Thanks to the work of biographer Sir Jonathan Bate, we now know more about a Ted Hughes poem uncovered in 2010. According to Bate, the poem was inspired by a fight between the poet and his wife, Sylvia Plath, on the same weekend that she took her own life.
Hughes’ relationship with Plath was famously troubled, and the poet was intensely private about their marriage and Plath’s eventual suicide. Hughes’ decision to destroy Plath’s final journal after her death is notorious, and the poet rarely addressed Plath’s suicide in any published poetry.
We gained a new poetic insight into Plath’s death when Melvyn Bragg and Hughes’ widow, Carol, discovered a new Hughes poem called “Last Letter” in the British library. The poem, which was unearthed in 2010, provided new details about Plath’s final weekend. At the time, the “last letter” discussed in the poem was assumed to be a suicide note or a note threatening suicide.
But Sir Jonathan Bate, provost of Worcester College, Oxford, has learned more about that note. With unprecedented access to Hughes’ papers on both sides of the Atlantic, the biographer has learned that the letter in question was actually a parting letter: Plath was planning to return to the United States and leave Hughes forever. Plath posted the letter with the idea that it would arrive a few days later, after she’d gone, but somehow it arrived that very afternoon. When confronted with the letter, Plath took it and burned it – these are the events detailed in the poem.
Bate’s new account also includes several other sad details about Plath’s final weekend, including the fact that Hughes was in bed with another lover at the time of Plath’s death.
Featured image http://thetim.es/1hKTj1Z
–Stephen L., Staff Writer