Ted Hughes’s ‘Last Letter’ to Sylvia Plath

October 7, 2010 in Blogging, On Writing by pacejmiller


A page of Ted Hughes's 'Last Letter'. Source: The New Statesman


A few months ago I studied poetics and became fascinated with the tragic lives of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (I even wrote a post about it).  Yesterday, a friend and former classmate brought my attention to ‘Last Letters’, a newly discovered poem by Ted Hughes that was not published in Birthday Letters.  The most amazing thing about the poem is that it was about the night Plath killed herself.  When I read it it sent chills through my entire body.

(Super quick update for those who don’t know the story.  Plath and Hughes were both superstar poets that got married and had two kids.  Hughes began an affair and Plath killed herself by sticking her head in the oven.  The woman he had an affair with later killed herself and their child in the same manner as Plath. Hughes was vilified for years but never broke his silence until 1998, when he published Birthday Letters, a collection of poems about his relationship with Plath.  Hughes died shortly after.  Hughes and Plath’s son Nicholas committed suicide in 2009.  For the full story read my earlier post.)

Apparently, the new poem was ‘discovered’ by the New Statesman in the British Library archives and will be released in full in the paper’s hard copy edition.  Excerpts have been released and they paint a haunting image.  The poem begins:

What did happen that Sunday night?

Your last night?  Over what I remember of it

Double-exposed to my last sight of you

Burning your farewell letter to me

As if you had not meant it

Yet with that strange smile.  As if you have meant

Something different

Had it reached me sooner than you planned?

Had you thought out a plan?

Another part of the poem imagines those final hours:

What happened that night, inside your hours

Is as unknown as if it never happened

What accumulation of your whole life

Like effort unconscious, like birth

Pushing through the membrane of each slow second

Into the next, happened

Only as if it could not happen

As if it was not happening

And it ends with the words:

Your wife is dead

Shudder.  I can’t wait to read the poem in its entirety.