ELIOT, T.S.; W.H.Auden; Robert Lowell, Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney, Wole Soyinka and others

A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White


n.p. 1962-1975.

An extraordinary, unique collection of manuscript poems by fifty-three of the most distinguished post-war poets. All of the poems are signed by the poets and many have personal inscriptions to Eric White and his wife Dodo. Two volumes. Fifty-seven autograph poems, and one drawing on seventy-eight pages. Loosely inserted in volume one are ten typed or autograph letters signed from some of the poets (including Larkin, Betjeman and one from Eliot's secretary at Faber written only months before the poet's death) and a list of contents in White's own hand. Loosely inserted in the second volume are two typed poems signed "Ken", copies of a menu for a dinner on 11th November 1975 and seemingly organised by Ted Hughes and a splendid photograph of White, Ted Hughes and a bull. Volume one is bound in maroon half morocco and red cloth and volume two in full cloth. Heavy wove cream paper with watermark WSH which is the mark of W.S.Hodgkinson of Wookey Hole. So good is the paper that in his letter to White, William Plomer comments that "it isn't often that one has paper of such quality to write upon".
These wonderful albums are the fruit of a patient, thirteen-year collaboration with many of the finest poets of the time. White would send the album with a request for a poem and then wait for the book to be returned. The poets were asked to set down a favourite short poem. Although most wrote out poems that had already appeared in print, many of works here – including Auden's "On the Circuit" and Hughes's "Full Moon and Little Frieda" - were not published until after they had been written into White's anthology making White the first reader of these poems. The project got off to a quick start with the first eight poems appearing in three months. It then slowed markedly but that can't have concerned White when the quality was so consistently high. Indeed, Betjeman, on returning the book, wrote to White that "I am very proud to be in such high company". By that stage (1968) the album included Auden's "On the Circuit", Lowell's biting "Inauguration Day 1953", Larkin's gorgeous "Modesties", Wole Soyinka's "Iyan l'odo ngun", Ted Hughes's touching "Full Moon & Little Frieda" and T.S.Eliot's gnomic "Usk" inscribed in August 1964 and signed by Eliot, only five months before his death and so quite possibly one of the last poems he wrote out. Important friendships shine through, in particular in Edmund Blunden's poem to which White wrote his own response. Sidney Nolan offered an illustration in response to Charles Osborne's "Nolan at Fifty". George Macbeth also produced a drawing of an owl to accompany his poem about the bird. A young Seamus Heaney, on 20th March 1969, inscribed "Personal Helicon" which had appeared only three years earlier as the last poem in his inaugural collection, Death of a Naturalist. And three years later, a clearly frail Adrian Stokes, in a shaky hand, wrote out the poem "Though trees are bound by light" with White noting that Stokes died less than two months after doing so. The range of voices is considerable – it is much more than just the grand old men of English poetry. There are three contributions from Brian Patten and two very fruity pieces by James Kirkup -"Ejaculations" and "Tongue". B.S.Johnson is here as well as Thom Gunn, R.S.Thomas, Kathleen Raine, Charles Causley, Patricia Beer, C.Day Lewis, Stephen Spender, Hugo Williams and Danny Abse. Below is a full list of poems, poets and letter writers.
Eric Walter White (1905-1985) was, primarily, a musicologist, producing studies of Stravinsky, Britten and Tippett and histories of English opera. He had a long career working for the Arts Council and was its first Literature Director. He also founded the Poetry Book Society and was on the committee of the National Manuscript Collection of Contemporary Poets, created in 1963 to purchase manuscripts of living British writers. This founding of a body to preserve poetry manuscripts coincided with White's decision to create a "Personal Anthology". We do not know his precise motivation although Philip Larkin, with characteristic cynicism, asked (in his letter returning the book to White after inscribing "Modesties"), "Is it possible that you are planning to sell the whole thing to Texas?" (which, as it happens, is where much of White's archive has ended up). But White probably did it for the love of poetry and as a mark of friendship to the many poets he knew and worked with - an album amicorum poeticum, bringing together figures such as Eliot, Auden, Spender and Day Lewis with younger, newer names like Heaney, Patten and Kit Wright. The albums are a mark of the esteem in which White was held by the literary establishment as well as a memorial to his cultural vision and imagination.

List of poems. 
Volume One. 
1.    C. Day Lewis. “In love the animal speaks”, part IV of “Seven Steps in Love”. First published in The Room in 1965, so three years after it appearance in White’s anthology. 16 lines in two eight-line stanzas. Signed. 
