MS Add. 9451
A draft of the first stanza of ‘Willow song’, by Anne Stevenson, written on the reverse of a shopping list, 1983. From MS Add. 9451.

Drafts allow the exploration of the creative process. Deletions and amendments are evidence of the shaping and refining of ideas, and the trains of thought and verbal associations that gave rise to a poem may be more plainly apparent in early versions than in the final published text.

It is compelling to read a poem in its formative state, in the author’s own handwriting, as it existed before the printing press carried the words away to the wider world. Even so, drafts have often been regarded as waste paper, and few examples survive from before the eighteenth century. Only in the last fifty years have poets regularly found their worksheets to be of interest to scholars, archivists, and the public.

Items on display:

MS Add. 4422: George Crabbe, notebook, 1810s, open at ‘The amours of G[eorge]’. MS Add. 2588/585: Alfred, Lord Tennyson, draft of ‘The princess’, 1847. MS Add. 4444: Percy Bysshe Shelley, corrected fair copy of ‘To Jane. The invitation’, c. 1821. MS Add. 6850: Rudyard Kipling, ‘Rewards and fairies’, 1920s, open at a corrected fair copy of ‘If—’. From MS Add. 9451: Seamus Heaney, annotated typescript of ‘The figures at Kilpeck’ (‘Sheelagh na Gig’), 1981. Adv.d.38.5: Justa Edovardo King naufrago... (Cambridge: Thomas Buck and Roger Daniel, 1638), printed, open at John Milton’s autograph corrections to ‘Lycidas’. From MS Add. 9451: Anne Stevenson, draft of the first stanza of ‘Willow song’, 1983.

MS Add. 7514

Three stanzas of ‘A paraphrase upon Psalme 148’, by Thomas Stanley (1625-1678). The verses were written by a professional scrivener in 1646, and afterwards revised by Stanley. MS Add. 7514. (Original document not on display.)