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Your Wife is Dead
October 7, 2010 5:06 AM   Subscribe

A new poem by Ted Hughes describing the last few days of Sylvia Plath's life has been discovered. The poem is printed in the dead tree edition of today's New Statesman but the Daily Mail has published the text online
posted by unSane (45 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
That Daily Mail text is an extract, not the full poem.
posted by beagle at 5:14 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've read some Ted Hughes here and there and his poems leave me completely cold. What are his best ones?

Iron Giant was a good movie, though.
posted by empath at 5:25 AM on October 7, 2010


I'd highly recommend the book of poems "Crow." It's not going to move you emotionally, but it's a fun read. Also has some great illustrations by Leonard Baskin. "Birthday letters" is also decent.
posted by sinak at 5:42 AM on October 7, 2010


I've read some Ted Hughes here and there and his poems leave me completely cold. What are his best ones?

Hawk in the Rain and Crow contain most his best work I think, the later stuff was very good as well but much less brilliant. At his worst though, virtually all of his poetry was better than the soppy maudlin garbage that Plath put out.
posted by atrazine at 5:42 AM on October 7, 2010


A conversation about Ted Hughes between myself and my then-husband:

Husband: Did you know Ted Hughes' second wife was also a poet?
Me: Huh.
Husband: AANNNDDD, she killed herself with the gas stove.
Me: Wow, that's some bad luck right there.
Husband: Yeah, I guess the moral of Ted Hughes' life is "Don't marry poets."
Me: Hmm. No, I think it's actually "Get an electric stove."
posted by sonika at 5:45 AM on October 7, 2010 [15 favorites]


the soppy maudlin garbage that Plath put out.

Them's fightin' words. Care to provide examples?

What are his best ones?

Hughes's version of Ovid is also very good.
posted by flotson at 5:50 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


virtually all of his poetry was better than the soppy maudlin garbage that Plath put out.

Wow, talk about mileage varying.
posted by aught at 5:59 AM on October 7, 2010


I've read some Ted Hughes here and there and his poems leave me completely cold.

Read Birthday Letters, it's very moving.

Hawk in the Rain, Lupercal, Moortown Diary and Season Songs (for kids) are all outstanding.
posted by fire&wings at 6:01 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Them's fightin' words. Care to provide examples?

I don't personally care for confessional poetry so it's more a matter of personal taste. Though Lady Lazarus deserves its reputation, I think the rest of Ariel is over-rated.
posted by atrazine at 6:07 AM on October 7, 2010


Hughes's version of Ovid is also very good.

I'm going to throw my weight behind this very wise statement. Read them aloud.
posted by Ted Maul at 6:08 AM on October 7, 2010


And regarding Plath - soppy and maudlin aren't words I'd choose. Histrionic perhaps, if I was being unkind. It's been said a thousand times, but I feel that her appropriation of holocaust imagery was tasteless at best.

I'm not a huge fan... but I still find a lot to admire in her work. Let's not turn this into a Ted v. Sylvia slanging match. I don't think it's what either of them would have wanted, really.
posted by Ted Maul at 6:13 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Me: Hmm. No, I think it's actually "Get an electric stove."

I was a relatively sheltered child (whose family had an electric stove), so when I read that Ms. Plath killed herself by sticking her head in an oven, I assumed the worst. As in: she baked herself to death at 450 degrees.

This somewhat affected my reading of her work.
posted by joe lisboa at 6:15 AM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


Plug for Janet Malcolm's The Silent Woman.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:40 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Daily Mail commenter complaining earnesty about the fact Hughes' poem doesn't rhyme... It
seems somehow aproppriate.
posted by beschizza at 6:52 AM on October 7, 2010


I feel that her appropriation of holocaust imagery was tasteless at best.

Really? For a woman of that time period to try and articulate woman's second-hand citizen status, and how easily one could be destroyed or discarded if she did not conform to social expectations, I find it eerily apt.
posted by hermitosis at 7:16 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


This being the Internet, I'll keep watching this thread for someone posting the full text of the poem... right? I'm not even sure I can buy the New Statesman here. Please don't disappoint.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:26 AM on October 7, 2010


Ted Hughes is among my favorite English poets. I do not like anything he has written about Sylvia Plath. I must have been born in the wrong place and time. Ted was a babe magnet and everywhere I have lived poets are about as attractive to women as video game players.
posted by bukvich at 7:38 AM on October 7, 2010


As in: she baked herself to death at 450 degrees.

