22 January 2013

Roy Davids' Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Auction Catalogue Descriptions

The following is reproduced from the forthcoming Bonham's auction catalogue for The Roy Davids Collection: Part III. Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets. First Session (A-K) by permission of Roy Davids. It is published here for the first time, prior to the appearance of the catalogue. Please verify descriptions with the printed/online catalogue just in case any of the information changes.

Lot 372

[PLATH, SYLVIA 1932-1963)] and TED HUGHES (1930-1998)

THE COMPLETE WORKING PAPERS FOR THE FIRST VERSION OF TED HUGHES'S ESSAY ABOUT SYLVIA PLATH'S POEM, 'THE EVOLUTION OF SHEEP IN FOG,' comprising the autograph manuscript, revised typescript written in the form of a typed and autograph letter signed ('Ted') to Roy Davids as notes for a lecture, with autograph revisions and comments (' This is very hugger mugger - but it covers, with a specific example, the points we talked about at the weekend'; 'Puppet lecturer begins to speak'; 'I thought I was being brief'; 'if you manage to get over the main drift of this, it would be a good vindication of the craze to collect manuscripts. Unless it proved to be aversion therapy. I've a fear it might'), revised and unrevised photocopies (with suggestions by Roy Davids for changes in light of an unrealised publishing project, and Ted Hughes's own extensive comments and revisions including two pages of new text), typescripts at various stages, drafts of Roy Davids's intended foreword; with typescripts on some versos of Hughes's poem 'On the Reservation' and drafts for a foreword by Hughes to a projected collection of poems celebrating the opening of Sam Wanamaker's Globe Theatre, some 60 pages in Ted Hughes's handwriting or typescript pages annotated by him (including two pages relating to his foreword), plus drafts of Roy Davids's foreword, and various photocopies, loose, [Court Green, North Tawton], 25 February 1988


In the version printed in Winter Pollen, 1994, Ted Hughes supplied the following headnote to the final version: 'Written for Roy Davids, of Sotheby's Manuscripts Department, to be given as an illustrated lecture to the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere, on 25 February 1988.'

To The Epic Poise, Roy Davids, as 'The Onlie Begetter', contributed a short piece about this essay: "'I'll try to send you something you may be able to use."' This throwaway remark by Ted Hughes concluded a discussion I had opened about poetical drafts during one of our summer afternoon drives through the Devon lanes. I had hoped at most for a few scraps that I might use in a lecture I was preparing for the forthcoming book collectors' weekend at Dove Cottage. Instead Ted hijacked the whole idea, made it entirely his own, and in less than a week produced this major, sparklingly written, critical essay, leaving me in (I must admit) the not unenviable role of attendant lord at the conception of a remarkable tour de force.'

It seemed true then, and seems so still, to be one of the best pieces Ted Hughes ever wrote on Plath's work and genius and also the best commentary on the nature and significance of drafts. 'No one else has written so eloquently or so perceptively on the importance of drafts, and why rather than being discarded they command respect as more that the "incidental adjunct to the poem [indeed] they are a complementary revelation, and a log-book of its real meanings. [Here, also,] they have revealed the nature and scope of the psychological crisis that gives the poem its weird life, sonority, its power to affect us. In other words, they are, as the final poem is not, an open window into the poet's motivation and struggle at a moment of decisive psychological change.." Ted's essay, is, moreover, one of the most penetrating exposures of the poetic impulse and the processes by which poems come or are dragged into being...Lastly, the essay is a wonderful demonstration of Ted's own genius and vision, the subtlety of his responses, the depth of his understanding, the generosity of his sympathies and of the thrill and powerful richness of his prose.'

Close study of these drafts and the final versions here will reveal differences between all of them, for instance in the autograph draft the passage: 'This fascinating process which tells us about Plath's inspiration, about her inner world, about her poetic struggle, & about the great wealth of experience behind the odd images...', became in his typed version dated 25 February 'The drafts show what a struggle she put up, with her practised technique. Finally she allowed it to go in like a police force, imposing those last three lines, to produce a state of affairs that suited her conscious wishes, and established order, even though it was to last only two months...' In the final version this passage reads: The drafts show what a struggle she put up, with her tried and tested technique. Finally, when the unwanted newcomer had almost taken over, she allowed the Ariel squad to go in as a police force, imposing the three final lines -- like martial law.'

