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Hughes’s poem about wife’s suicide to be published

By Raphael G. Satter
Associated Press / October 7, 2010

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LONDON — A previously unseen poem by Ted Hughes that details the painful moments surrounding the suicide of his wife Sylvia Plath is being published by The New Statesman today, the magazine said.

Hughes, an English poet laureate, and Plath, his American wife, are considered among the 20th century’s greatest poets. Their doomed marriage inspired some of their best work and has been the focus of endless fascination.

The poem, called “Last Letter,’’ chronicles the three days leading up to Plath’s death in her London home on Feb. 11, 1963, beginning: “What happened that night? Your final night.’’

Its discovery has already created a minor sensation in Britain. The country’s Channel 4 News broadcast excerpts of the work Wednesday evening, read in a dry, quivering voice by actor Jonathan Pryce.

Plath was little-known before her death but gained a cult following through the novel “The Bell Jar,’’ whose descriptions of a suicidal young woman foreshadowed her own death at age 30.

Her suicide haunted Hughes for the rest of his life and it was only when he published his “Birthday Letters,’’ shortly before his own death in 1999, that he addressed the circumstances of the pair’s troubled but passionate relationship and the aftermath of her death.

Still, none of the poems treated the suicide directly, and Melvyn Bragg, the New Statesman’s guest editor, told the BBC that the new poem should be seen as the collection’s missing keystone.

Britain’s current poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, agreed, adding that the work “was almost unbearable to read.’’

“It feels a bit like looking into the sun as it’s dying,’’ she told Channel 4. “There is a kind of deafening agony, blinding agony to this new poem. It seems to touch a deeper, darker place than any poem he’s ever written.’’