Narrated By: Mike Grady
Duration: 1 day, 1 hour and 34 minutes
What to expect
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2015 SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE
A magisterial life of Ted Hughes – identified recently as the only English poet since the First World War with a claim to true greatness and one of Britain’s most important writers – to be published on National Poetry Day by prize-winning biographer Jonathan Bate.
Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate, was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. He is one of Britain’s most important poets, a poet of claws and cages: Jaguar, Hawk and Crow. Event and animal are turned to myth in his work. Yet he is also a poet of deep tenderness, of restorative memory steeped in the English literary tradition. A poet of motion and force, of rivers, light and redemption, of beasts in brooding landscapes.
With an equal gift for poetry and prose, and with a soul as capacious as any poet who has lived, he was also a prolific children’s writer and has been hailed as the greatest English letter-writer since John Keats. With his magnetic personality and an insatiable appetite for friendship, for love and for life, he also attracted more scandal than any poet since Lord Byron. At the centre of the book is Hughes’s lifelong quest to come to terms with the suicide of his first wife, Sylvia Plath, the saddest and most infamous moment in the public history of modern poetry.
Ted Hughes left behind him a more complete archive of notes and journals than any other major poet, including thousands of pages of drafts, unpublished poems and memorandum books that make up an almost complete record of Hughes’s inner life, preserved by him for posterity.
Renowned scholar Sir Jonathan Bate has spent five years in his archives, unearthing a wealth of new material. His book offers for the first time the full story of Ted Hughes's life as it was lived, remembered and reshaped in his art. It is a book that honours, though not uncritically, Ted Hughes’s poetry and the art of life-writing, approached by his biographer with an honesty answerable to Hughes’s own.
Biography: literary, Literary studies: poetry & poets
Listen to a sample
‘Magisterial … Gripping and at times ineffably sad, this book would be poetic even without the poetry. It will be the standard biography of Ted Hughes for a long time to come’ Sunday Times
‘A work of head-spinning revelations … Bate offers a complete picture of Hughes: the man, the work and the restless mythologies that prowled his imagination … A moving, fascinating biography’ The Times
‘Comprehensive and definitive … Bate's relaxed prose keeps everything moving anecdotally … underpinning it all is a vast command of archival material … He is also a sure guide to the genesis and reception of each of Hughes's major books’ Daily Telegraph
‘Bate captures the great poet in all his wild complexity … A powerful and clarifying study, richly layered and compelling’ Melyn Bragg, Observer
‘[An] important … ultimately triumphant biography … Bate is obviously suited as a biographer and critic. His standing in his academic profession is eminent’ Financial Times
‘Magisterial … Bate writes with sympathy and perception about Hughes and his poetry, and displays tact in shielding the identity and feelings of several of those caught up in the maelstrom of the poet’s life. This fine book tells readers as much as they need to know for now’ The Economist
‘Bate has read this huge mass of material with a scholar’s ability to date and arrange it … Hughes carried on telling himself tales from myth about the desires that drove him. This scrupulous and lucid biography makes it all seem like muddle and self-deception, tormenting to himself and the many who loved him’ Guardian
‘Heartbreaking … [Bate’s] analysis of the poems and how they relate to Hughes's life is particularly illuminating’ Daily Mail
‘Fascinating’ John Preston, Spectator, Books of the Year
‘Elegantly retells the myth and, occasionally, violence of the story and gives it new flesh’, Philip Hoare, Spectator, Books of the Year
‘The most controversial biography of the year’, Gaby Wood, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year