Towards the end of his biography of Ted Hughes, Jonathan Bate quotes a passage from one of Hughes’s letters, addressed to his lifelong friend Leonard Baskin and his wife, Lisa. “Almost all art is an attempt by somebody unusually badly hit (but almost everybody is badly hit), who is also unusually ill-equipped to defend themselves internally against the wound, to improvise some sort of modus vivendi with their internal haemophilia, etc. In other words, all art is trying to become an anaesthetic and at the same time a healing session drawing up the magical electrics.”
The letter was written in 1984 and closes with the thought that he had “lived quite a lot of my last ten years (at least) somehow unconscious” – a victim of that self-induced anaesthesia. But then Hughes had been, as all the world knows, “unusually badly hit”. His life story is one of early success and blessed reward fatally blighted by tragedy, not once but over and over again.