Ted Hughes’ Reaction to Sylvia Plath’s Suicide Revealed in New Poem

By Maryann Yin Comment

A newly released poem written by Ted Hughes directly addresses the writer’s reaction to the suicide of his first wife, Sylvia Plath.

After securing permission from Hughes’ widow Carol, The New Statesman published the piece entitled Last Letter. British actor Jonathan Pryce reads from the poem in the BBC video embedded above.

Normally, Hughes’ process to “complete” the writing of a poem was to type the finalized version. Several draft versions of Last Letter were found in Hughes’ handwritten notebooks. The earliest draft of the poem is contained in a blue exercise book now owned by the British Library’s Ted Hughes archive.

The New Statesman reports: “In a letter from 1998 to his fellow poet Seamus Heaney, Hughes says that he first started to write simple verse ‘letters’ to Sylvia Plath in the early 1970s. Hughes began writing them piecemeal; later he tried to do it in a more concerted way but found that he couldn’t, so he went back to writing them occasionally.”

Hughes and Plath had an “explosive” marriage. Immediately following her suicide, Hughes oversaw her literary estate by publishing the poetry collection, Ariel. He remained largely unwilling to talk about Plath’s suicide for most of his life. After almost three and a half decades Hughes broke his silence by publishing his most famous poetry collection, Birthday Letters in 1998. He died shortly after its release. (Via Jacket Copy)