Rare Poem by ‘Big Sleep’ Author Raymond Chandler Found in a Shoebox

A magazine editor rediscovered the work among the papers his family donated to the University of Oxford

Raymond Chandler
The writer Raymond Chandler in 1954 Bettmann

A forgotten work by crime writer Raymond Chandler, famous for novels such as The Big Sleep (1939) and The Long Goodbye (1953), has been published in a literary magazine. But unlike his better-known titles, it’s not a hardboiled detective story—it’s a poem.

“There is a moment after death when the face is beautiful / When the soft, tired eyes are closed and the pain is over,” the first lines read.

Earlier this month, the Strand magazine published Chandler’s piece in its 25th anniversary print issue. It had previously appeared in Judith Freeman’s 2007 biography, The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, though it hadn’t been widely known.

Titled “Requiem,” the 27-line work dates to around 1955 and “shows the softer, sensitive side” of the writer, according to the magazine’s announcement. It’s thought to be the only poem Chandler attempted as an adult.

Rediscovered by Andrew Gulli, the magazine’s managing editor, the poem had been kept inside a shoebox at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library. It was among a larger collection of documents the Chandler family donated in the 1980s. “It was a treasure trove,” Gulli tells the New York Times’ Victor Mather.

Scholars think Chandler wrote “Requiem” soon after his wife, Cissy, died in 1954, leaving him in a state of severe depression.

The first stanzas of the poem describe the remaining echoes of his late wife. Chandler notes the period after a loved one’s death when “three long hairs in a brush and a folded kerchief / And the fresh made bed and the fresh, plump pillows / On which no head will lie / Are all that is left of the long, wild dream.”

But the novelist seems to find solace in the next lines, writing that there are “always the letters” that he holds “neatly and firmly by the soft, strong fingers of love” that “will not die.”

“This is a poem that’s very idealistic,” Gulli tells the Guardian’s Maya Yang. “It’s a poem that speaks to a lot of the loss that we experience in life … It’s as if the people who pass away become, from the act of death, purified … What I did love about this message is it kind of shows that if people have passed away, their souls and their memories will survive to those who loved them.”

Tom Williams, author of the 2012 Chandler biography A Mysterious Something in the Light, tells Hillel Italie of the Associated Press (AP) that the novelist met his wife, who was nearly 20 years older than him, before World War I. The couple sent letters to each other while Chandler served overseas, eventually marrying in 1924. “I think they needed one another,” Williams adds. “He would never leave her and certainly felt that he owed her a duty of care when she was sick.”

Chandler never had a formal burial for Pascal, and he kept his wife’s ashes with him for the rest of his life, Gulli tells the Guardian. But the writer’s fans were not content with the couple’s epilogue. Loren Latker, a Chandler admirer, campaigned for Pascal to be buried alongside her husband, reports the AP. On Valentine’s Day in 2011, they were interred together at San Diego’s Mount Hope Cemetery.

Other rare works by the novelist have been discovered before. In 2017, a Chandler story that criticized the American healthcare system was found at the Bodleian Library. In 2020, a parody of corporate culture was also unearthed. But as for poetry, “Requiem” is the first discovery of its kind.

“Maybe he was writing a message to [Pascal],” adds Gulli.

Editor’s note, December 18, 2023: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that “Requiem” had never been published. The Strand magazine has since learned that the poem was included in Judith Freeman’s 2007 biography, The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved.

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