Exclusive: Ted Hughes’s poem on the night Sylvia Plath died

The New Statesman publishes a previously unseen work by the late poet laureate.

The New Statesman publishes a previously unseen work by the late poet laureate.

In tomorrow's New Statesman, which has been guest-edited by Melvyn Bragg, we publish a previously unseen poem by Ted Hughes. "Last letter" is a poem that describes what happened during the three days leading up to the suicide of his first wife, the poet Sylvia Plath. Its first line is: "What happened that night? Your final night." -- and the poem ends with the moment Hughes is informed of his wife's death.

Hughes's best-known work is 1998's Birthday Letters, a collection of poems that detail his relationship with Plath. Though the published poems make reference to Plath's suicide, which occurred in February 1963, when she and Hughes were separated but still married, none of them addresses directly the circumstances of her death. This, then, would appear to be the "missing link" in the sequence.

The earliest draft of "Last letter" held in the British Library's Ted Hughes archive appears in a blue school-style exercise book, which is believed to date from the 1970s. The book contains drafts of several poems that appear in Birthday Letters. A more refined draft of the poem is found in a hardback notebook. After drafting poems by hand several times, Hughes would usually type out poems when they were near completion, adding notes in the margin where necessary.

Below are images from various drafts of the poem:

Add. 88918/1/6, f.1

The image above is of the first page of the earliest known draft of the poem, which went through many revisions before the final version appeared

2010+40ted poem 2

The image above is the first page of a later draft of the poem (date unknown)

Add. 88918/1/8, f.11

This image is from a draft of the poem contained in a hardback notebook. As is evident, Hughes would extensively rework phrases and add lines throughout the various stages of drafting. When a poem was finished, he would usually type it out, annotating with comments where necessary

In a letter from 1998 to his fellow poet Seamus Heaney, Hughes says that he first started to write simple verse "letters" to Sylvia Plath in the early 1970s. Hughes began writing them piecemeal; later he tried to do it in a more concerted way but found that he couldn't, so he went back to writing them occasionally. Some of the Birthday Letters poems appear in the 1995 New Selected Poems, but in correspondence with friends (also held by the British Library), he says he had found some of the other poems too personal to publish at that time.

Tonight Channel 4 News covered the story and recruited the actor Jonathan Pryce to read a section from the poem.

To read the poem in full, pick up a copy of Thursday's magazine.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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The art of the reel: Funny Or Die's VHS-style Donald Trump roast starring Johnny Depp

Funny Or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie ridicules Trump’s politics through his real estate career.

For many, Donald Trump has gone beyond a joke. His presidential candidacy has moved from bizarre, to funny, to a terrifyingly real possibility. Comedy is harder and harder to find in an individual who, like a toupéed hydra, only grows stronger after every attack.

But people are sure as hell going to try anyway. Funny Or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie, a 50-minute comedy feature starring Johnny Depp as Trump, was released yesterday to coincide with Trump’s victory in the New Hampshire Republican primary. If Trump in 2016 is more scary than truly funny, The Art of the Deal perhaps avoids this condundrum through its setting. Taking place in the mid-Eighties, it focuses on Trump the real estate tycoon, not Trump the potential Republican candidate.

The (loose) premise is this: The Art of the Deal is a movie written, directed by and staring Trump, based on his 1987 book of the same name, which was set for televised broadcast but was bumped off by a Monday Night Football match-up, and was thought “lost” in the “Cybil Shepherd blouse fire of 1989” for several decades. Now, Will Ferrell’s comedy video site Funny Or Die has “unearthed” it for our viewing pleasure. The 50 minutes that follow this introduction are true to the Eighties VHS aesthetic: washed out and static-laced, complete with a synthy retro theme tune and perfectly tacky title cards.

Set on his 40th birthday, Trump’s film follows his increasingly desperate attempts to buy the Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City from Merv Griffin (Patton Oswalt), after falling in love with the “georgeous” and “uuuuuge” original Taj Mahal: “easily the classiest thing ever built by a Muslim”. The Atlantic City version is even classier “because it’s a casino [...] in a place way more beautiful than India.”

At the same time, a young fan rushes into Trump’s office with a stolen copy of his book, amd Trump sets about explaining his rise to success and the building of the Trump tower (“my masterpenis”), imparting wisdom in the form of “Trump cards” that whizz onto the screen branded with slogans like “FIGHT BACK!”. A phonecall montage contains some of the film’s best one-liners, as Trumps yells down the phone: “It’s called real estate! Not fake estate!”

This set-up is interspersed with sycophantic characters who enter to sing Trump’s praises, or villainous enemies who try to thwart his rise. The NYC zoning board (“They made all zoning decisions based on ancient blood rituals”), art historians attempting to preserve period architecture (“Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to go misuse tax payer dollars”), and the NYC mayor all pronounce their own incompetence on-screen: “It’s all part of my liberal agenda, Donald. [...] I’m just a stupid politician; I don’t have your intellectual prowess.”

Johnny Depp, whose 21st-century career has involved the reckless abandonment of subtlety, gives his best performance in years behind thick jowls and latex eyebags. Aided by a great script, he brings Trump’s mannerisms and verbal tics to absurd prominence, peppering sentences with a harsh “OK?”, dragging words like “claaass”, “braaass” and “yuuuuuge” just to the limits of believability. You wouldn’t fall for Depp’s impersonation in a political broadcast, but he communicates the strange essence of Trump with flair.

Trump is not your typical politician, and so this feature is not your typical political satire. The period setting means Trump’s politics are always accessed through a side door ( “We never had to admit that we refused to rent to black people: that felt great”; “I love minorities, they’re sensual”), never confronting them head-on or ridiculing any concrete statements.

Perhaps this is because the makers genuinely didn’t think his political stint would last as long as it has. “The plan was to move really fast because we thought Trump would go away, as least as a presidential candidate,” Funny Or Die’s editor-in-chief Owen Burke told The New York Times. “When he bizarrely didn’t go away, we had a little more time.”

Some of the sharpest satire comes through nods to the topical, in lines like “Mr Trump? Robert Durst called and said he put the thing in the thing? He said you’d know what he means,” and “I want my daughter to grow up to be someone I would totally have sex with!”

These moments are too few: jokes about model buildings or involuntarily saying the word “lamp” tonally situate this short more in the early Noughties period of brash comedy like Zoolander and Anchorman than a razor-sharp 2016 satire. But, overall, it does a good job of portraying Trump as a weak little man with a distorted self-image: something that is, inexplicably, becoming a hard task in contemporary political commentary.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.