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Willa Cather Foundation - Red Cloud Nebraska (NE)

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Unknown Cather Manuscript Discovered

Unknown Cather Manuscript Discovered

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Our dedicated Cather readers may recall that, in the short story “Uncle Valentine,” the eponymous character tries out a new song called “The Ballad of the Young Knight.” Though Cather gives us the first two lines, Cather’s source materials have not been located.

Until now. “From the Ancient Kingdoms, / Through the wood of dreaming, . . .” begins the verse in the story, and it was never clear if Cather had written more than that. In 2019, the National Willa Cather Center was fortunate to discover this manuscript and acquire it for our archival collection. The manuscript’s title, “Tile Pictures (To a Little Girl),” differs from the song title in “Uncle Valentine,” but there is no mistaking the lines themselves. The manuscript, consisting of two differing drafts of the same poem, is undated; Cather poetry scholars Robert Thacker and Kari Ronning, both at work on a forthcoming Scholarly Edition on Cather’s poetry, are evaluating the manuscript alongside known Cather poetry in an attempt to date the piece.

The poem’s provenance is unclear; archivist Tracy Tucker at this point can only ascertain that the manuscript has been in private hands and auctioned at least twice before its acquisition. “As an archivist, it’s exciting to find something that has not been studied before, and we’re glad to be able to make this available to the Cather community,” she said.

The National Willa Cather Center actively seeks archival and collection materials related to Cather, her life and writings. To discuss a potential donation of materials to the NWCC, please contact Tracy Tucker at or call (402) 746-2653.

IMAGE: OBJ-250-025A. Manuscript. Willa Cather Foundation Collections & Archives at the National Willa Cather Center in Red Cloud.