2.    Stephen Spender. “SUBJECT=OBJECT=Sentence”.  20 lines in five four-line stanzas. Signed. 
3.    Roy Fuller. “Sister Anne”. First published in Buff in 1965 where it is subtitled To Eric Walter White, so written specially for White’s anthology. 40 lines in ten four-line stanzas. Signed.
4.    John Lehmann. “In the Museum”. 24 lines in six four-line stanzas. Signed and dated 1962. 
5.    C.A.Trypanis. “End of Summer” from Pompeian Dog, first published in 1965 so written specially for White’s anthology. 12 lines in a single stanza. Signed. 
6.    Chales Causley. “At the British War Cemetery, Bayeux”. 24 lines in six four-line stanzas. Signed with a note “Inscribed for Eric White: with a shaking hand: January 1963”. 
7.    Philip Larkin. “Modesties”. First published in XX Poems in April 1951. 12 lines in three four-line stanzas. Signed. On the opposite page is a note in pencil from White: “N.B. The Larkin poem was written on 13 May 1949.”
8.    William Plomer. “Before the Crash”. 24 lines in four six-line stanzas. Signed. 
9.    Richard Murphy. “Armada Anchor (off the west of Ireland)”. 50 lines in five ten-line stanzas. Signed “Richard Murphy, Claggan”. 
10.    Robert Lowell. “Inauguration Day. January 1953”. First published in Life Studies, 1959. 14 lines in a single stanza. Signed and dated July 19, 1963. 
11.    John Hollander. “A Theory of Waves”. First published in The New Yorker March 31, 1956. 14 lines in a single stanza. Signed and dated July 23 1963. 
12.    Edward Lucie-Smith. “Pieta”. First published in Confessions and histories in 1964 which is the year of or the year after this manuscript version. 16 lines in a single stanza. Signed. 
13.    Peter Porter. “Happening at Sordid Creek”. First published in “The London Magazine” 11 February 1963 and then in Poems Ancient and Modern in 1964. 24 lines in two seven-line stanzas, one six line stanza and one four-line stanza. Signed and dated January 27th 1964. 
14.    W.H.Auden. “On the Circuit”. First published in The New Yorker July 4 1964. 64 lines in sixteen four-line stanzas. Signed. With a note in pencil by White “12 May 1964” meaning that Auden wrote it out for White before publication. 
15.    Richard Wilbur. “The Proof”. Written in 1963 and first published in The Atlantic Monthly, March 1964. 8 lines in four two-line stanzas. Signed and dated “London 1964”. 
16.    Ted Hughes. “Full Moon and Little Frieda”. First published in Wodwo in 1967 which is three years after Hughes wrote it out for White. 14 lines in two five-line stanzas and one two-line stanza. Signed. 
17.    T.S.Eliot. “Usk”. Written in 1935. 11 lines in a single stanza. Signed. 
18.    Kathleen Raine. Untitled, first line “See, the clear sky is threaded with a thousand rays”. First published in The Year One and other poems in 1952. 24 lines in six stanzas. Signed. 
19.    George Macbeth. “Owl”. First published in The New Poetry, selected and introduced by A. Alvarez, 1962. 35 lines in seven five-line stanzas. Macbeth has fashioned the “O” of Owl into a drawing of an owl and has inscribed at the end of the poem “For Eric, friend & fellow poet, 16th February 1965 with very best wishes (& apologies for my filthy handwriting) from George. 
20.    R.S.Thomas. Untitled, first line “From my father my strong heart” but published in the 1966 collection Pieta with the title “Gifts”. 8 lines. Signed. 
21.    Wole Soyinka. Untitled, first line “Iyan l’odo ngun”. Written in Yoruba. Soyinka’s early poems were published in English so this may have been written specially for White’s anthology. 7 lines in a single stanza. Signed. 
22.    Jon Stallworthy. “Two hands”. 20 lines in a single stanza. First published in Root and Branch in 1969. Signed and dated November 1965, thus predating publication by four years.
23.    Edgell Rickword. “Invocations to Angels”. First published in 1928. 36 lines in 9 four-line stanzas
24.    Edmund Blunden. Untitled, first line “How unangelic must a verse of mine”. Written for this anthology, the poem makes reference to Rickword’s work which precedes it and offers an encomium to White. 20 lines in five four-line stanzas. Signed and dated 13 March 1966. 
25.    Eric Walter White. “Lines written to Edmund Blunden on receiving the foregoing verses from him”. Written for the anthology in response to Blunden. 8 lines of two four-line stanzas. Signed “E.W.W. 24.iii.66”. 
