Troubled Tennessee’s Sad Song
Andrew Buncombe

He would go on to become one of America’s most celebrated playwrights. But believed people thought him talentless. He also knew he was about to fail his Greek exam. The man who would soon change his name to Tennessee poured out his heart in a 17-line poem that he scribbled on the back of his exam paper. He then got up and left the room.

The previously unknown work was discovered by chance in a bookstore by an academic from the very university where Tennessee Williams, who died in 1983, failed his exam. It has now been bought by the university and is celebrated as providing fresh insight into the writer at a crucial juncture in his life.

The blue-bound exam paper — for which he received five individual grades ranging from A to D — was discovered by Professor Henry Schvey, head of the performing arts department at Washington University, St Louis, when he was browsing through a collection of Williams papers in a New Orleans bookstore.

"I knew immediately what it was because it had the [university crest] on it," said Professor Schvey. "It had the name Tom Williams on the front cover. He did not adopt the name Tennessee until he moved to New Orleans in 1939.

"What I was not prepared for was the fact there was a poem. It was really very moving to see anything written in his long hand. I read the poem and thought it was very powerful. It was obvious that at the end of the exam, he knew he was going to fail and that he would have to leave the university. Williams always felt uprooted in St Louis, a feeling he describes here in very lyrical terms." The poem, written in pencil, was originally titled "Sad Song" but 26-year-old Williams had erased that name and replaced it with "Blue Song" — a title that apparently summed up his mood and matched the colour of his exam booklet.

— The Independent