Auctions | February 20, 2013

Bonhams to Sell First “Green Poem” by Gerald Manley Hopkins

Previously unpublished working papers for “Binsey Poplars” by Gerald Manley Hopkins are to be auctioned at Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, on 10 April during the sale of Roy Davids Collection Part III: Poetry: Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets. They are estimated at £40,000 - 45,000. 


No poetic manuscript by Hopkins has been sold at auction for over 40 years and the emergence of these preparatory papers for one of the poet’s most popular and finest works is a major literary event. They include Hopkins early drafts showing extensive deletions and rewritings and complement the material on the work held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Hopkins wrote the poem in March 1879 while living in Oxford. On a walk to Godstow he saw that the aspens which lined the river there had been felled (to make brake shoes for the Great Western Railway, he later discovered). The poem speaks not only of Hopkins’ own sorrow at the desecration but makes a powerfully emotional case for environmental protection, one of the first works in English to do so.  In Hopkins words:


“O if we but knew what we do

When we delve or hew —

Hack and rack the growing green



Where we, even when we mean

T mend her we end her

When we hew or delve

After comers cannot guess the beauty been.”


Unlike many poets, Hopkins had well formed, strong, handwriting — so clear and vigorous, in fact, that it was chosen as an illustration in “English Handwriting.”  As Roy Davids has written, “For me Hopkins is one of only a few hands that is truly artistic and his poems come closest to the condition of music.”


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.”