Lost Ted Hughes poem reveals pain at Sylvia Plath's death

7th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

In a final coda to one of literature's great doomed romances, a previously unseen poem by Ted Hughes was published Thursday in which he describes the dark last days leading up to Sylvia Plath's suicide.

"Last Letter" was unearthed in an archive of papers in the British Library belonging to Hughes, the late English poet laureate, and has been printed for the first time by New Statesman magazine.

Hughes sheds new light on the three days in February 1963 that ended with his American wife gassing herself at age 30 after they separated, beginning the poem with the words: "What happened that night? Your final night."

The love affair between Plath and Hughes, the trauma when he left her after six years of marriage for another woman, and her eventual suicide have been an enduring source of fascination and spawned an industry of books and films.

Hughes stayed silent about his wife's death until 1998, when he published the acclaimed poetry collection "Birthday Letters". He died of cancer just months later.

The lost poem was found in a notebook believed to date from the 1970s and appears to be a "missing link" in the sequence, the New Statesman said, with the final stanza recounting the moment he finds out about Plath's suicide.

"And I'd started to write when the telephone jerked awake, in a jabbering alarm, remembering everything.

"It recovered in my hand, and a voice like a selected weapon or a measured injection coolly delivered its four words deep into my ear.

"Your wife is dead."

Broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, who guest-edited the latest edition of the magazine, said he found the poem in the British Library after being directed to it by Hughes' second wife, Carol.

"I rang up Carol Hughes and eventually after a while she agreed that I could look at a particular poem. I honestly couldn't believe my eyes, I didn't know what to do," Bragg told Channel 4 News.

"I think that Birthday Letters... is one of the great collections of English poetry in the 20th century and this is the keystone poem, which is unpublished, it's never been seen."

The current poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, told the channel: "It's almost unbearable to read all the human emotions it covers. It feels like looking into the sun as it's dying."

Plath took her own life by breathing in fumes from the gas oven in her kitchen, after carefully sealing the kitchen door to protect the couple's two young children, Frieda and Nicholas, who were sleeping in a nearby room.

She chronicled her struggle with depression since her teenage years in autobiographical novel "The Bell Jar".

Nicholas Hughes killed himself in March 2009.

© 2010 AFP

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