I grew up with an electric oven and had the same assumption about oven-suicides for a surprisingly long time...
posted by heyforfour at 7:47 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Really? For a woman of that time period to try and articulate woman's second-hand citizen status, and how easily one could be destroyed or discarded if she did not conform to social expectations, I find it eerily apt.

I respectfully disagree... I'm not suggesting that any kind of imagery should be off-limits to poetic expression. But I don't think the organised murder of the holocaust is a particularly apt metaphor for the treatment of women in the time Plath was writing. But it's a matter of personal taste, perspective and interpretation.
posted by Ted Maul at 7:51 AM on October 7, 2010


I find Plath a little overwhelming, in terms of her use of tropes and the like, but it is useful to remember that one of the things that depression does is catastrophic thinking.

as for hughes, i really love him, but the thing that impressed me most was how cosmic, iconic, and seriously he took his role as poet laurete, strangely. Rain Charm of the Duchy, a collection of occasional verse, is vital, and it is rare you can say that for these sort of collections, cf Andrew Motion.

His anthology of poetry for Schools, Rattlebag, is also fantastic.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:11 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


That Daily Mail text is an extract, not the full poem.

It seems to be an abridgment, not an extract, but maybe I'm confused on terms.

The first New Statesman link provides a link to a much longer (and I think continuous) section of the poem by Jonathan Pryce for Channel 4.

Regardless of how you consider Hughes as a poet (I like him a lot), you can tell by Pryce's performance how deeply moving the sentiment. Too sad.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:38 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Histrionic and overwhelming are, if not intended effects of Sylvia's poems, articulations of aspects of her persona. I had a period of time when I was engrossed in her -- it wasn't quite fandom, but it was intense. I still find her fascinating (though I haven't read her poems in a long while), but then I also have a fascination with Anne Sexton.

Sylvia and Ted both seem to have fallen back out of favor after a long period of adulation (or overexposure, depending on your viewpoint). The story of the lost Ted poem has gotten no coverage at all to speak of here in the US press.
posted by blucevalo at 8:51 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I still think Sexton is the better poet.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:56 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This being the Internet, I'll keep watching this thread for someone posting the full text of the poem... right? I'm not even sure I can buy the New Statesman here. Please don't disappoint.

Well, here's a transcription of Pryce's reading. I'm not sure how much he deviated from the text, and a few words are a little unclear: neither "lean" nor "leave" make much sense to me; I also guessed that "days gratias" was a take on "deo gratias;" "Prevalent devils" and "the snowlit morning light" are two other head scratchers.

I have no idea what "cupo" or "cuppo" is. I'm guessing it means "dog."

Also, the video repeats itself for the last stanza or so. I'm going to assume Hughes didn't repeat the last ~20 lines word for word.

The New Statesman refers to it as "a section" but the Channel 4 page just calls it "the poem." However, the Daily Mail "extract" has text that isn't in Pryce's reading.

Last Letter (section)

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

Had I bungled your plan?
Had it surprised me sooner than you purposed?
Had I rushed it back to you too promptly?
One hour later you would have been gone
Where I could not have traced you
I would have turned from your locked, red door that nobody would open
Still holding your letter
A thunderbolt that could not earth itself
That would have been electric shock treatment for me
Repeated over and over all weekend
As often as I read it or thought of it
That would have remade my brains and my life
The treatment that you planned needed some time
I cannot imagine how I would have got through that weekend
I cannot imagine

Had you plotted it all?
Your note reached me too soon
That same day, Friday afternoon
Posted in the morning
The prevalent devils expedited it
That was one more straw of ill luck
Drawn against you by the post office
And added to your load

I moved fast
Through the snow, blue, February London twilight
Wept with relief when you opened the door
A huddle of riddles in solution
Precocious tears that failed to interpret to me
Failed to divulge their real import

But 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 your plan
Off the ashtray against which you would lean for me
To read the doctor's phone number

