A poem by Ted Hughes, considered lost, was published today in The New Statesman magazine after being discovered in the British Museum among his papers. In it, Hughes addresses the painful suicide of his wife, Sylvia Plath. The poem, written in the 70s, would seem to be the “missing link” from Hughes’ 1998 book about his marriage to Plath, Birthday Letters, as none of the poems in that book discuss the circumstances of her death.
Actor Jonathan Pryce read part of the poem for the [BBC4 Radio] broadcast, reading:
Late afternoon Friday
my last sight of you alive
burning 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 telephone
Jerked awake, in a jabbering alarm,
Remembering everything. It recovered in my hand.
Then a voice like a selected weapon
Or a measured injection,
Coolly delivered its four words
Deep into my ear: ‘Your wife is dead.