See following lot.

REFERENCES: Ted Hughes, Winter Pollen, 1994; Roy Davids, 'Ted Hughes's "Sylvia Plath: The Evolution of 'Sheep in Fog'" - The Onlie Begetter,' The Epic Poise: A Celebration of Ted Hughes, edited by Nick Gammage, 1999.

Lot 373

PLATH, SYLVIA (1932-1963, American poet)

THE COMPLETE WORKING PAPERS FOR HER KEY POEM 'SHEEP IN FOG', c. 75 lines in her handwriting, comprising autograph and typescript drafts and a typed completed version (15 lines), all but the first two separately dated and most of the typescripts with her name and address typed by her in the top right-hand corner, with extensive autograph deletions and revisions preserving numerous reconsidered readings; on three of the versos are typescripts, two with autograph revisions [from 'A Poem for Three Voices'], the other from a short story (character: Alison), the drafts for 'Sheep in Fog': 7 pages, large quarto, 23 Fitzroy Road, London NW1, 2 December 1962 and 'Revised 28 January 1963'


...The hills step off into whiteness.
People or stars
Regard me sadly, I disappoint them...

They threaten
To let me through to a heaven
Starless and fatherless, a dark water.


Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath's husband, poetical soul-mate, and in many respects her mentor, thought 'Sheep in Fog' was 'one of her most beautiful poems'. He wrote a brilliant and penetrating essay about the full evolution of the poem (see the previous lot), reproducing a number of the drafts in it. Only a summary of one part of it can be given here; his much fuller examination retracing the course of composition in detail and commenting on the processes of poetical composition in general is supplied herewith in photocopy.

'Because we have all the manuscripts, all dated, of all her late poems, we can trace the course of the two amazing surges of inspiration that produced them'. The first surge began in August 1962 and ended on 2 December with 'Sheep in Fog', these poems reflecting her 'positive resolution' and positive mental state (for her) at that time. After that she wrote nothing for two months. On 28 January 1963 she revised the last poem of the first surge, 'Sheep in Fog', giving it a new negative conclusion (the penultimate draft in this lot): it 'amounts to a full perfect realization of the calamitous change of mood, the sinister change of inspiration, between the two groups of poems'. The 'hope of rebirth has disappeared, to be replaced by resignation' (Kendall). On the same day Plath wrote three new poems, and by the time she died, two weeks later, she had written twelve more new poems. 'Sheep in Fog' was found with the poems of that second surge.

The last four lines of the poem written on 2 December 1962 'are nothing like as ominous as the three she replaced them with' on 28 January 1963 - ('Revised Jan 28, 1963') - (quoted above). Leaning 'strongly towards the positive' (for her), they had read:

...Patriarchs till now immobile
In heavenly wools
Row off as stones or clouds with the faces of babies.

In the earlier version 'the final three-line image is still trying to stay in the Ariel world of hope and triumphant outcome,' but the first version of the ending, to Hughes, already reflected a change of mood, one that 'refuses to be coerced' ('she suppresses the intruder') and therefore was in a degree 'mechanical and unconvincing'. He also illustrates his point (revealing the subtlety, delicacy, fragility and progressive nature of his subject and of her psychological state) by noting that she changed 'Like a dead man left out' in the first autograph draft herein to 'A flower left out' in the second autograph draft both written on the same day, thereby revealing her struggle against a growing negativity of mood in December 1962. On 28 January she accepted that the first ending was 'not quite right...[and] taking up the poem again she removes the false ending'. 'Sheep in Fog' therefore 'belongs to both groups: the last poem of the first group, in its first version [December 1962], and the first poem of the last group, in its final version [January 1963]'.