My escape had become such a hunted thing
Sleepless, hopeless
All its dreams exhausted
Only wanting to be recaptured
Only wanting to drop out of its vacuum

Two days of dangling nothing
Two days gratias
Two days in no calendar
But stolen from no world
Beyond actuality, feeling, or name

My love life grabbed it
My numbed love life with its two mad needles
Embroidering their rose
Piercing and tugging at their tapestry
Their bloody tattoo somewhere behind my navel
Treading that morass of emblazon
Two mad needles, criss-crossing their stitches
Selecting among my nerves for their colors
Refashioning me, inside my own skin
Each refashioning the other
With their self-caricatures
Their obsessed in and out
Two women, each with her needle

That night, my della Robbia Susan
I moved with a circumspection of a flame and a fuse
My whole fury was an abandoned effort to blow up
The old globe where shadows
Bent over my telltale track of ashes
I raced from and from
Faced backwards, a film reversed
Towards what?

We went to Rugby Street
Where you and I began
Why did we go there?
Of all places, why did we go there?
Perversity in the artistry of our fate
Adjusted its refinements for you, for me, and for Susan
Solitaire, played by the minotaur of that maze
Even included Helen in the ground-floor flat
You'd noted her
A girl for a story
You never met her
Few ever met her
Except across the ears in raving mask of her Alsatian
You hadn't even glimpsed her
You'd only recoiled when her demented animal
Crashed its weight against the door
As we slipped through the hallway
And heard it choking on infinite German hatred

That Sunday night
She eased her door open
Its few permitted inches
Susan greeted the black eyes
The unhappy, overweight, lovely face that peeped out
Across the little chain
The door closed
We heard her consoling her jailer inside her cell
Its kennel where days later
She gassed her ferocious cupo and herself

Susan and I spent that night in our wedding bed
I'd not seen it since we lay there on our wedding day
I didn't take her back to my own bed
It had occurred to me your weekend over
You might appear
A surprise visitation
Did you appear to tap at my dark window?

So, I stayed with Susan
Hiding from you
In our own wedding bed
The same from which within three years
She would be taken to die in that same hospital
Where, within 12 hours, I would find you dead

Monday morning
I drove her to work in the city
Then parked my van north of Houston Road
And returned to where my telephone waited
At what position of the hands on my watchface
Did your last attempt
Already deeply past my being able to hear it
Shake the pillow of that empty bed
A last time
Lightly touch at my books and my papers
By the time I got there, my phone was asleep
The pillow innocent
My room slept
Already filled with the snowlit morning light
I lit my fire
I had got out my papers
And I'd 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"

posted by mrgrimm at 9:37 AM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


I liked the parody from "Yana," in the Daily Mail's comment section:

"It's like a memory of watching a drowning puppy:


oh, mysterious puppy,
what's in your head - I don't know,
you keep saying something and waving your paws
sweet puppy, you're gone
oh, these sudden bubbles from below...
like cold needles piercing my soul"


Man, I really hate modern poetry.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:56 AM on October 7, 2010


I still think Sexton is the better poet.

Better, worse, I don't differentiate. Each has different voices, strengths, and emphases. Sexton herself once wrote that she tried to write a poem that sounded like Plath but that "the spirit of imitation did not last, and now it sounds, as usual, like Sexton."
posted by blucevalo at 11:25 AM on October 7, 2010


Man, I really hate modern poetry.

Brooklyn, 1929. Of course Crane's
been drinking and has no idea who
this curious Andalusian is, unable
even to speak the language of poetry.

- Philip Levine, On the Meeting of Garcia Lorca and Hart Crane

How can you not love that?
posted by mrgrimm at 11:41 AM on October 7, 2010


Crow black, charred black, black, claw, black, you do not do, black shoe, crow, black, every woman adores a fascist...black...black!...BLACK!

I think we'd better be going home now, Johhny.

I'm sorry. I can't help. This happens whenever Hughes or Plath come up.
posted by Decani at 11:57 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


> How can you not love that?

