Emory Report

April 3, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 27

Ted Hughes papers offer a touching prelude to tragedy

By Deb Hammacher

In 1997 Emory Special Collections made an acquisition that was considered an international literary coup: the papers of British poet laureate Ted Hughes. Publications from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to the London Times have reported that the collection includes some 2.5 tons of materials including scrap books, letters, photographs and hundreds of drafts of poems, many unpublished.

The monumental task of cataloging the collection--along with assimilating additions to the initial cache--is finally nearing an end. The Ted Hughes Collection will officially open with an April 8 celebration featuring Irish poet Paul Muldoon, who will read a verse tribute written in Hughes' honor. The event will take place at 8 p.m. in the law school's Tull Auditorium.

The collection already has attracted Hughes scholars from around the country. Some Emory students have studied the collection for its relation to Hughes' late wife Sylvia Plath, since fragments of her unpublished work are present as well.

"It's an extraordinary resource for our own students, but it also is a demonstration worldwide of Emory's commitment to literary scholarship of the first order," said Steve Enniss, curator of literary collections. "Materials are readily available to scholars that show Hughes' own creative development as well as the details of his life story that have been so intertwined with that of Plath."

Not surprisingly, much of the interest in the collection--certainly much of what has appeared in the media--centers on Hughes' relationship with Plath. Hughes, who died in October 1998, said little about Plath following her 1963 suicide.

Hughes was an extremely private person, so it is remarkable that he chose to "lay himself bare," Enniss said. The collection shows how closely the husband and wife writers worked together, often sharing the same piece of paper. Later correspondence with long-time friend Lucas Myers reveals many of Hughes' thoughts.

"I continue to be impressed by how joined they were by a commitment to dual careers," said Enniss. "While their marriage did disintegrate at the end, they were together for six years, and they were tremendously supportive of each other's careers. Even after her death he supported her by making her unpublished work available."

It is fitting that Muldoon will honor Hughes and the opening of the collection since the late poet laureate was one of Muldoon's influences, and some of Muldoon's work is represented in the collection thanks to correspondence between the poets.

"Muldoon was coming of age at a time when Ted was the leading English poet," said Enniss. "As he was developing his voice, he was reading Hughes' collections "The Hawk in the Rain" and "Lupercal." Enniss also cites the Muldoon poem addressed to Hughes, titled "Herm," that declares "it was you I took for my mark." Muldoon currently teaches at Princeton University and holds the poetry chair at Oxford University.

A reception will follow Muldoon's reading. For more information, call Special Collections at 404-727-6887.

Return to April 3, 2000 contents page