Below is the final poem written by, Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes to his wife Sylvia Plath. On February 11, 1963 at 4:30 am Sylvia Plath took her own life by placing her head in the oven and turning on the gas. Their two children slept soundly in the next room. The poem is Ted Hughes' response to his wife's suicide.
A Husband's Torment
by Ted Hughes
What happened that night, your final night?
Double, treble exposure over everything.
Late Afternoon Friday, my last sight of you alive, burning your letter to me in the ashtray with that strange smile.
What did you say over the smoking shards of that letter so carefully annihilated,
so calmly, that let me release you and leave you to blow its ashes off you plan.
Off the ashtray against which you would leave for me to read the doctor's phone number.
My escape had become such a hunted thing,
sleepless, hopeless, all its dreams exhausted.
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 happen as if it was not happening.
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.'
Her gravestone reads, "Sylvia Plath Hughes". Following her death, the gravestone was intensely persecuted and vandalized - villains would constantly chisel away the name 'Hughes' leaving only 'Sylvia Plath'.
Hughes remarried but the union did little to ease his sadness, to relieve him of his curse. Six years after the suicide of Plath, Hughes' second wife, Assia Wevill, killed herself and their four year old daughter, Shura. The mother and daughter were found lifeless on the kitchen floor, the kitchen stove was opened and the gas turned on. While married to Sylvia, Ted had been having an affair with Assia. At the time of Sylvia's suicide, Assia was pregnant with Hughes' child, but would later condemn the child's illegitimate existence to an abortion.
While in a relationship with Ted Hughes (they were never married), Assia Wevill claimed she was haunted by Sylvia Plath, and even began using and wearing many of Sylvia's old things. Ted Hughes wrote this poem entitled 'Folktale' about his relationship with Assia:
She wanted the silent heraldry
Of the purple beach by the noble wall.
He wanted Cabala the ghetto demon
With its polythene bag full of ashes.
He also wrote this shortly after meeting Assia for the first time:
We didn't find her - she found us.
She sniffed us out.
She sat there
Slightly filthy with erotic mystery.
I saw the dreamer in her
Had fallen in love with me and she did not know it.
That moment the dreamer in me
Fell in love with her, and I soon knew it.
On March 6, 2009, Nicholas Hughes, the son of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, hung himself.
Ted Hughes was a stone-cold poet, bound and tied with a dark gift for gathering beautiful words. '
Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now
Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come
Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Coming about its own business
Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.
The last four stanzas of "The Thought Fox"
from The Hawk in the Rain, 1957
On October 28, 1998, Ted Hughes suffered a fatal heart attack. On learning of Hughes' death, fellow poet, Seamus Heaney wrote, "No death outside my immediate family has left me feeling more bereft. No death in my lifetime has hurt poets more. He was a tower of tenderness and strength, a great arch under which the least of poetry's children could enter and feel secure. His creative powers were, as Shakespeare said, still crescent. By his death, the veil of poetry is rent and the walls of learning broken."
I wish I could write something wonderful right now, but I can't, and I'll tell you why.
Just the other day, as I was walking down the street with my younger brother we saw a squirrel. The squirrel, with its bushy, lovable tail, its curious eyes, and its busy hands wiping its jittery, little nose like Sigmund Freud - the famed neurologist and founding father of psychoanalysis was a notable proponent of cocaine and experimented with the drug quite frequently. Once, he wrote to his stunningly average looking wife, Martha, "If all goes well, I will write an essay [on cocaine] and I expect it will win its place in therapeutics by the side of morphine and superior to it... I take very small doses of it regularly against depression and against indigestion and with the most brilliant of success." The man was a genius, and a coke head. The squirrel was cute, they always are, and as he clung to the tree, I realized that I'd never seen a squirrel die - I'd never seen any animal die. Animals, to me, and I'm sure millions of other people, were immortal. I thought of my younger brother. How did he understand life and death? I truly don't even understand it, so how could he?
Then, as if manifested from the seeds of my dark thoughts, a feline, a bobcat, a lion, a tiger, pounced from a bush and wrapped its off-white, borderline yellow fangs around the neck of the squirrel. The collarless cat retreated to a nearby alleyway where I'm sure he or she devoured the remains of the once cute squirrel. My brother and I stopped. He looked at me and I looked at him. Our minds raced but no words were said - we didn't understand what to do next. We didn't know how to deal with such a sudden burst of death. The problem was quickly resolved as a white van drove by, its driver side window rolled down. The driver wore sunglasses and a backwards white hat, a little tuft of his hair poking through the window where the strap met the actual cap - he looked like one of the kidnappers from the 3 Ninjas. The man thrust his fist out the window and into the air, as he yelled, "That was awesome! Are you kidding me?" And then he was gone.
Like the squirrel, he was gone. My brother and I walked on. We ate sandwiches for lunch. At one point, our silence was broken by our laughter. It's still hard to know if that really happened - dreams, like cats, are hunters....preying on reality.
Riding a bike along Pacific Coast Highway. There are many cities you pass through. There are many people you see. Some cities slant upward the entire way. Others are split tirelessly by stoplights and liquor stores. In Wilmington, with the sun effortlessly slapping the top of my, for once in my life, blonde head I was forced to pull over and buy a sunhat. The hat merchant was affable and nitwitted but only in the book sense. As I continued on into Lomita, the women's sunglasses and sunhat began to draw, noticeably, more attention....that, and the beautiful townie bicycle I was riding - straight from Costco, no less. The light was red, I was stopped, two men, two rather large men, approached. One flaunted his lone gold tooth like it was a prize - it probably was. The other made a point to lift his shirt and show me his boxer briefs...and, of course, the spot where his pistol should have been. "Nice bike over there," the gold-toothed phenom hissed, nodding his head like a schizophrenic bobble head. They inched closer. My gaze cemented straight ahead. As they ventured into arm's reach, the light miraculously changed to green. Click...click...click....not to worry. It was only the sound of me switching gears. Seven gears to be exact and I used every one of them....except the first one....and the second....I used 3,4,5,6,7, though. Mainly, the seventh gear was where I took my lashes.
I crossed over too many freeway entrances, and narrowly out-pedaled looming big rigs merging onto the 1 from their respective off ramps. The smoke stacks and the train tracks and bums on crack were all beautiful. The river, when I got the chance, was toxically serene - I regret not tossing a line when I had the chance. The many fleets of aggressive cyclists were inspiring, but, concurrently embarrassing - I came to despise them and their expensive gear. The last leg was the most excruciating, for I was, as they say, running on empty. Cramps and merciless, dehydrated thoughts slowed me down, but I never strayed from the path. The worst part of the journey was the endless amount of time - time spent alone with my thoughts. There was no music, there was no conversation. Just the voice in my head and road. In every new city, I thought about turning around - even in Marina Del Rey I thought about turning around. Not so much in a realistic way, but in a kind of sick, tormenting way. 60 miles and 5 1/2 hours later I arrived at my destination in Santa Monica, California. I do regret a thing. On a whim, with nothing more than the clothes I wore to a sushi lunch with my mother, I rode my bicycle, actually, my father's bicycle, to Santa Monica. I felt good. Almost great. Depleted - a tad, but not for long. Next, San Francisco...I will need a gang for this one.
There are other things I wanted to say, but I fear I've made the mistake of waiting too long.