INSIGHTS: The Road of Dreams - Christie's poetry collection.
While most well known for her crime fiction, Agatha Christie also wrote poetry throughout her life. Prior to the publication of The Mysterious Affair at Styles Agatha Christie's published works are actually poems. Christie had three of her poems published in 1919. The Poetry Review had a supplement with each issue titled Poetry of To-day. The March 1919 issue's supplement (Vol. 1, No. 2) contained her “World Hymn”, the May supplement (Vol. 1, No. 3) contained her poem “Dark Sheila”, and the November supplement (Vol. 1, No. 6) contained her poem “A Passing”. She frequently submitted poems to The Poetry Review and commented in her autobiography how pleased she was when she won a prize and had a poem printed.
These initial three poems, along with many others, were collected in a book of poetry titled The Road of Dreams. The collection was published in January 1925 by Geoffrey Bles, London, but at Christie’s own personal expense. The book retailed for 5s net (five shillings), but did not sell well and thus was never reprinted. It is understood that many copies remained unsold for decades. Also of note, Christie reused the first four lines of "Dark Sheila" as an old Irish ballad in the 1930 story collection, The Mysterious Mr. Quin.
The collection is segregated into four sections named A Masque from Italy, Ballads, Dreams and Fantasies, and Other Poems. It this last section, her poem “In a Dispensary” provides an insight into her fascination with poisons that would play such a prominent role in her works.
An Excerpt from "In a Dispensary":
And high on the wall, beneath lock and key the powers of the Quick and Dead:
Little low bottles of blue and green, each with a legend red.
In the depths beneath their slender necks, there is Romance, and to spare:
Oh!: who shall say where Romance is, if Romance is not here?
From the Borgias time to the present day, their power has been proved and tried:
Monkshood blue, called Aconite, and the deadly cyanide!
Here is sleep and solace and soothing of pain – courage and vigour new:
Here is menace and murder and sudden death – in these phials of green and blue:
Here are copper salts that shame the heavens and sparkle deep and blue,
And never a Mediterranean Sea shall match their Sapphire hue:
And oh: the many dazzling dyes – the golden-hued Flavine
And the fine bronze dust that shall turn at will to a glory of Brilliant Green:
A philtre of Love – a philtre of Death – were they only a Sorcerer’s lore?
To catch the pence, and trap the fool? Or were they something more?
Beware of the Powers that never die, though Men may go their way,
The Power of the Drug, for good or ill, shall it ever pass away?
The Publisher: Geoffrey Bles:
Up until the publication of these poems, all Christie's books had been published in the UK by John Lane, The Bodley Head. It is safe to assume neither the genre nor the sales potential appealed John Lane causing Christie to look elsewhere. Geoffrey Bles was a new publisher, having launched his eponymous publishing firm in 1923. His firm's greatest success was with C.S. Lewis for whom they published the first five Narnia books. Bles did not publish any additional Christie works beyond The Road of Dreams. In 1953 his firm was purchased by William Collins.
A Later Collection:
All but one of the poems from The Road of Dreams were reprinted in Poems (October, 1973) as "Volume 1". There are a few minor differences, but the most notable is the lack of inclusion of “In a Dispensary”. Poems was published in the UK by William Collins and Sons and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company and was issued with a clear acetate wrapper.
In the world of collecting Agatha Christie books there are numerous unique imprints for collectors to seek and this is certainly one of them. Back in 2014, two copies of this book were auctioned – both with the dust wrapper (details below). There have been no recent auctions and the book is surprisingly scarce given its small print run and poor sales. However, should a very good copy appear for sale expect to pay £1,500 ($2,000) which is very reasonable value if compared to other jacketed books from the 1920s. The original printings of Christie's poems in Poetry of To-day from 1919 vary in value significantly. The supplement is often separated from its parent - Poetry Review - but when paired is more valuable. In addition, World Hymn is significantly more valuable as it represents her first published work and is thus fairly valued at £500 when complete or £400 for solely the supplement. The other two poems from 1919 are fairly valued at approximately half.
Last Known Auction Results:
Below are the descriptions from the auction houses plus the prices realized.
Swann Galleries: 19-June-2014: Sale 2355 - Lot 48. Price Realized: $1,625. Christie, Agatha. The Road of Dreams. 8vo, publisher's 1/4 green cloth over boards with paper spine label (tiny hole to front joint nicking corner of label), some mottling and uneven fading; publisher's plain dust jacket printed in green, spine panel darkened with slight chipping to head just touching a few letters, scattered light surface impressions; moderate foxing internally, chiefly to prelims and endleaves, ownership signature, discreet bookseller's ticket from W. Newman & Co., Calcutta, on rear pastedown. London: Geoffrey Bles, .
Bonhams: 12-November-2014: Sold for £687. Christie, Agatha. The Road of Dreams, first and only edition, half-title, light spotting, publisher's green cloth-backed boards, printed label on spine, fading, dust-jacket (spine dulled and slightly frayed at extremities), 8vo, Geoffrey Bles, . Note: The photo near the top of the article is of this book.
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