“Aunts and Nieces, or Time and Space.” Holograph manuscript poem of Housman’s long and grimly humorous poem, A. E. Housman.

“Aunts and Nieces, or Time and Space.” Holograph manuscript poem of Housman’s long and grimly humorous poem,

2 pages (verso and recto), folio, ruled paper with St Winifred watermark, unsigned.
“Aunts and Nieces” comprises 52 lines of manuscript verse to both sides, the text differing in minor ways from the
published version: there is one correction to line 34 [“need not” changed to “will not”], and Housman’s dividing the
sections of the poem with asterisks is unique to this manuscript. The poem relates how a niece scorns her aunt’s
advice to “avoid, at the approach of dark / Eliza, the umbrageous park” lest “forth the cockatrice will frisk, / and
out will bounce the basilisk, / and the astoundingly absurd / yet dangerous cockyoly-bird / will knock you, with its
baneful beak, / into the middle of next week”. Eliza goes to the park, while her aunt meets the prospect of her
niece’s doom with chilling sang-froid, and the aunt’s prophesy, exactly and literally, comes to pass: “Then, from
behind, a vicious peck / descended on Eliza’s neck. / Eliza into the azure distance / Followed the line of least
resistance. / * * * / In the middle of next week / There will be heard a piercing shriek, / And looking pale and weak
and thin / Eliza will come flying in”. Housman is better known for his darker, some might say morbid, side, but his
sense of humor – admittedly somewhat dark, too – was expressed in a number of poems that share certain qualities
associated with Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. Housman’s brother Laurence Housman published the first selection
of his brother’s unpublished comic verse in his posthumous memoir A.E.H. Some Poems, Some Letters and a Personal Memoir (Cape, 1937). In it he observed that humorous verses had been an amusement for his brother since
childhood, and that he wrote them both to amuse friends and in order to cope with bouts of depression. These
bouts, though they often stemmed the creative flow of his more serious works, did not abate his comic creations,
which “remained fairly continuous even during the dry years”. Housman manuscripts are rare on the market, and
this one is especially delightful. Three horizontal creases from folds, some light spotting, but in very good condition,
preserved in a custom-made green morocco backed chemise. Item #32528

Carol Efrati, in "The road of danger, guilt, and shame: the lonely way of A.E. Housman," 2002, pp. 73-76, gives a very interesting deep reading of this poem, which is one of Housman's longest. It really deserved illustration by Edward Gorey.

Price: $15,000.00

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