Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Feeling Wystful?

It's Wystan. H. Auden's birthday (1907-1973). He's not around to celebrate it, so would probably like you to 'stop all the clocks' but that poem's been ruined by Four Weddings' appropriation, so I won't inflict it on you. Click the link if you really must.

I have to say that although I'm a huge admirer of Auden's poetry, I've never quite liked him very much. He was so quick to pose as a heroic revolutionary in the 1930s - with all his talk of 'the necessary murder', but equally quick to dash off to the US when war threatened to involve him - and equally quick to recant his former views with little reflection and too much condemnation. Too keen to brag about 'we' and 'our' great deeds - until challenged to put himself on the line.

Auden's the poster boy for the 1930s as the 'low dishonest decade', as he later called it, and for those English bourgeois poets who withdrew into personal concerns when the world got a little too edgy for their comfort. Everybody took sides in the 1930s, pressed by the conflict between fascism and Stalinist communism, but not all could quite so easily slither away when circumstances required.

But for all that, I do return to his poems regularly - few others had the skill to fuse conversational language with a strong command of the poetic line. This applies to prose too: the Letters from Iceland are wonderful, while Night Mail beautifully exemplifies his determination to write poetry which is emotionally complex without alienating the ordinary reader.

The Love Feast
W.H. Auden

In an upper room at midnight
See us gathered on behalf
Of love according to the gospel
Of the radio-phonograph.

Lou is telling Anne what Molly
Said to Mark behind her back;
Jack likes Jill who worships George
Who has the hots for Jack.

Catechumens make their entrance;
Steep enthusiastic eyes
Flicker after tits and baskets;
Someone vomits; someone cries.

Willy cannot bear his father,
Lilian is afraid of kids;
The Love that rules the sun and stars
Permits what He forbids.

Adrian's pleasure-loving dachshund
In a sinner's lap lies curled;
Drunken absent-minded fingers
Pat a sinless world.

Who is Jenny lying to
In her call, Collect, to Rome?
The Love that made her out of nothing
Tells me to go home.

But that Miss Number in the corner
Playing hard to get. . . .
I am sorry I'm not sorry . . .
Make me chaste, Lord, but not yet.

In total contrast: Chuck Palahniuk was also born today, and Malcolm X was murdered today too!

1 comment:

oldgirlatuni said...

Auden - my very favourite poet. I read, and quote, his works frequently.

The one that I return to time and time again, is 'Lay your sleeping head, my love' - the most beautiful way to use words.

One of the very best things I got from A Level English (in the 1980s...), was the opportunity to study Auden with an English Teacher who was passionate about the poems. Fabulous.