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."