26.    Dom Moraes. “For my son”. Published as “Son” in 1967 so it appearance in White’s anthology predates its publication. 32 lines of four eight-line stanzas. Signed with the note “For Eric & Dodo, who have just seen my sone. 24 May 1966. 
27.    Vernon Watkins. “Old Triton Time”. First published in The Ballad of the Mari Lwyd and other poems, 1941. 8 lines in a single stanza. Signed. 
28.    Hugo Williams. “Beginning to Go”. First published in Symptoms of Loss, 1965. 24 lines of twelve two-line stanzas. Signed and dated 4 November 1966. 
29.    John la Rose. “To my mother”. 20 lines in a single stanza. Signed and dated 21 March 1967. 
30.    John la Rose. “Little Boy”. First published in Foundations, 1966. 12 lines. Signed and dated 13 June 1967. 
31.    John Betjeman. “Lines written in about 1926 or 27 AD”. Seemingly written for this anthology. 8 lines in a single stanza. Dated 18 January 1968.
32.    Charles Osborne. “Nolan at fifty”. 12 lines of three four-line stanzas. Signed and dated 19 February 1968. Osborne succeeded White as literature director of the Arts Council and worked closely with the artist Sidney Nolan.
33.    Sidney Nolan. Original drawing of a man, a bird and a tent. With the inscription “greeting Eric & Dodo from Sidney & Cynthia 12 February 1969”. 
34.    Peter Jay. “Homage to Mimnermus of Colophon”. We have been unable to discover whether this poem has been published so it may have been written specially for the anthology. 42 lines in three numbered parts. Signed and dated 14 March 1969. 
35.    Seamus Heaney. “Personal Helicon”. First published in Death of a Naturalist, 1966. 20 lines in five four-line stanzas. Signed and dated 20 March 1969.
36.    Peter Redgrove. “Erosion”. 28 lines. Signed and dated 2 February 1970. 
37.    Thom Gunn. “To His Cynical Mistress”. First published in Fighting Terms, 1954. 12 lines of two six-line stanzas. Signed “For Eric London 1970 from Thom Gunn xxxx”. 
38.    Alan Brownjohn. “Formosavej”. 31 lines. First published in 1969. Signed and dated 18 November 1970, and prefaced “Eric”. 
39.    Stuart Montgomery. Extract from “Calypso”. The first appearance in print of any part of “Calypso” was an early unfinished version in 1976. It was not published in full until 2005. 41 lines. Signed and dated 28 April 1971 and prefaced “for Eric from Calypso”. 
40.    Dannie Abse. “Forgotten”. Printed in “Poetry” in June 1972, after Abse had given it to White. 18 lines of three six-line stanzas. Signed and dated July 1971 and inscribed “Eric – to be taken with aspirin and only occasionally”. 
41.    Michael Schmidt. “Underwater”. Printed in “Poetry” June 1971. 36 lines of six six-line stanzas. With the greeting “Best wishes to Eric & Dodo Sept 16 1971 (Mexican Independence Day) with love Michael. 
42.    John Moat. “Two Skeleton Keys”. In two parts, each of three three-line stanzas. With the greeting “Eric & Dodo. With various thanks, and our love, John and Antoinette Moat. 6.1.72”. Moat was the founder of the Arvon Foundation. 
43.    B.S.Johnson. “Little Old Lady”. Published in Poems Two, 1972. 15 lines in a single stanza. Inscribed “for Eric & Dodo, with respect & affection. B.S.Johnson. 18/6/1972”. 
44.    James Kirkup. “Ejaculations”. 10 lines of five two-line stanzas. With the greeting “To Dodo and Eric from James the Less”. 
45.    James Kirkup. “Tongue”. Published in The body servant: poems of exile. 21 lines in two stanzas of fourteen lines and seven lines. Signed and dated 1 July 1972.  
46.    Michel Velmans. “Isles Scilly. Western Isles”. Written in French. 45 lines of five nine-line stanzas. Signed with the greeting “avec mes sentiments d’amitie, Londres 1/7/1972”. 
47.    Adrian Stokes. “Poem: Though trees are bound by light”. This appears as the final poem in With all the views: the collected poems of Adrian Stokes but with the title “Song” rather than “Poem”. 17 lines (although as White notes on the page opposite “Line 9 shd be deleted”). White also notes that Stokes “wrote this poem out for me about 30 October 1972. He died on 15 December 1972. Signed by Stokes. 
