Draft notebook holds untraced Spender poems
Friday 07 June 1996
Spender, one of the century's most famous poets, died last July, an event many saw as marking the end of an era for that Oxbridge group of friends and poets who gained such fame in the Thirties: Auden, Isherwood, Day- Lewis and MacNeice. This sale of the notebook will cause excitement among scholars and collectors.
His autographed poetical notebook from the Thirties, which is to be sold by Sotheby's on 28 June, is called "POEMS, July 1939" and signed "Stephen Spender". It is labelled by the poet as "Fair Copy of Poems, from July 20 1939", but the 55-page book is in fact a collection of late drafts and includes To the Shades, She Came to the River and another untitled poem, none of which are thought to have been published.
Spender's first collection of poetry, simply entitled Poems, was published to huge acclaim in 1933. But many thought his finest work was to be found in his wartime volumes, Ruins and Visions (1941) and Poems of Dedication (1946).
Many poems in the canvas notebook ended up in those two collections. One was The Vase of Tears, which clearly gave Spender a great deal of trouble: it is covered with deletions. What a poet leaves out is often as interesting as what is kept in, and here on one line Spender has tried out "bends", "stoops" and "arches" at the start of the phrase before settling for: "Knees over pearls of salt and water/And one by one these tears collects".
He also deleted the first stanza of his untitled, unpublished poem, which originally read: "Doing anything and everything is a drug/My pen is a bitter root of oblivion, my thoughts/[unreadable] cover with pictures the abyss of waiting." The final version starts: "Then the meals are brought in and I ask for what/For what am I waiting?..."
Peter Selley, the English literature expert at Sotheby's, which is to sell the book for an estimated pounds 3,000 to pounds 5,000, said: "Spender still made quite extensive corrections in it, and there are three poems which have not been traced. It will have great appeal for collectors."
The sale also offers another Spender rarity: the corrected galley proofs - estimated at up to pounds 500 - of The Struggle of the Modern, originally entitled The Battle of the Moderns.
But the printer (it was published by Hamish Hamilton in 1963) must have been hard pushed to decipher the amendments. The page on James Joyce's Ulysses is particularly complex. One correction changes "By imagist standards, Ulysses is a poem of the last chapter" to "By imagist standards, a great deal of Ulysses is poetry. The famous interior monologue is, as we have seen, the method of imagist poetry ... "
The book and proofs form part of the modern first editions collection of Anthony Hobson, a friend of TS Eliot, Nancy Cunard and Graham Greene.
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