Unpublished Hughes poem to raise cash for cancer fight

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The Independent Culture

An unknown, hand-written poem by Ted Hughes, the late Poet Laureate, is to be auctioned to raise funds to fight the disease that killed him.

An unknown, hand-written poem by Ted Hughes, the late Poet Laureate, is to be auctioned to raise funds to fight the disease that killed him.

The poem has been donated to the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) by Keith Sagar, Hughes's biographer, who was given it by the poet more than 20 years ago.

Called "Knave of Clubs", the poem is about Hercules, the mythical hero who undertook 12 astonishing labours, and his wife, Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and renowned for her youth and vigour. Hughes originally called it "King of Clubs" but crossed it out on the manuscript.

Mr Sagar enclosed the poem, which he had kept with a number of other manuscripts and letters, after he was asked to "personalise" a copy of his biography for the charity auction.

He was given it in 1979 as he was leaving Hughes's Devon home after a visit. "Ted had his hand in his pocket and he fished it out with a bit of crumpled paper. He opened it and saw what it was - a little poem - and said, 'Oh, you might find this quite amusing,' and gave it to me. I read it and handed it back and he said, 'Keep it, it's only a little bagatelle'."

It is not known how much the poem, with Mr Sagar's biography, might fetch. Earlier this year, a brief poem written by Hughes on the back of a chocolate wrapper was sold for £575. But the CRC is hoping that the lot might make at least £1,000 for its cause.

Mr Sagar said: "There is a published poem of this title, but this is nothing to do with that. It is a little comic poem which has never been published, which makes it very much more valuable.

"He obviously didn't think it important enough to be concerned about publishing it, but it's a characteristic bit of Hughes's humour. "

Hughes was ill with colon cancer for 18 months before his death two years ago.

His final work, a play based on Alcestis by Euripides, returns to the figure of Hercules. The play was premiered by the Northern Broadsides theatre company and is currently on tour.

Other items in the CRC sale, at the Royal College of Art, London, on 22 November, include signed editions of JK Rowling's Harry Potter book, Goblet of Fire, and of Maeve Binchy's Scarlet Feather.

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