Court Green, North Tawton

 

 

 

 

The mid-Devon village of North Tawton, about 14 miles from Exeter and just north of Dartmoor National Park, was the home of poet Ted Hughes from August 1961, when he and the poet Sylvia Plath bought “Court Green,” a rambling, thatched, manor house surrounded by two acres of garden and orchards overlooking the village churchyard.   Hughes and his second wife Carol Orchard later purchased a small farm nearby—Moortown—upon which he and his father-in-law raised sheep and cattle. 

In poems such as “Coming Down Through Somerset,” “Stealing a Trout on a May Morning”and the collection Moortown (1979), Hughes voices his unsentimental intimacy with the countryside and especially its wildlife.   Even in Hughes's official capacity as Poet Laureate, the West Country infused his work, as when the poem commemorating "the Christening of his Royal Highness Prince Harry" becomes an exhuberant celebration of the rainwaters swelling Devon rivers at the end of a five-month drought:

And the Dart, her shaggy horde coming down
Astride bareback ponies, with a cry,
Loosening sheepskin banners, bumping the granite,
Flattening rowans and frightening oaks,

And the Teign, startled in its den
By the rain-dance of bracken
Hearing Heaven reverberate under Gidleigh. . .

("Rain-Charm for the Duchy")

Just before his death in October 1998, Hughes surprised the literary world by publishing Birthday Letters, a vivid collection of verse written over twenty-five years tracing the narrative arc of his relationship with Plath.  As Hughes described it, Birthday Letters is “‘a gathering of the occasions on which I tried to open a direct, private, inner contact with my first wife’” (qtd. in Wagner 22).   Many of the poems grow out of the complex, lyrical, wrenching months he spent with Plath at Court Green before her suicide in February 1962.  Although Devon may be their “Lyonnesse,” Hughes asks retrospectively in the aptly-titled “Error”: "What wrong fork/Had we taken?  In a gloomy orchard/Under drumming thatch, we lay listening/To our vicarage rotting like a coffin,/Foundering under its weeds." Another poem recollects the “Daffodils” harvested “in the rain of that April—your last April” and sold for “sevenpence a bunch”:

[E]very March since they have lifted again

Out of the same bulbs. . .

On that same groundswell of memory, fluttering

They return to forget you stooping there. . .          

At his request,  Hughes’s ashes were scattered on Dartmoor.  His memorial stone deep in the heart of the moor under Hanging Stone Head lies near the headwaters of the River Taw.

 Hughes, Ted. Collected Poems . London:  Faber and Faber Ltd, 2003.

Middlebrook, Diane.  Her Husband:  Hughes and Plath—A Marriage.  London:  Little Brown, 2004.

Wagner, Erica.  Ariel’s Gift:  Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and the Story of Birthday Letters.   London:    Faber and Faber Ltd., 2000.

 

© Copyright Kim McMullen 2007

 

Ted Hughes Memorial, OS Explorer OL28, GR 656 727
Hughes Memorial Stone