Because Plath kept all the drafts of this poem and dated them, and because she went through such a traumatic change of psychological mood during the course of writing, and because that change of mood ended in her taking her own life only two weeks later, these working papers are a unique and extraordinary witness to the evolution of a poem. The drafts reveal, Hughes concluded, 'the nature and scope of the psychological crisis that gives the poem its weird life, sonority, its power to affect us. In other words, they are, as the final poem is not, an open window into the poet's motivation and struggle at a moment of decisive psychological change.' In many ways these working papers are the supreme example of poetical drafts.

Sylvia Plath's poetical papers are at Smith College and at the Lilly Library, Indiana.

PROVENANCE: Ted Hughes; Nicholas Hughes - when Sylvia Plath's literary archive was sold to her old college, Smith, Ted Hughes kept back the manuscripts of only two poems, one for each of the children; this one was Nicholas's. It is understood that the one Frieda inherited is now in an institutional library.

REFERENCES: Ted Hughes, 'Sylvia Plath: The Evolution of 'Sheep in Fog', Winter Pollen, 1994; Roy Davids, 'Ted Hughes's "Sylvia Plath: The Evolution of 'Sheep in Fog' - The Onlie Begetter', The Epic Poise: A Celebration of Ted Hughes, edited by Nick Gammage, 1999; Sylvia Plath, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Short Stories, Prose and Diary Excerpts, 1979; Tim Kendall, Sylvia Plath: A Critical Study, 2001.

Lot 374

PLATH, SYLVIA 1932-1963) and TED HUGHES (1930-1998)

AUTOGRAPH REVISED POETICAL DRAFTS BY EACH OF THEM ON THE SAME SHEET OF PAPER, ALSO WITH A TYPED POEM BY SYLVIA PLATH, 2 pages, quarto, small brown stain at head, address typed by Plath at head 'Sylvia Plath / 3 Chalcot Square / London N.W.1, England', [1961]


(i) PLATH (SYLVIA) Autograph draft of what was to be the second stanza of her two-stanza poem 'I am Vertical', with autograph revisions and deletions preserving reconsidered readings, 11 lines, top half of a quarto page

Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars
The trees and flowers have been breathing their cool odors out
They bloom in my window-square with the first birdsong...

...It is more natural to me, lying down
Then the sky & I are in open conversation
I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees will have time for me, & the flowers love me.

There are a number of differences between the version here and that in the published text.

(ii) PLATH (SYLVIA) Typescript of her poem entitled 'Night Thoughts' but published under the title 'Barren Women', 10 lines, top third of the verso of the above

Empty, I echo to the least footfall,
Museum without statues, grand with pillars, porticoes, rotundas.
In my courtyard a fountain leaps and sinks back into itself,
Nun-hearted and blind to the world. Marble lilies
Exhale their pallor like scent...

(iii) HUGHES (TED) Autograph draft entitled 'Endless', 14 lines, with autograph revisions, APPARENTLY UNPUBLISHED - not in the Collected Poems, the remaining two-thirds of the sheet as the typed poem (ii) above

Is the milk-flow, but blood-brown
As from the bulging springs of a mass-grave
Out of Elgar
Gently breasted
Centre of England...

...O Thames I prefer you at night, when your waters go glisten
Like the drawn voice of an orioli alone,
A dark feminine agony.

AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPTS BY SYLVIA PLATH AND TED HUGHES ON THE SAME SHEET OF PAPER ARE RARE: none have appeared at auction. The two poems by Sylvia Plath are dated to 1961 in her Collected Poems.



Have you saved your money?


The Plath Diaries said...

You would have thought these would have been donated to Smith and keep the collection as comprehensive as possible!

I wonder would Smith consider purchasing them? :(

The Plath Diaries said...

*to keep the collection

Peter K Steinberg said...

Plath Diaries: One would think. Though Smith does have photocopies of the "Sheep in Fog" worksheets, the originals would be nice! I expect the fee is too steep for most libraries/archives. I hope I'm wrong about that; would be great if they did end up at Smith: either from a fundraising venture by the Alumnae Association or by donation from the buyer.


PS: I never really know if I should address the comment to "Plath Diaries" or to Maeve!

The Plath Diaries said...

Haha, I endeavour to be mysterious! ;)

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.