Since we are what we are, what shall we be
But what we are? We are, we have
Six feet and seventy years, to see
The light, and then release it for the grave.
We are not worlds, no, nor infinity,
We have no claims on stone, except to prove
In the invention of the city
Our hearts, our intellect, our love.
Stephen Spender – From Exercises/Explorations
I – The Door
Excerpt from The Quest by W. H. Auden
Out of it steps our future, through this door
Enigmas, executioners and rules,
Her Majesty in a bad temper or
A red-nosed Fool who makes a fool of fools.
Great persons eye it in the twilight for
A past it might so carelessly let in,
A widow with a missionary grin,
The foaming inundation at a roar.
We pile our all against it when afraid,
And beat upon its panels when we die:
By happening to be open once, it made
Enormous Alice see a wonderland
That waited for her in the sunshine and,
Simply by being tiny, made her cry.
“Out of it steps our future, through this door.” What future opens today and what past closes? What joy awaits and what tragedy still haunts? The stuff of life and poetry. An old friend of mine who is in an assisted living facility worked in campus ministry at the University of Minnesota in the 1960’s. I was visiting her last weekend and read her a little Auden. She listened, smiled and said; “I saw Auden lecture at the University of Minnesota. He sold out Williams Arena. He was brilliant.”
There are several remarkable things about that statement. First off, I am more than a little jealous she saw Auden lecture, and second, can we imagine a poet alive who could fill a basketball stadium on an American campus to hear a lecture about poetry? Maybe Maya Angelou or Mary Oliver could have in recent years, but i can’t think of a single male poet alive who could do it today. I googled Auden and Williams arena to see if I could find a reference to the event on-line and I came up short. I did find in Poetry Magazine from 1956 a blurb about T. S. Elliot delivering a lecture at the University of Minnesota and it had to be moved to Williams Arena because 13,400 people attended. Auden and Elliot selling out the University of Minnesota basketball stadium – that’s rock star poetry!
Several of the Oxford group had connections to the University of Minnesota. Christopher Isherwood published a book on writing through the University of Minnesota Press and the same has re-issued several of his books, including Lions and Shadows, a memoir about his days at Oxford.
Go Gophers, my alma mater! You know the people in a state have a sense of humor when they make their mascot for the University a skittish rodent with stripes.
Is It Far To Go?
By Cecil Day Lewis
Is it far to go?
A step — no further.
Is it hard to go?
Ask the melting snow,
The eddying feather.
What can I take there?
Not a hank, not a hair.
What shall I leave behind?
Ask the hastening wind,
The fainting star.
Shall I be gone long?
For ever and a day.
To whom there belong?
Ask the stone to say,
Ask my song.
Who will say farewell?
The beating bell.
Will anyone miss me?
That I dare not tell —
Quick, Rose, and kiss me.