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Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life review – a man smouldering with life

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Jonathan Bate’s unofficial biography of Ted Hughes captures the great poet in all his wild complexity

There was so much of him. He lived the lives of many men called Ted Hughes. Driven, all of them, by a core of energy so bright and fierce it burned out many of those he encountered. By the time he reached manhood, he had, fully developed, an appetite, even a greed, above all a relentless questing passion for the life of passion itself which he sought and fed with poetry, sex and transformative mysticism about the earth and its meaning. Sometimes jubilant, sometimes tormented. He had a compulsion, which seemed to him to be mysterious, to confess and describe everything that claimed his concentration. And at whatever the cost.

As a boy in Yorkshire on the moors he saw the cruelty of animals, and with his idolised 10-years -older brother, Gerald, was himself unafraid to shoot, to trap fish and skin them. From his family and their friends’ lacerated feelings in the first world war, he knew about the cruelty of man to man. From his always vast reading he absorbed the violence of society.

This is a powerful and clarifying study, richly layered and compelling

Hughes was condemned but it never stopped him writing, and in secret he began his act of atonement

Ted and Sylvia were twin stars shining and spinning together, but too fierce to be able to hold on to each other

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