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Unseen Hughes Poem Details Sylvia Plath's Suicide

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

From the beginning, many of Plath's fans blamed Hughes. And for years he responded with silence. Today, a British magazine is publishing a poem by Hughes never seen before. It's called "Last Letter." And in it Hughes finally spoke of that sad event. Here's an excerpt read for the BBC by novelist Melvyn Bragg at the moment Hughes was informed of Plath's death.

MELVYN BRAGG: Then a voice like a selected weapon - or a measured injection - coolly delivered its four words deep into my ear. Your wife is dead.

MONTAGNE: And Phil, how did this poem come to light after all these years?

PHILIP REEVES: And it turns out that a number of drafts of this poem were in the Ted Hughes archive in the British Library. Bragg was led to these by Hughes's widow, Carol, who is a friend of his.

MONTAGNE: And this is important, obviously, because of this long controversy, but also because of the stature of both Plath and Hughes.

REEVES: Of course we now know - and it was known back then too, but you know, these were different times - that Plath was suffering from depression. A complex, terrible condition which was far less well recognized back then than it is today.

MONTAGNE: And what's the reaction been to this discovery, if you will, of this new poem about the suicide?

REEVES: Hughes was Britain's poet laureate. The current holder of that post, Carol Ann Duffy, has been talking about this new poem. And she says that "Last Letter" is almost unbearable to read and says it seems to touch a deeper, darker place than any poem that Ted Hughes has written.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Philip Reeves speaking from London. Thanks.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.