Ted Hughes, Dr James Underwood and Dr Steve Ely Pictured (l-r) Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and University researchers Dr James Underwood and Dr Steve Ely

The work of Dr Steve Ely and Dr James Underwood considers Hughes as a “parochial” poet and his time undertaking National Service and was published in the Ted Hughes Society Journal

TWO articles from lecturers at the University of Huddersfield provide new insights into the philosophy and poetry of Ted Hughes.  Published by a journal dedicated to analysing the works of the late Laureate, they explore the significance of the poet’s Yorkshire upbringing and identity, and examine a neglected period of Hughes’s life – his two years of National Service at an East Riding airfield.

Dr Steve Ely is Lecturer in Creative Writing and Dr James Underwood is Research Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Literature.  Both have been responsible for the development of the Ted Hughes Network based at the University of Huddersfield and their latest articles on the influential and controversial poet, who died 20 years ago, appear in the new edition of the open access Ted Hughes Society Journal.

The article by Dr Ely is titled The Parochial Courage of Ted Hughes.  It draws on an “enobling sense” of the term “parochial” that was developed by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, who reserved it for artists who “eschew provincial conformity and demonstrate the courage to pursue their own expression and interests without regard to metropolitan fashion”.

Dr Ely argues that despite a successful career that saw Mytholmroyd-born Hughes living in London for long periods and becoming an influential figure in the metropolitan literary scene, he was “at root a profoundly parochial poet” who “retained the most obvious signifier of his origins – his Yorkshire accent”.

About 100 of Hughes’s poems are directly inspired by his boyhood and teenage years in Mytholmroyd and Mexborough, states Dr Ely, who provides analysis of works such as Remains of Elmet, a cycle of poems about the upper Calder Valley.

Recent literary criticism has placed most value on Hughes’s personal and sometimes confessional poems, written later in his career.  One of the themes of Dr Ely’s article is to re-emphasise the significance of the “mythic” strand in the poet’s work, and he argues that “Hughes’s Yorkshire-focused work provides insights into some distinctive elements of his parochial courage, which is not so much topographical or autobiographical as intellectual”.

Between 1949 and 1951, Ted Hughes did his National Service in the RAF.  Most of this was at Patrington in East Yorkshire, where he became a wireless operator, plotting the movement of planes.

It is a period of the poet’s life that critics and biographers have only glanced at, writes Dr Underwood in his article, titled Mayday on Holderness: Ted Hughes, National Service and East Yorkshire.  He provides a deeper examination.

“At the very least, Patrington was important to Hughes because the undemanding, solitary, often nocturnal nature of his work there gave him time for reading, writing and developing,” writes Dr Underwood.

The two-years of National Service before he went to Cambridge University were also important as formative years in which “Hughes was able to swim further and further out from the landmass of English literature and culture”, continues Dr Underwood.

He emphasises the importance of Irish folklore and poetry to the development of the young poet and includes a statement by Hughes that “Yorkshire people… relate to the rest of England not as members of this or that class in the national class system, but as members of a different nation – as the Irish or Scots might”.

Dr Underwood examines Hughes’s literary output from his time in East Yorkshire, including a poem titled Song that was written at Patrington and was later included in a published collection.

Hughes would later draw inspiration from the Holderness landscape, writes Dr Underwood, who concludes that “National Service at RAF Patrington sharpened his own sense of self, allowing him to more clearly perceive himself outside of the English class system.  It also sharpened his poetry, his sense of what was ‘wholly my own’, as he put it”.

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