A rare event. A poem has been read on a commercial television news program. Never fear, it didn’t happen here but on Britain’s Channel 4 news last night. Actor Jonathan Pryce read extracts from Last Letter, a previously unknown poem by Ted Hughes, about the night his estranged wife Sylvia Plath killed herself.
The full text of the poem, guaranteed to bring a little sadness to all but the most hardened heart, will be published in full in tomorrow’sNew Statesman. The British magazine’s website says Last letter is a poem that describes what happened during the three days leading up to the suicide of the poet laureate’s first wife, the poet Sylvia Plath.
Its first line is: “What happened that night? Your final night.” — and the poem ends with the moment Hughes is informed of his wife’s death.
Hughes’ best-known work is 1998’s Birthday Letters, a collection of poems that detail his relationship with Plath. Though the published poems make reference to Plath’s suicide, which occurred in February 1963, when she and Hughes were separated but still married, none of them addresses directly the circumstances of her death. This, then, would appear to be the “missing link” in the sequence.