New Ted Hughes poem discovered in Britain
AN UNPUBLISHED poem by the English poet Ted Hughes about the night his estranged wife Sylvia Plath killed herself has been discovered in London.
British arts broadcaster, novelist and peer Melvyn Bragg found Last Letter, which begins “What happened that night? Your final night”, in the British Library with the assistance of Hughes’s widow, Carol. It is published in this week’s edition of The New Statesman, of which Lord Bragg is guest editor.
Plath committed suicide in 1963, shortly after Hughes left her and their two children, Frieda and Nicholas. Hughes, who went on to become poet laureate, died in 1999. His final collection, Birthday Letters, was his only poetic comment about his life both with and after Plath. Last Letter was omitted from the book, which was published in 1998.
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In it, Hughes imagines her 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.”
It goes on to describe the phone call when he learnt of her death: “Then a voice like a selected weapon/ Or a measured injection,/ Coolly delivered its four words/ Deep into my ear: ‘Your wife is dead.’ ”
British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy said Hughes’ clear anguish made it “almost unbearable to read.”
“There is a kind of deafening agony, blinding agony to this new poem,” Duffy told Britain’s Channel 4 news.
“It’s a poem that will speak in the way that a Shakespearean tragedy does to people who’ve had the misfortune to touch on those issues. It shows how a suicide can scar the lives of those who still have to live after that death.
“It seems to touch a deeper, darker place than any poem he’s ever written.”
written by Jason Steger