Ted Hughes, one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century, has finally revealed the extent of the misery he went through after the suicide of his wife Sylvia Plath. His voice may come from beyond the grave, but it has a depth and intensity that strikes the deepest chords.
“What happened that night, inside your hours
Is as unknown as if it never happened.
What accumulation of your whole life,
Like effort unconscious, like birth
Pushing through the membrane of each slow second
Into the next, happened
Only as if it could not happen
As if it was not happening.”
It does make me wonder though. Ted Hughes left Sylvia for another woman.
“my last sight of you alive
burning your last letter to me … yet with that strange smile,
as if you had meant something quite [heavily crossed out] different
He walks out on her and yet…yet he writes a poem that speaks of the anguish and the pain he felt. His newly discovered poem spans a period of three days before her death to the time he received the news of her death.
“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.”
Was it guilt? Were the depression and silence that he held on to for thirty years more than just a way of avoiding the vicious insinuations and outright accusations from people? I believe so. I find it hard to imagine the torment and the self deprecation that the man must have gone through during this period. A soul so ravaged and tortured by the guilt at what had happened; to think that he was to blame for it all; to feel that every eye turned on him with scorn and, above all, to realize what he had irrevocably lost.
He spent the last thirty years of his life writing
All images courtesy of The New Statesman Website
draft after draft
but he was still not ready to let it go. It remained unpublished until now, when it has been published posthumously. There could be many reasons for this. He may not have thought it did justice to his feelings. Maybe, he thought that mere words would not suffice to redeem him. This poem, his only way of seeking salvation and asking for Sylvia’s forgiveness, was not published intentionally.
Perhaps, he wanted to let Sylvia have the last word for I cannot help but think that Sylvia managed to avenge all the pain, heartache and agony she felt the day he left her and their two children.