- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

ST. LOUIS - Apreviously unpublished poem by Tennessee Williams, described as having been “written out of absolute, complete despair,” has been discovered in his blue test booklet from a college course in 1937.

The 17-line poem, “Blue Song,” has been acquired by Washington University in St. Louis, where Mr. Williams, as a student in his mid-20s, plummeted into depression before fleeing the city he said he despised.

The poem, penciled in an exam booklet for the Greek class he was failing at the university, speaks to “a loss of identity, and absolute, complete despair,” says Henry Schvey, the Washington University professor and Williams scholar who found the poem and test booklet last March at Faulkner House Books in New Orleans.

“It’s clearly someone who feels he’s lost his moorings or who he is, or, if he has his identity, it belongs to a different place,” Mr. Schvey said Tuesday.

“Here he was, 25 years old, still an undergraduate, and wearing a jacket and tie every day to school. He had had this disgraceful situation with a play [that lost an English class competition] and he knew he was going to fail the [Greek] course.”

In the poem, originally titled “Sad Song” and still bearing Mr. Williams’ eraser marks, the writer divulged feelings that Mr. Schvey says he found “very moving.”

Mr. Williams wrote: “If you should meet me upon a street do not question me for I can tell you only my name and the name of the town I was born in.”

“Williams was very dedicated as a poet,” says Allean Hale, a University of Illinois theater professor who has written extensively about Mr. Williams’ early years. As a young man, “He actually thought of himself primarily as a poet, rather than as a playwright.”

Biographer Lyle Leverich reported in “Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams” (1995) that Mr. Williams was concerned about his upcoming Greek final. In a May 30, 1937, journal entry, Mr. Williams complained of “Blue devils all this morning” and concluded, “Tomorrow Greek final which I will undoubtedly flunk.”

Weeks before he found “Blue Song,” Mr. Schvey, chairman of Washington University’s performing arts department, had directed the world premiere of “Me, Vashya” — a one-act play Mr. Williams wrote in 1937 for an English class competition — for an international symposium on Mr. Williams’ early career.

Mr. Williams’ earlier play sketches, read aloud by his English professor, were snippets of what would become “The Glass Menagerie” and were “by far the best in the class,” author A.E. Hotchner recalled in an interview last year. (He studied with Mr. Williams at Washington University in 1936-37.)

However, his classmates snickered and giggled at “Me, Vashya.” When Mr. Williams learned he had lost the contest, he stormed out of class and left the college for good, says Mr. Hotchner, whose play won first prize.

Mr. Schvey visited New Orleans last year to deliver a paper at the annual Tennessee Williams Scholars’ Conference. He stopped by Faulkner House Books and asked the owner if he had any Williams literary ephemera — paper remnants, postcards, scraps of paper — that weren’t on display.

Mr. Schvey was handed a stack of photographs of Mr. Williams and his various lovers and what turned out to be his Greek test booklet. It was signed “Th. Williams” for the young Thomas Lanier Williams. In 1939, he changed his name to Tennessee.

The blue book had Mr. Williams’ translations from Greek to English and vice versa, with test grades and “at the very back, written in pencil, just as the exam had been, was ‘Blue Song,’” Mr. Schvey says. He immediately arranged for the school to acquire the find — which he says is significant — for several thousand dollars. He’s in the process of having the poem published.

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