BETJEMAN, JOHN (1906-1984)
Lot 46
BETJEMAN, JOHN (1906-1984) TWO AUTOGRAPH DRAFTS OF HIS POIGNANT POEM 'LITTLE CHILD ILL', ENTITLED HEREIN 'TO PAUL ALIVE', [c.1945]
Sold for £2,375 (US$ 3,895) inc. premium

Lot Details
BETJEMAN, JOHN (1906-1984)
BETJEMAN, JOHN (1906-1984)
TWO AUTOGRAPH DRAFTS OF HIS POIGNANT POEM 'LITTLE CHILD ILL', ENTITLED HEREIN 'TO PAUL ALIVE', addressed to his eight-year old son, begging him not to die, some 64 lines, including those deleted, with autograph revisions and passages rewritten preserving reconsidered readings, one draft revised largely to the final version, 3 pages, small octavo, taken from a notebook with serrated edges, one leaf with a largely blank area torn away but removing almost a line on the verso, not dated [c. 1945]

Both drafts preserve numerous readings not in the final version: the earlier one significantly so; the later draft some four lines and single word revisions. Both drafts have little punctuation.

This touching poem begins in the later draft:

Oh little body do not die
The soul looks out through wide blue eyes
So questioningly into mine
That my tormented soul replies
Oh little body do not die
You hold the soul that talks to me
Although our conversation be
As wordless as the windy sky...

and ends

...My father looked at me and died
Before my soul made full reply.
Let not another light go out
Oh little body, do not die.

Betjeman's later relationship with his son, Paul, was distant and often cruel. Both his parents called him 'It' which he found unbearable. He became a Mormon (for Betjeman the ultimate rejection of his Anglicanism) and fled to America thereby widening the gap between them; they were effectively estranged. Published in Collected Poems.

PROVENANCE: Bertram Rota.

REFERENCE: A.N. Wilson, Betjeman, 2006.
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