Long-lost Ted Hughes poem focuses on Sylvia Plath’s suicide


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Poet Ted Hughes’ long-lost poem ‘Last Letter’ will be published Thursday in The New Statesman, BBC4 reported Wednesday afternoon. The poem directly addresses the suicide of his wife, the writer Sylvia Plath.

Actor Jonathan Pryce read part of the poem for the broadcast, reading:


Late afternoon Fridaymy last sight of you aliveburning your letter to me in the ashtray with that strange smile

Sylvia Plath, who today is best-known as the author of the autobiographical novel ‘The Bell Jar,’ was a young poet living in England when she met Ted Hughes, then also a young poet. The two married in 1956, moved to the U.S. for three years, and then returned to England. They had two children together.

Plath was 30 when she killed herself by inhaling the fumes from an unlit oven. Hughes went on to become one of the significant British poets of the 20th century, serving as British poet laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998.

The poem includes how Hughes learned of Plath’s death, in its final lines.

And I had started to write when the telephoneJerked awake, in a jabbering alarm,Remembering everything. It recovered in my hand. Then a voice like a selected weaponOr a measured injection, Coolly delivered its four wordsDeep into my ear: ‘Your wife is dead.

The poem was found in the British Library archive by The New Statesman and Carol Hughes, the poet’s widow. The BBC report is below.

-- Carolyn Kellogg