Auctions | April 4, 2013

Great Beast 666 In Praise of Absinthe for Sale at Bonhams

An unpublished, handwritten, poem in praise of absinthe drinking by the great occultist, Aleister Crowley, is to be sold in Part I of The Roy Davids Collection III: Poetry: Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets at Bonhams New Bond Street on 10 April. It is estimated at £1,500-2,000.

Crowley (1875-1947), a bisexual, drug using, self styled prophet, often referred to as the ‘Great Beast 666’ was an inveterate absinthe drinker. His poem is called ‘The Green Hour’ and celebrates the period from 5 pm to 7, during which the drink was often imbibed.

Absinthe was hugely popular in the latter years of the 19th and early years of the 20th century. It became associated especially with the bohemian life style of Paris before the First World War.  Popularly believed to be hallucinogenic and to encourage creativity it earned the nickname of the ‘green fairy’ or the ‘green muse’.  Its notoriety, however, was its downfall and by 1915 it has been banned in most of Europe and in the United States at the urging of prohibitionists who believed that absinthe drinking led to alcoholism.

Crowley’s poem reflects its reputation.

“The slow Green Hour,
when haggard faces meet,
Drawn by strong craving to the humble bower
That separates all from the noisy street
The slow Green Hour!
Strange lips & langours, like the lotus-flower;
A haze of fragrance, infamously sweet;
A mist of green, like woods in summer shower...”

The production of absinthe resumed in the latter years of the last century and the drink is now again widely available.

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.’