THE BLOG
05/10/2013 12:47 pm ET Updated Jul 10, 2013

How Much Are Great Poems Worth? (Part 2)

The third of a three-part auction of poet and scholar Roy Davids' extraordinary poetry collection was held this past week at Bonhams Auction House in London (You can read my recap of the previous session here). It featured work by poets ranging, alphabetically, from Charles Lamb to William Butler Yeats, and as with last month's event, it offers fascinating insight into the value of great poetry.

While John Keats stole the show last month with the $280,000 winning bid for just a piece of his poem "I stood tiptoe on a little hill," this session's headlines belonged to Oscar Wilde. The famed literary wit and playwright's lyric "Heart's Yearnings," sold for four times its estimate, bringing in €67,250 (about $103,000). Wilde's poem concerns a speaker waiting anxiously for Love's arrival and concludes with two stanzas rich with gorgeous images.

O pale moon shining fair and clear
Between the apple-blossoms white,
That cluster round my windows here,
Why does Love tarry in his flight
And not come near for my heart's delight--

I only hear the sighing of the breeze
That makes complaint in a sweet undertune,
I only see the blossom-laden trees
Splintering the arrows of the golden moon,
That turns black night into the burnished noon.

Another highlight: an autographed manuscript of Christina Rossetti's sonnet "Remember" made clear that the Victorian poet is more than just remembered. It sold for £33,650 (about $52,000). Here it is in full.

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

My favorite auction item, a working draft of Sylvia Plath's poem "Sheep in Fog," also commanded a high price, selling for £37,250 (about $57,000). The heartbreaking, powerful poem begins,

The hills step off into whiteness.
People or stars
Regard me sadly, I disappoint them.

You can the entire draft here.

Two stanzas written by Walt Whitman--and presumed to be drafts for his landmark poem "Leaves of Grass"--fetched £23,750 (about $36,000). One of them reads,

The circles of Eidolons
Ever beginning
The birth and start of each beginning
The mighty art the ceaseless termination
The terminations and the merge
of all again
Eidolons, Eidolons,

In its final form, this passage presumably became:

Ever the dim beginning
Ever the growth, the rounding of the circle,
Ever the summit and the merge at last, (to surely start again,)
Eidolons! eidolons!

You can browse through the entirety of the auction results here.