The papers of the Second World War poet, Richard (Dicky) Spender, who has been described as the Rupert Brooke of his generation, are being sold at Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in London on 27 March. They are estimated at £4,000-6,000.
Spender was already a published poet in The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Observer among others when he was killed in 1943 aged just 21 while leading his men into action in Tunisia during Operation Torch. His gravestone in the Imperial War Graves cemetery in Tabarka, Tunisia is inscribed with lines from his poem The Young Soldier: 'In High Proud Exultation/ Let Us Repay/ Laughing Blood With Spilt'.
The Times Literary Supplement was in no doubt of Spender's significance, writing in its obituary of him, "Those familiar with the work of the young soldier-poet will be aware of the loss his death must mean to English literature." The Observer said, "He wrote mainly in the free style, with a passionate appetite for all lively and beautiful things. There is enough of his work left to make another small book. He will be remembered by far more than his friends."
His letters – many of which are included in this lot together with the manuscripts of the last nine poems he wrote – show an appealing combination of high spirits and good practical common sense. Writing to his parents he said, "There is no need to bother your heads about my skin. Just keep well yourselves, Old Folks, & keep the Home Fires switched on..." To his brother he demonstrated a more sober assessment of the conflict. In a letter written four days before his untimely death he wrote, "...This place is absolute hell. Everybody gets knocked off amid scenes of utter wet cold misery, & still up we come for another bloodbath. Could you get me a transfer to the levies as any of the following, a) Batman (b) Cook (c) Parachutist (Instructor, Ground) (d) Camouflage Officer (theory only) (e) Press Representative, or EMSA representative (rear areas only) (f) Brigadier..."
Spender published one well received book of poems during his lifetime, Laughing Blood, but his reputation mainly rests on the mature works he wrote in Tunisia in the months leading up to his death. These were published in Parachute Battalion: last poems from England and Tunisia and contain, in the work which gives the book its name, this sadly prophetic stanza:
"Today some silent valley of Tunisia
Shall tremble at their stroke from sky unsheathed,
And, with the night, perhaps some God looking down
With dull, cold eyes, by the near stars will see
One, lonely, grim battalion cut its way
Through agony and death to fame's high crown
And wonderingly watch the friendless strength
Of little men, who die that great Truths shall live."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
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