“For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its saying where executives
Would never want to tamper; it flows south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.”
W. H. Auden
By W. H. Auden
Encased in talent like a uniform.
The rank of every poet is well known;
They can amaze us like a thunderstorm,
Or die so young, or live for years alone.
They can dash forward like hussars : but he
Must struggle out of his boyish gift and learn
How to be plain and awkward, how to be
One after whom none think it worth to turn.
For, to achieve his lightest wish, he must
Become the whole of boredom, subject to
Vulgar complaints like love, among the Just
Be just, among the Filthy filthy too.
And in his own weak person, if he can.
Must suffer dully all the wrongs of Man.
I shall miss this winter interlude with Auden. But as the high is forecast to be -7 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday, -22 degrees Celsius, I won’t be dissapointed to greet February next weekend. Truth be told, I like a little bitter cold. It’s a bonding opportunity with your fellow Minnesotans. Cold gives us a common advisary which we can in harmony direct our angst and see our fellow neighbors as equals in our journey. Even the one’s spouting memes that rankle our own particular political centers.
Auden was briefly American, a poet prisoner exchange of sorts, with England accepting T. S. Eliot in return. No shots fired, nor spies deployed, as each found asylum in the country they felt more to their temperament in middle age. Auden’s Americanism didn’t last however. He was European through and through and eventually he returned.
Auden’s body of work over his lifetime is mind boggling. I have been meaning to write an entry on all his translation work, but I don’t even know where to begin. Auden not only wrote over 400 poems, many of them long poems, an equal number of essays, several manuscripts for plays but also was constantly producing book reviews, articles and translations of poems from Russian, Chinese, German, Gaelic and Danish, most of which were languages he did not even speak. I wonder if the man ever stopped thinking about writing and did something trivial like play cards?
Auden lived a life shrouded in cigarette smoke, with pen and paper or typewriter close at hand. Auden achieved his massive body of work by relying on amphetamines for extended fits of focused energy. Then at night, to bring him down to a state he could sleep, he would resort to drinking and sleeping pills. He is the not the first writer or last which has found chemical addiction as a necessary and useful tool in pursuit of one’s art. I don’t think Auden left much unsaid that he wanted to say. I wouldn’t put forth that Auden died prematurely as the result of hard living. He is quoted as saying; “All sins tend to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is damnation.” I would beg to differ Mr. Auden. I would claim the terminal point of sin is abdication and acceptance, relinquishing the shame of one’s vices, the very thing that makes us most human. Damnation, I would put forth, is unnecessary abstinence from that which we crave, an abstinence that serves no useful purpose other than to avoid judgement from others who will never share your life’s experiences. If we cannot accept ourselves, then why spend a lifetime in search of salvation in the pleasure of our lives?
by W. H. Auden
Look, stranger, on this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea.
Here at a small field’s ending pause
Where the chalk wall falls to the foam and its tall ledges
Oppose the pluck
And knock of the tide,
And the shingle scrambles after the suck-
And a gull lodges
A moment on its sheer side.
Far off like floating seeds the ships
Diverge on urgent voluntary errands,
And this full view
Indeed may enter
And move in memory as now these clouds do,
That pass the harbour mirror
And all the summer through the water saunter.