48.    Richard Burns. “Witnesses”. 34 lines of seventeen two-line stanzas. With the greeting “To Dodo and Eric White Affectionately, Yours ever, Richard Burns. 15.11.73”. 
49.    Patricia Beer. “Mist in the Otter Valley”. First printed in the TLS in 1974. 20 lines of four five-line stanzas. Signed and dated 30 July 1974. 
50.    Thomas Driberg. “Apartment to let (December 1937)”. 28 lines of seven four-line stanzas. Signed “Thos. Driberg for Eric & Dodo – 1974”. 
51.    Brian Patten. “Lethargy” (although spelt “lethergy” by Patten). This version written for White is slightly different from the published poem which has an additional two lines at the beginning. 9 lines in a single stanza. Signed “Brian Patten For E”. 
52.    Kit Wright. “Tune for an Ice Cream Van”. 34 lines of seventeen two-line stanzas. With the greeting “For Eric  - with affection and respect. Kit Wright 14.5.75”. 
53.    Patricia Beer. “Birthday Poem from Venice. For Eric, September 10th 1975”. A popular poem by Beer and much anthologised but this would seem to be its first appearance, written specially for White on his birthday in 1975. 27 lines of nine three-line stanzas. Signed “Patricia”. 
54.    Zaza Gachechiladze. “A Poem without a Title”. Written in Georgian with an English translation which is of eleven lines. Signed and dated 10 June 1976. Zaza Gachechiladze was primarily a journalist. 
Volume Two. 
1.    Brian Patten. “A theme for Various MURDERS”. 41 lines. Signed and dated “Brian Patten, 65”. 
2.    Brian Patten. “A new kind of dawn”. 8 lines. Signed and dated “Brian Patten, 65”.
3.    Henry Fainlight. “You have wasted your life”. First printed in “A Journal of Poetry” Volume 1, Issue 7 (February 1964). 12 lines. Signed and dated 1962 (as the poem appears after Patten’s two 1965 poems, this date presumably refers to when it was written rather than when Fainlight wrote it out for White).
4.    J. Jeffrey Jones. “London Prose/Poem – from Necropolis”. Signed and dated. 1967. 

Loosely inserted in the first volume is a list of contents handwritten by White together with ten letters from some of the poets. These are: 
1.    Note from Roy Fuller “Eric, Apologies for feeble poem & orthography. Just couldn’t do better! Roy”. 
2.    Letter dated 26th November 1962 from John Lehmann. Explains that although the poem has been published in “The Listener”, “it has not yet appeared in a book”. 
3.    Letter dated 19th December 1962 from Constantine Trypanis. 
4.    Letter dated 9th January 1963 from Philip Larkin. “I am grateful for the invitation to write in your album, & have done so…Is it possible that you are planning to sell the whole thing to Texas?”
5.    Letter dated 23rd January 1963 from William Plomer “it isn’t often that one has paper of such quality to write upon”. 
6.    Letter dated October 11 1963 [2?] from Stephen Spender.
7.    Letter dated 4th August 1964 from T.S.Eliot’s secretary (M.I.Drage) at Faber and Faber returning the book with Eliot’s hope “that you will be pleased with the verses he has chosen”. 
8.    Letter from Edmund Blunden dated 21 March 1966. Blunden had written his poem and was writing to White to say that he did “not feel that this otherwise valuable volume should go to you by post” and was suggesting that he bring it to the Royal Society of Literature for White to collect. 
9.    Letter dated 18th January 1968 from John Betjeman. “I am very proud to be in such high company”. 
10.    Letter dated 14th March 1969 from Peter Porter. “I was grateful for the chance to stabilize the ending of the poem, having always been slightly uneasy with the previous versions, of which the most recent was printed in Agenda”. 
Loosely inserted in second volume are:  
1.    A colour photograph of White, with Ted Hughes and a bull, almost certainly Sexton Hyades XXXIII to which Hughes referred in a letter in 1974 as “a phenomenal bull”, saying that he had never enjoyed owning anything as much. 
2.    Typed poem: “To E Wodwo White” ms note “Ken the Rejected”.
3.    Typed poem “Oh! Eric!”. Signed “Ken”. (We have been unable to identify “Ken”. The “Wodwo” reference suggests a link to Ted Hughes but the signature is not in his hand.) 
4.    Two copies of a dinner menu “Commander: Hughes 11 Novembre 1975”. 
5.    Photocopy of the agenda of a meeting of the Executive Committee of The Clerkenwell Green Association for Craftsmen 7th March 1979. 

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