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Bonhams to sell revealing papers of key Sylvia Plath poem completed days before tragic death
Sylvia Plath completed the first draft of Sheep in Fog in December 1962 during a surge of inspiration which began in August of that year.

LONDON.- The complete working papers for Sylvia Plath’s poem Sheep in Fog, are to be sold on 8 May in Part II of the sale of The Roy Davids Collection Part III: Poetry: Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets at Bonhams, New Bond Street.

Estimated at £30,000-35,000, they provide a vivid and detailed insight into the fragility of the poet’s mind in the days leading up to her suicide on 11 February 1963 at the age of just 30. The precise dating of every handwritten change, as Plath’s increasing fragility overwhelmed her, makes these papers, arguably, the most revealing and important set of poetic drafts ever.

Sylvia Plath completed the first draft of Sheep in Fog in December 1962 during a surge of inspiration which began in August of that year. As her husband Ted Hughes subsequently wrote in an essay on the work (all the drafts and final version of which amounting to 60 pages are also included in the sale, £4,500-5,000), the tone at that time was positive reflecting Plath’s own ‘positive resolution’. The final stanza in the 1962 version reads:

Patriarchs till now immobile

In heavenly wools

Row off as stones or clouds with the faces of babies

When Plath revised the poem on 28 January 1963, however, at the beginning of her final brief burst of creativity, the mood had darkened as the new ending shows:

They threaten

To let me through to a heaven

Starless and fatherless, a dark water.

Roy Davids, a noted critical authority who knew Ted Hughes well for over 20 years, wrote recently in Bonhams Magazine, “The description in her poem of the heaven towards she was being inexorably drawn as 'fatherless' strikes right to the very core of Sylvia Plath's being. When she was only eight years old, her father, Dr Otto Plath, a scientist, died, having failed to seek medical help for the gangrene in his leg. In her poems, Plath habitually interpreted this not only as him having committed suicide, but also as having deliberately abandoned her. The word 'fatherless' Sylvia introduced into Sheep in Fog on 28 January 1963 plumbed her depths far deeper than any other she could have chosen.”

The manuscript and associated papers are very rare. Most of Plath’s papers were sold to Smith College where she had studied as an undergraduate. Ted Hughes retained the complete drafts of two poems, one for each of their children. Sheep in Fog was given to Nicholas Hughes who committed suicide in 2009. Roy Davids bought the papers from Nicholas when the latter needed to raise some money. The manuscript inherited by Plath and Hughes’ daughter, Frieda, is believed to be in an institutional library.

Poetry: Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets, is the fruit of 40 years of collecting by the poet and scholar Roy Davids and is the finest collection of poetry ever to come to auction. In Mr David’s own words, “it would now be impossible for the present collection to be even approximately replicated.’

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