Lot 125
  • 125

Thomas, Dylan

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Thomas, Dylan
  • Autograph manuscript notebook of poems
  • ink on paper
PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN AND UNRECORDED, containing a series of numbered poems from "one" to "nineteen", neatly written in Thomas's fair hand, with revisions (including in some cases extensive rewriting) to fourteen of the poems, other poems with variant readings to the subsequent published text, written in a lined exercise book, mostly in blue ink but five works partially written in pencil then overwritten in blue ink, primarily written on the rectos only, 49 pages, with two further pages of pencil jottings including doodles, calculations, addresses and telephone numbers, plus blanks, quarto (c.200 x 165mm), [c.July] 1934 to August 1935, lacking covers, three leaves partially excised (probably removing rejected drafts), stubs of two further leaves, one leaf loose where the conjugate leaf has been torn away, further tears to an additional four leaves (two of these leaves torn in two but complete), dust staining to outer pages, light spotting and rust marks 

[with:] Autograph note probably for a publisher's blurb, with a list of Thomas's publications to 1938 and brief biographical information ("No respectable occupation, no permanent address"), one page 8vo (c.170 x 125mm); also a short note in the hand of Louie King on a printed paper slip, originally a school exercise book cover, with provenance information ("This Book of Poetry by Dylan Thomas was with a lot of papers given to me to burn in the kitchen boiler. I saved it and forgot all about it until I read of his death..."); press cuttings and later envelopes 


Discarded by Dylan Thomas between 1936 (when the poems in the notebook reached print) and 1941 (when he sold the notebooks that remained in his possession to Betram Rota, booksellers; these are the manuscripts now at Buffalo). The notebook was left at the home of Dylan Thomas's mother-in-law, Yvonne Macnamara, in Blashford, Hampshire. Thomas spent extended periods at Blashford from October 1937 to April 1938, from November 1938 to March 1939, and from January to March 1940. For Thomas's relationship with Mary Macnamara see previous lot. The notebook was given to Louie King (c.1904-1984), then working in the household, to incinerate in the kitchen boiler (see provenance note quoted above). It has remained in King's family ever since.


The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas, ed. John Goodby (2014)
The Notebooks of Dylan Thomas, ed. Ralph Maud (1965)

Catalogue Note

A MAJOR GROUP OF MANUSCRIPT DRAFT POEMS BY DYLAN THOMAS, WRITTEN DURING HIS URGENT BURST OF CREATIVITY IN THE MID-1930S AND CONTAINING VERSIONS OF POEMS PUBLISHED IN HIS FIRST TWO COLLECTIONS. THE MOST SIGNIFICANT POETICAL MANUSCRIPT OF THOMAS KNOWN TO SURVIVE IN PRIVATE HANDS. This remarkable manuscript follows directly on from the sequence of four similar surviving notebooks at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The last of the Buffalo notebooks was completed on 30 April 1934; this notebook is not consistently dated but was presumably begun before 20 July of the same year, when Thomas sent a copy of the first poem in the notebook ('All all and all') to his lover Pamela Hansford Johnson, and was completed in August 1935. 

These notebooks had a distinctive place in Thomas's composition process:

"...my method is this: I write a poem on innumerable sheets of scrap paper, write it on both sides of the paper, often upside down and criss cross ways unpunctuated, surrounded by drawings of lamp posts and boiled eggs, in a very dirty mess; bit by bit I copy out the slowly developing poem into an exercise book; and, when it is completed, I type it out. The scrap sheets I burn..." (letter to Charles Fisher, February 1935, quoted in Maud, p.9)

The notebook poems were carefully written out in Thomas's fair hand at a point in the composition process when his rough notes had coalesced into a coherent poem, but in many cases he continued to work on the poems after they had been transcribed into the notebooks and the majority of the poems in this notebook contain revisions. Thomas had further opportunity to revise his work in typescript and then later in proof stages, so many of the poems also contain variant readings that differ from the final published texts.

This notebook was written during a crucial year in Thomas's life and work, when he firmly established a place for himself in the literary world. It was a period marked by two major events: his move to London in November 1934 and the publication of his first collection, 18 Poems, the following month. This notebook shows that he continued to write during his months in London, but his most intense burst of creativity came when he left the city and its distractions, firstly when staying with A.J.P. Taylor and his wife Margaret in Disley, Cheshire, secondly - and more importantly - during an August visit to Glen Lough, Co. Donegal, with Geoffrey Grigson. 