Yeah, I get irked when a micro-story has fifty unnecessary line-breaks and yet no indentation.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:46 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hughes' adaptation of Seneca's version of Oedipus is also very good, especially when read aloud.
posted by nushustu at 1:31 PM on October 7, 2010


The New Statesman is available via many databases at your local library, but it appears that they embargo issues for a month. November should yield the full text that way, if the pirate/open internet doesn't get there first.
posted by newrambler at 1:34 PM on October 7, 2010


Oh, joy! Someone on LiveJournal's typed it all out.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:53 PM on October 7, 2010


I found myself almost unable to read the whole poem. It was too painful. Hughes captured my imagination when I read Birthday Letters. I haven't read his adaptations/translations of the Classics, but it sounds like I should.
posted by bardophile at 3:18 PM on October 7, 2010


Yeah, I get irked when a micro-story has fifty unnecessary line-breaks and yet no indentation.

PROTIP: The line breaks aren't unnecessary. Give it a try.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:03 PM on October 7, 2010


Of course, when Hughes was Laureate, UK satire had a field day, as evidenced by EJ Thribb's contribution to the subversive 'organ' Private Eye:

Lines on the Queen’s 60th Birthday
by Ted Hughes


Wolf headed magpie
Stalks black white
Black over
Flint cracked mangle
Frost-shredded
Field.

Stoat watches.

Bloodred nettle
Sprouts acid
Frond.

Old Stoatie.

Peewit shrieking
Buzzard grey
Feather drooping
Death call

Old Stoatie listens.

Swollen river
Rushes down Blood
Gorge torrent filled
Roar of white-flecked
Molten snow

Old Stoatie falls in.

Rotting stoat
Body carcass
Gleaming fish nibbled
Carrion of death
Sodden fur bulging
Eyes

Old Stoatie’s
Rather had it.

Happy Birthday
Your Majesty

posted by specialbrew at 4:43 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know what irks me? That Plath's work must, seemingly, be interpreted through Ted's filter. As if he stands over her.

His work is important. Hers is perhaps less so. But don't tell me that, because of this, he gets to have the last word.

There's more in the source than there is in his commentary.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:08 PM on October 7, 2010


Eh, Plath had the jump on Ted for the best part of forty years. Everything he did was viewed through the lens of the journals and various Plath-centric accounts of their relationship. It was only with BIRTHDAY LETTERS that it was even possible to start joining up the dots between their respective works. It's now possible to read each of their poems in the light of the other. I don't think it's true that she's always viewed through his filter at all. I think each of them resonates in the other's work.
posted by unSane at 6:41 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Plath has always hooked me in, maybe because I was a teenager when I started reading her and her kind of drama really appealed. I'm glad Hughes had written about their life together, or his own version of the end. I remember at one point he had seemed to rewrite some of her poems in his own voice, like Sheep in Fog I think, which I thought was in really poor taste. He was within his rights to tell his own story, but to burn her works or diaries, or "rewrite" her poems, that's way outside the bounds.

I do think Plath is very important as an example of repressed women in the late fifties who gave voice to the rage many felt at their role. And at their husband's affairs, I suppose.
posted by onlyconnect at 7:25 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, I really hate modern poetry.

People who say this sort of thing invariably don't actually read any.
posted by Ted Maul at 12:18 AM on October 8, 2010


Out of curiosity I went and read Ebert's review of Sylvia. He liked it!
posted by bukvich at 1:31 PM on October 8, 2010


> People who say this sort of thing invariably don't actually read any.

True; I detect a cause-effect relationship.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:59 PM on October 8, 2010


Tiger Beatdown has thoughts.
posted by prefpara at 2:16 PM on October 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


My own personal conclusion, after spending far too long in the company of the journals and poems and biographies of these two, was that the only thing worse than being married to Ted Hughes would be to be married to Sylvia Plath. Or possibly vice versa.
posted by unSane at 5:56 PM on October 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


His work is important. Hers is perhaps less so. But don't tell me that, because of this, he gets to have the last word.

He gets to have the last word because he's alive. Not completely fair, but what can you do.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:35 AM on October 11, 2010


He gets to have the last word because he's alive. Not completely fair, but what can you do.

Not stick your head in an oven, I wager.
posted by empath at 9:54 AM on October 11, 2010


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