BECKETT, SAMUEL (1906-1989, Irish writer and poet)
Lot 32
BECKETT, SAMUEL (1906-1989, Irish writer and poet) AUTOGRAPH DRAFTS OF HIS POEM 'THE DOWNS', [c.1938]
Sold for £6,250 (US$ 9,780) inc. premium

Lot Details
BECKETT, SAMUEL (1906-1989, Irish writer and poet)
AUTOGRAPH DRAFTS OF HIS POEM 'THE DOWNS', some 180 lines, signed and dated at the end ('Samuel Beckett Paris 1981'), 183 lines, with extensive autograph revisions, deletions and insertions, comprising the first and second drafts and preserving numerous reconsidered readings which are apparently otherwise unrecorded, 3 pages, quarto, sheets of squared exercise book paper, perforated edges, dated Paris, 1981 (when given to Oxfam), but actually written c. 1938

'The downs
Over the downs with the loved one.
Long summer days over the downs.
Hand in hand with the loved one.
The loving one.
Back at sundown.
Back at sundown to the tent.
Night...'

This manuscript is described in Beckett at Reading, 1998, from a reproduction of the first page in the auction catalogue: 'the original holograph manuscript. The poem is much less precise metrically at this initial stage, with undifferentiated stanzas and lines of unequal length. The text is divided into "A" and "B" sections and the bulk of the text [on the first page] is crossed through by Beckett.' The Samuel Beckett International Foundation at Reading University has only a typescript of a very different version of the poem, consisting of only 55 lines in seven stanzas. A related copy of a Sunday Times article of 8 January 1989 in which the Reading manuscript was published for the first time is included in the lot; it was republished in The Collected Poems.

Beckett is said to have thought that the poem came to him when looking down at the Thames from Waterloo Bridge, possibly recalling his visit in 1938 to Peggy Guggenheim's cottage from which the South Downs are clearly visible. The Samuel Beckett Foundation at Reading University is the main repository for Beckett's manuscripts in Britain; other important collections are in America - Texas, St. Louis, Emory, Dartmouth and Ohio.

PROVENANCE: Sold on behalf of Oxfam, when described as a 'Quick Miscarriage' in a copy of an accompanying letter (not present), presumably consigned by Beckett himself.

REFERENCE: Beckett at Reading: Catalogue of The Beckett Manuscript Collection at the University of Reading, 1998; The Collected Poems of Samuel Beckett, edited by S. Lawdor and John Pilling, 2012; Location Register of Twentieth-Century Literary Manuscripts and Letters, 2 volumes, 1988.

Saleroom notices

  • It is the considered opinion of The Beckett International Foundation that this draft does date from 1981, and not as stated in the catalogue.
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