Monday, October 11, 2010


I was only four when Sylvia Plath commited suicide.  As a sixth former I wrote an essay about her poems, and later a dissertation about her work when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge.  In my adult life I have been a consumer of the latest releases into the public domain - her letters home to her mother, short stories, journals, a steady stream of biographies (of Sylvia, Ted Hughes, Assia Wevill); the unauthorised film Sylvia which I watched in an empty cinema, by coincidence on the anniversary of her death (11 February).

The careful control and slow release by Ted Hughes of Sylvia's work, as well as his reluctance to talk about her, protected his privacy but also fueled speculation and public interest - and so although Sylvia Plath the woman died in 1963, Sylvia Plath the writer and the power of the 'Ted and Sylvia' story has grown and grown ever since like some great mythic monster.

Now nearly fifty years after Sylvia's untimely death at 30 and some twelve years after the death of Ted Hughes, his estate and Melvyn Bragg have published what they call his 'final poem' in the New Statesman last week - his 'Last Letter' about his final meeting with Sylvia and the weekend of her death.

It is a very moving poem haunted by grief, by guilt, by what he knew and what he could never know about her last hours, and his sense that the estranged couple and others around them were at the mercy of their fates.

'In your long black coat,
With your plait coiled up at the back of your hair
You walk unable to move, or wake, and are
Already nobody walking
Walking by the railings under Primrose Hill
Towards the phone booth that can never be reached.'

Last letter, last poem, maybe, but not last word...

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