The current notebook includes six poems that were published in 18 Poems and the remainder appeared in his second collection, 25 Poems, which was published in September 1936. Six of the poems in this notebook are reworkings of material that had appeared in earlier notebooks (or exist in pre-1934 typescripts), and one of these is in fact a revised version of a published poem, but the bulk of the poems in this notebook are new and exist in no other surviving manuscript. Thomas had found his distinctive poetic voice in 1933, and in 1934-35 he was pushing his style towards more ambitious and densely intricate works that were increasingly influenced by surrealism. The poems become increasingly complex during the course of this notebook and the texts tend to become more extensively revised. The notebook includes what Thomas's most recent editior describes as one of his "most ambitious and daunting poems", 'I, in my intricate image', which - this draft reveals - was a stitching together of three distinct lyrics (numbers "eleven", "twelve", and fourteen" in the notebook). We can see Thomas grappling with his material in the extensive revisions that mark these particular drafts (for example three stanzas are cancelled and rewritten), and this draft reveals that not only was the third part of the poem ('They suffer the undead water...') written at the Taylors' house but it was originally dedicated to them.

The poem that has, since its publication, always exemplified the challenging nature of Thomas's poetry of the mid-30s is the sonnet sequence 'Altarwise by owl-light'; Thomas himself signalled his avant-garde intentions with this sequence by giving it a Joycean provisional title, 'Work in Progress'. The current notebook includes the only known manuscripts of the 'Altarwise' sequence, with drafts of the first five sonnets in the sequence. These texts are replete with revisions and reworkings; changes to single words, rewritings of entire lines, whilst the entire fifth sonnet was cancelled and rewritten ('And from the windy west came two-gunned Gabriel'). These drafts provide a crucial new insight into Thomas's most challenging work.

To Thomas these notebooks were valuable for as long as they contained poems that could be selected for publication, but all of the poems in this notebook were in print by September 1936. It is almost certainly one of several notebooks that Thomas discarded in the latter 1930s, since in May 1938 he claimed to have "about 10 exercise books full of poems" (letter to Henry Treece).

A full list of the poems contained in the current notebook is as follows:

One (‘All all and all the dry worlds lever’), published in 18 Poems

Two (‘Half of the fellow father as he doubles’), published as ‘My World is Pyramid’ in New Verse (Dec. 1934) with an additional final stanza, then in 18 Poems

Three (‘Do you not father me, nor the erected arm’), dated 30 Sept 1934 but subsequently revised in pencil and ink and re-dated 26 July 1935, published in Scottish Bookman (Oct 1935), then in 25 Poems

Four (‘Especially when the October wind’), dated 1 October 1934, published Listener (Oct. 1934) then in 18 Poems

Five (‘I dreamed my genesis in sweat of sleep, breaking’), dated 1934, published in 18 Poems

Six (‘I fellowed sleep who kissed me in the brain’), published in 18 Poems

Seven (‘When, like a running grave, time tracks you down’), dated 26 October 1934, published in 18 Poems

Eight (‘Now | Say nay, | Man dry man’), dated December 1934, extensively revised, published in 25 Poems

Nine (‘How soon the servant sun’), dated January 1935, published in Programme (23 October 1935), then in 25 Poems

Ten (‘A grief ago’), dated January 1935, substantially revised, published in Programme (23 October 1935) then in 25 Poems

Eleven (‘I, in my intricate image, stride on two levels’), dated February 1935, extensively revised, published in New Verse (Aug/Sept 1935) then in 25 Poems [see also Twelve and Fourteen]

Twelve (‘They climb the country pinnacle’), first begun as a continuation of ‘eleven’ then numbered as a separate poem and substantially revised, but eventually published as the second part of ‘I, in my intricate image’

Thirteen (‘Hold hard, these ancient minutes in the cuckoo’s mouth’), dated April 1935 (Cheshire) and substantially revised, published in Caravel (March 1936) then in 25 Poems

Fourteen (‘They suffer the undead water where the turtle nibbles’), dated Disley, May [1935] and dedicated “To A[J.P. Taylor] and M[argaret Taylor”, extensively revised and redated July 1935 Glen Lough, Donegal, subsequently published as part III of ‘I, in my intricate image’

Fifteen (‘Incarnate devil in a talking snake’), dated 24 July 1935, Glen Lough [Donegal], extensively revised, published in Sunday Referee 11 August 1935, then in 25 Poems

Sixteen (‘The seed-at-zero shall not storm’), dated 2 August 1935, Glen Lough [Donegal], extensively revised and including two unique stanzas, published in 25 Poems

Seventeen (‘Altarwise by owl-light in the halfway house’ and ‘Death is all metaphors, shape in one history’), concluding with the note “To be continued at length”, dated August 1935, Glen Lough, extensively revised, published in 25 Poems

Eighteen (‘Foster the light, nor veil the manshaped moon’), dated  August 1935, Glen Lough [Donegal], substantially revised (with a note “Referee-altered”), previously published in Sunday Referee (28 October 1934), but revised for publication in Contemporary Poetry and Prose in May 1936, then in 25 Poems

Nineteen (Seventeen Continued) (‘First there was the lamb on knocking knees’,  ‘What is the metre of the dictionary?’, and ‘And from the windy west came two-gunned Gabriel’), dated August 1935, Glen Lough [Donegal], extensively revised, published as III, IV, V in the ‘Altarwise in Owl-light’ sequence in 25 Poems