Philip Larkin touched on the irreducible iconic nature of a handwritten poem in describing a literary manuscript’s “magical value”—“This is the paper he wrote on, these are the words as he wrote them, emerging for the first time in this particular miraculous combination.” The poem as a holy object. But a poem in manuscript can also show us the sinew and bones beneath the polished object, giving us a peek into the creative interplay between poet and poem before the poem has crystallized into into its finished self—and this is also part of its magic.
These musings were prompted by the recent announcement of Bonham’s upcoming sale of poetry manuscripts in London (A - K on April 10, L - Z on May 8). Roy Davids has been collecting poems in manuscript form for 40 years, and the collection to be sold includes the only known manuscript of W.H. Auden’s “Stop All the Clocks,” Christina Rossetti’s sonnet “Remember Me,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Ballad of the Dark Ladie,” William Butler Yeats’ “Are You Content?,” Tennyson’s “The Eagle,” Thomas Hardy’s “In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations’” and more. The poster offers enticing glimpses of some of the handwritten poems—how I’d love to see them up close!
from The Independent (UK):
“Rare unpublished A.E. Housman poem about unrequited love expected to fetch £25,000,” by Mathilda Battersby
“A Shropshire Lad poet A.E. Housman gave strict instructions upon his death that working drafts and unpublished poems should be destroyed. But a rare handwritten poem... was saved from destruction.... The work, titled ‘Oh were he and I together’ was written in pencil in 1917 and never published during Housman’s lifetime. The text is very faint and a deliberate attempt has been made to erase it....”