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Books, Manuscripts and Music from Medieval to Modern

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 367. Ted Hughes | Unpublished autograph manuscript poems, following the deaths of Assia and Shura Wevill, c.1969.

Property of Frieda Hughes

Ted Hughes | Unpublished autograph manuscript poems, following the deaths of Assia and Shura Wevill, c.1969

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July 19, 04:02 PM GMT


10,000 - 15,000 GBP

Lot Details


Property of Frieda Hughes

Ted Hughes

Notebook containing unpublished autograph manuscript poems responding to the deaths of Assia Wevill and Shura Hughes Wevill

working manuscript with revisions and deletions; comprising [p.1] a brief note in prose ("Nothing matters - the cars on the hillside, the snuggling houses, then later on, in the blue evening, the carlights tearing here & there in the landscape - all to no avail...") followed by 31 lines of verse ("To be struggling in the defences and | smokescreens..."); [p.2] six lines of verse ("Death will not fit...") followed by another poem of 20 lines ("There is relief in grief...") with extensive revisions; [p.3] 22 lines of verse, seemingly a continuation from the previous page, with extensive revisions; [p.4] one line, perhaps continued from the previous page, followed by another poem of 13 lines ("So here by the river..."), with one line cancelled; [pp.5-6] series of four poems in pencil, all written in a less hurried hand, the first two about Shura ("Shura dancing with her crown...", 17 lines; "You were too young to know about death...", 7 lines), the latter pair addressed to Assia Wevill ("When you were thinking | You wanted to kill yourself why...", 11 lines; "When you were solidly married...", 15 lines); also with, written from the reverse, five lines of notes ("...Vast moor - tiny [...] figure - Grendel"); altogether 7 pages, plus blanks, in a lined notebook with duplicate pages, perforated at inner margins, 8vo (215 x 130mm), original paper wrappers ("Challenge Duplicate Book"), c.1970

[with:] a loosely inserted leaf, containing obscene limericks and related verse, ("There was a young maid of Ormonde", etc.), written alternately in two hands, Hughes writing in black ink and another hand in blue ballpoint, 2 pages, 8vo (165 x 95mm)

"There is relief in grief

But consolation only

In the moon's view of earth..."

DEEPLY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL UNPUBLISHED POEMS BY TED HUGHES. Assia Wevill was the German-Jewish poet with whom Ted Hughes began an affair in 1962, which was one of the causes of the breakdown of his marriage to Sylvia Plath in the summer of that year. The relationship continued following Plath's suicide, and they had a daughter, Shura, who was born in March 1965. These were difficult years: the ghost of Plath haunted the relationship; money was tight; three young children and Hughes's elderly parents all needed care and support; Wevill suffered from depression; Hughes was unable to commit fully to the relationship. On 23 March 1969, in a terrible parallel with Plath's death six years earlier, Assia Wevill gassed herself and their young daughter in her London flat.

The current series of poems were evidently written in the aftermath of these events and express Hughes's bewilderment, loss, and grief in powerfully direct terms. Hughes draws on imagery of space - 1969 was of course the year of the moon landing - for instance in the haunting lines above, but elsewhere he also returns to his great theme, the natural world of the English countryside. There are lines evoking the spring, daffodils and even "the comical tails of lambs"; signs of new life which here evince in him a desolate feeling of failure. The four pages of verse written in ink are clearly early drafts: they are extensively revised and it is not always clear where one poem ends and another begins. They are followed by two pages containing four poems in pencil which are in a more finished form. These are also the poems in which Hughes addresses directly his dead lover and daughter. He writes, for example, of Shura dressed up and dancing to Bach, unknowing that she was dancing for death. Another poem has at its centre a fern that he had bought for Assia during their initial affair, which has flourished through the tumult of the past years and still thrives, even though its owner is now ashes. 

Until the publication of Birthday Letters, Hughes was deeply wary of publishing poems with an overtly autobiographical theme. In Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life, Jonathan Bate notes the existence at the British Library of a notebook probably dating from the later 1960s which contains early poems on the death of Sylvia Plath. He speculates that Hughes was moving into a more confessional mode as he came to the end of Crow, and that this development was cut short by the tragedy of March 1969. The current notebook provides the missing proof of this hypothesis. It is very unlikely that Hughes considered these poems for publication, and their fragmentary and incomplete nature suggests that - understandably - he found the subject matter too painful and abandoned the poems once the act of composition had, perhaps, helped him to give shape to his response to Assia Wevill's terrible act. Hughes gave some indication of the deep emotional impact of the deaths with the dedication of his bleak and ferocious collection Crow (1970) "in memory of Assia and Shura". It was more than twenty years, however, before Hughes published Capriccio, a series of 20 poems about Assia Wevill. The circulation of these poems was limited as they were published in an edition of just 50 copies by Gehenna Press (with engravings by Leonard Baskin), and they were so indirect in expression that their true subject was not widely recognised at the time. The current manuscript comprises poems that appear to be completely distinct from the Capriccio sequence, and which provide us with a glimpse of Hughes's memories of his lost daughter.