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 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.’
These are the last lines of Hughes’s final ‘letter’ to his first wife Sylvia Plath; the poem was not published in his best-selling collection Birthday Letters (1998) but ‘found’ instead by Melvyn Bragg in Hughes’s archive in the British Library in 2010, twelve years after his death, and published in an issue of New Statesman guest-edited by Bragg. The poem tells of the final night of Plath’s life before she committed suicide in the early hours of the morning in February 1963. Hughes tortures himself by thinking of Plath walking to and from her flat in Fitzroy Road to the telephone box in order to call him; Hughes was with one of his two lovers that night and away from his room; he had left the marriage in the previous year. He imagines his telephone ringing throughout the night, disturbing his papers and his pillow but when he returns to his room the next morning, the personified phone is ‘asleep.’ The phone then ‘remembering’ what has happened, rings and delivers the news that Plath has taken her life. Hughes describes the message as a ‘weapon’ or an ‘injection’ and it surely was, a weapon that injured him for the rest of his life.
by Di Beddow