steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Pierian Drafts

How lucky we are to have the manuscripts of so many nineteenth and twentieth-century poets, and to be able to see how they changed their work draft by draft. Anyone with an ounce of literary curiosity can't help but take pleasure in the facsimile Waste Land, for example. No such luck for students of the Elizabethans, though, and it's hard not to feel a little envious. Who wouldn't love to spend a major research grant working on the evolution of The Faerie Queene from its humble beginnings as a couplet hastily scribbled on the back of a Latin primer? If only the seventeenth-century demand for pie bottoms hadn't wrought such destruction on our literary inheritance! Then again, wouldn't it be cool if somebody today stumbled across a cache of Spenser's drafts? Or Shakespeare's?

Failing that, it would be fun to create a few first drafts of famous poems, leave them where Gary Taylor will be sure to find them, then watch the fireworks fly in the TLS! To set the ball rolling, here is Nashe's 'Litany in Time of Plague', ((p)re)-written with a hint of Taylor's beloved "Shall I Die?":

Your beauty’s a sweet
That foul wrinkles will eat;
It’s exactly the same
For each kind of dame.
Helen's covered in dust:
If I die, no one’s fussed.

Very convincing, I'm sure you'll agree. Unfortunately, when I attempt the same trick on the song from Cymbeline, it insists on coming out in the style of Wendy Cope:

Wave goodbye to sunburn woes,
To chilblains on your hands and toes:
You've got good insulation
In your new accommodation.
Oh! but even heating engineers
Must end their days laid out on biers.

I will probably try again in odd minutes over the next few days, but if anyone would like to offer contributions to an anthology of Elizabethan first drafts, I'd be delighted to see them.
Tags: books
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