself with it, like an amputation. To attack it and attack it and get it under control -- it's like taking possession of your life, isn't it?"

Source: nytimes

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