by W. H. Auden
Thousands are still asleep,
Dreaming of terrifying monsters
Or of friendly tea beside the band in Cranston’s or Crawford’s:
Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
But shall wake soon and hope for letters,
And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
We can debate whether social media has enhanced or demolished the art of correspondence, but the elegance of a hand written letter still stands above all other forms of written communication in my mind. It is an artform perfected before the hustle and bustle of texting, email, Facebook and Instagram. How many of us are guilty of going an entire year, without posting a single letter to a friend, Christmas cards notwithstanding? I am a consumer of social media because I have to be, not because I enjoy it or feel that it connects me closer to anyone.
My biggest beef with social media is the un-originality of 99% of it. Most people re-tweet or re-meme or re-post something that was in their feed, with nothing added to the content. I am guilty of it too and then I often go back and think, why did I post that? What does it have to do with me? Nothing.
A hand written letter contains an element of focus that electronic forms of communication will never achieve. A letter in your mail box is a tangible extension of the letter writer, a conscious act of sharing your life and words with one singular person. The last line in Auden’s Night Mail, sums it up, “who can bear to feel himself forgotten.” A letter assures ourselves for as long as the paper remains intact, that we know that another held us in their thoughts as they penned the words.
Here is a short reading of the entire poem, Night Mail, which was commissioned for the documentary This Is The Night Mail, which can also be found on youtube.
by W. H. Auden
A shilling life will give you all the facts:
How Father beat him, how he ran away,
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts
Made him the greatest figure of his day;
Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night,
Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea:
Some of the last researchers even write
Love made him weep his pints like you and me.
With all his honours on, he sighed for one
Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;
Did little jobs about the house with skill
And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still
Or potter round the garden; answered some
Of his long marvellous letters but kept none.