BINYON, LAURENCE (1869-1943)
AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF THE IMMORTAL FOURTH STANZA OF HIS POEM 'FOR THE FALLEN', signed ('Laurence Binyon'), 4 lines, 1 page, octavo, formerly guarded (slight thinness in the paper at this point), on ruled printed note-paper 'On Active Service With the British Expeditionary Force', YMCA symbol, printed note in small letters at the foot 'To economise paper, please write on the other side, if required', not dated [but before 1918]
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not wither them, nor the years condemn;
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.
THE MOST FAMOUS AND MOST QUOTED LINES FROM THE MOST IMPORTANT COMMEMORATIVE POEM OF MODERN TIMES. They perfectly combine deep elegaic feeling, evocation, pride and dignity.
The fourth stanza on its own, known as the Act or Ode of Remembrance in itself, has become a sort of secular prayer. Binyon wrote 'For the Fallen' while sitting on the cliffs between Pentire Point and the Rump in North Cornwall in 1914. It was first published in the Times in September 1914. As the casualty lists grew, the poem became the focal expression of national grief.
IT IS PARTICULARLY POIGNANT THAT THIS MANUSCRIPT IS ON BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE NOTE-PAPER SINCE THE POEM WAS PRIMARILY WRITTEN TO HONOUR THE DEAD OF THAT FORCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT AND BINYON SERVED ALONGSIDE IT HIMSELF. That the stanza is written on the Force's notepaper almost certainly establishes that it was written contemporaneously with the time of its composition. In this manuscript, Binyon has used the slightly less common alternative reading of the famous second line, "age shall not wither them" rather than "age shall not weary them".
Too old to enlist, Binyon volunteered as a medical orderly in military hospitals in France in 1915 and 1916 and in 1917 was dispatched by the Red Cross to report on work being done by British volunteers for the French wounded, refugees and other victims of the war.
The fourth stanza of 'For the Fallen' has long been and is still used in services on Remembrance Sunday in Britain, on Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand and in Remembrance Day services in Canada. It is the stanza most frequently engraved on cenotaphs, war memorials and on headstones in war cemeteries throughout the English-speaking world, particularly in Britain; and also in France.
EXTREMELY RARE: no manuscripts of all or part of this poem have been sold at auction in the last forty years, at least. There are six manuscripts of the poem recorded in British institutions including Cheltenham College. Groups of Binyon's manuscripts are in a number of libraries in Britain; The Houghton Library, Harvard, also has a collection.