Shifting my clarities (opheliablue) wrote,
Shifting my clarities

'Last Letter' - by Ted Hughes

Channel 4 News Item

New Statesmen - drafts of poem and some stupid comments - prize for the best! "A selfish, self-involved, self-indulgent navel-gazer with daddy issues offed herself leaving her kids without a mother because the world revolved around her and it wasn't paying enough attention for her liking. Really, is there anything more to know..."

Last Letter


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 stroke 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 gratis.

Two days in no calendar, but stolen

From no world.Beyond actuality, feeling, or name.


My love-life grabbed it.

My numbered love-life

With its 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 colours, 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 dellarobbia Susan. I moved

With the circumspection

Of a flame in 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, face backwards, a film reversed,

Towards what? We went to Rugby St

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 had noted her---a girl for a story.

You never met her.Few ever met her,

Except across the ears and raving mask

Of her Alsatian. You had not even glimpsed her.

You had only recoiled

When her demented animal crashed its weight

Against her 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 jailor

Inside its cell, its kennel, where, days later,

She gassed her ferocious kupo, and herself.


Susan and I spent that night

In our wedding bed. I had not seen it

Since we lay there on our wedding day.

I did not 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 twelve hours,

I would find you dead.


                                   Monday morning

I drove her to work, in the City,

Then I parked my van North of Euston Road

And returned to where my telephone waited.


What happened that night, inside your hours,

Is as unknown as if it never happened.

What accumulation of your whole life,

Like effort unconscious, like birth

Pushing through the membrane of each slow second

Into the next, happened

Only as if it could not happen.

As if it was not happening. How often

Did the phone ring there in my empty room,

You hearing the ring in your receiver---

At both ends the fading memory

Of a ringing telephone, in a brain

As if already dead. I count

How often you walked to the phone-booth

At the bottom of St George’s terrace.

You are there whenever I look, just turning

Out of Fitzroy Road, crossing over

Between the heaped up banks of dirty sugar.

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.

Before midnight. After midnight. Again.

Again. Again. And, near dawn, again.


At what position of the hands on my watch-face

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 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.’


© Ted Hughes

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