Magazine article The Spectator

In Search of Ted Hughes

Magazine article The Spectator

In Search of Ted Hughes

Article excerpt

Given all the hoo-hah surrounding Prince Charles's decision to allow a granite stone memorial to be placed in a secret and remote spot on Dartmoor in memory of his friend the poet Ted Hughes, I expected to encounter something along the lines of Cleopatra's needle when I went to look for it last week.

The objections to Ted Hughes's memorial were many and various. Environmentalists were concerned about soil erosion caused by the feet of hordes of literary pilgrims and paint pot-wielding feminists. Levellers complained about the exception being made to the 'no memorials' rule applying on Dartmoor. What's so special about a poet? they said. Why not a farmer? Regional patriots were disgusted because Hughes was a Yorkshireman. And republicans raised their voices against it simply because Prince Charles had had a hand in organising its transport by army helicopter. Poor old Ted. A great English poet, a children's champion and the last shaman of the tribe -- vindictively hounded by ideological opponents and pea-brains even after his death.

The stone's location was a well-kept secret until 2003, when a BBC reporter found it and broadcast its whereabouts. I can report, however, that as of last week the environmentalists' fears, at least, appear to have been unfounded.

Personally, I'd have been glad of a little erosion in the shape of a discernible footpath to the site. The remoteness of the spot, the ruggedness of the terrain, plus the necessity of crossing an army firing range to get there, seem to have put everyone off. The path disappeared into a bog after a mile or so and after that I was scrambling across marsh, bog, ford and shell crater using paths made by sheep, rabbits, and occasionally, tanks.

I found the memorial, finally, on top of an overgrown mediaeval tinners' spoil heap in an amphitheatre of low desolate hills. It was the most modest, unobtrusive memorial imaginable. The stone is an uncut granite boulder, roughly the size and shape of a supine, shroud-covered Ted Hughes. Fringed with tough grass and covered in lichen, it looks completely natural.

Carved into the bumpy surface is the simple, inexpertly executed inscription: TED HUGHES OM 1930-1998. The notches are already so well weathered that unless you are looking for an inscription you could easily miss it. The complainers were surely motivated by a childlike desire to fill the air with noise rather than by knowledge of the facts and a love of justice. …

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