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Dead wives’ society

Which poet grieved most selflessly for the death of his wife? John Milton, Thomas Hardy, Douglas Dunn or Ted Hughes?

By Kate Kellaway   June 2002

I remember at a party playing a maudlin game: make up your own epitaph. It wasn’t as funny as intended, although it was revealing (one man wanted his to read: “He did better than his father”). Fortunately, we are not in charge of composing our epitaphs. But memorialising others is a responsible affair-especially in poetry. I was looking at Faber’s enticing new editions of modern poetry that include Douglas Dunn’s Elegies and Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters, when the dead wives first came to mind. I started to think of Lesley Balfour Dunn (d.1981), Sylvia Plath (d.1963) and Emma Hardy (d.1912…

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