A warm recollection of a lauded poet.
Hughes and his younger siblings, Olwyn and Ted, grew up in a Yorkshire village, moving to the mining town of Mexborough when Ted was 8 and the author 18. As young children, the two boys shared a love of the outdoors, camping in the woods, hunting with air rifles and especially fishing. Ted followed his older brother around devotedly, constantly asking questions. In Mexborough, though, their paths diverged, with the author leaving school to work in the wholesale clothing business, as a trainee fitter at the Bessemer Steel Works and, after an injury, as an auto mechanic. Olwyn and Ted, meanwhile, excelled in grammar school, won scholarships and headed to university. After serving in the Royal Air Force during World War II, the author decided to begin training with the Nottingham City Police Force. Discouraged by poor food and housing, he decided to leave for Australia, seduced by a travel agent’s advertisement that read, “Come to the sun: migrate to Australia.” He settled there for the rest of his life. From 1948 until Ted’s death in 1998, the brothers saw each other only sporadically. Ted, of course, became famous for his poetry—he was poet laureate of England for 14 years—and his marriage to Sylvia Plath, which ended in her suicide. The author never met Plath, but he includes letters from his family describing their delight with her but also some concerns. Although Sylvia and Ted apparently were happy, they seemed not as “lively and cheery” as the author and his wife. Though he does not provide any analysis of his brother’s work, Hughes reprints some of Ted’s poems that have links to family experiences and notes works in his Collected Poems that are rooted in their childhood.
Most of this understated memoir recounts the author’s experiences and affection for his family, with some privileged glimpses into Ted’s life.