“NOW THE LEAVES ARE FALLING FAST…”: AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF AUDEN’S POEM AUTUMN SONG, SIGNED BY HIM
AUDEN, W. H. Autograph manuscript poem signed. No place, no date [circa 1936]. Octavo, one leaf, written on one side only, 20 lines, five verses in black ink. $8500.
Autograph manuscript of the first published version of Auden’s classic poem “Autumn Song” (here untitled) in Auden’s hand, signed by him and with an interesting correction. When Auden initially wrote out the poem, he mistakenly omitted the third verse. He then went on to include this verse beneath his signature, drawing an arrow to its proper place, with his note “Sorry, I forgot this verse (I have no copy here). W.H.A.”
“Autumn Song” initially appeared in Auden’s 1936 collection Look, Stranger! In the coming years, Auden revised the poem substantially, with line alterations in the second, third and fourth stanzas, and a completely rewritten final stanza. The revised poem is now usually found in collections and anthologies, such as Mendelson’s definitive edition of Auden’s Collected Poems. This fair copy, however, hews closely to the earliest published version, indicating that it was probably written out sometime closer to the 1936 publication date, before the poet had considered revising. The poem reads in its entirety:
“Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse’s flowers will not last;
Nurses to the graves are gone,
And the prams go rolling on.
“Whispering neighbors, left and right,
Pluck us from our real delight;
And the active hands must freeze
Lonely on the separate knees.
“Dead in hundreds at the back
Follow wooden in our track,
Arms raised stiffly to reprove
In false attitudes of love.
“Starving through the Iron Wood
Trolls run scolding for their food;
And the nightingale is dumb,
And the angel will not come.
“Cold, impossible, ahead
Lifts the mountain’s lovely head
Whose white waterfall could bless
Travellers in their last distress.”
In this manuscript version Auden inadvertently omitted the third verse. He then included it at the end, beneath his signature, with an arrow indicating where it should be inserted, with a brief apology to the recipient: “Sorry, I forgot this verse (I have no copy here).” He has initialed this note. “Iron Wood,” in the first line of the fourth verse, appeared in the published version of this poem as “leafless wood.”
Faint fold lines. Fine condition.