marnanightingale: (all flesh is grass)
Musee des Beaux Arts
W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Pieter Bruegel
marnanightingale: (Default)
I have Fallen Behind again, so here's the rest of Part II:

Don Juan was a mixer and no doubt
Would find this century as good as any
For getting hostesses to ask him out,
And mistresses that need not cost a penny.
Indeed our ways to waste time are so many,
Thanks to technology, a list of these
Would make a longer book than Ulysses.

Yes, in the smart set he would know his way
By second nature with no tips from me.
Tennis and Golf have come in since your day;
But those who are as good at games as he
Acquire the back-hand quite instinctively,
Take to the steel.-shaft and hole out in one,
Master the books of Ely Culbertson.

I see his face in every magazine.
‘Don Juan at lunch with one of Cochran’s ladies.’
‘Don Juan with his red setter May MacQueen.’
‘Don Juan, who’s just been wintering in Cadiz,
Caught at the wheel of his maroon Mercedes.’
‘Don Juan at Croydon Aerodrome.’ ‘Don Juan
Snapped in the paddock with the Aga Khan.’

But if in highbrow circles he would sally
It’s just as well to warn him there’s no stain on
Picasso, all-in-wrestling, or the Ballet.
Sibelius is the man. To get a pain on
Listening to Elgar is a sine qua non.
A second-hand acquaintance of Pareto’s
Ranks higher than an intimate of Plato’s.

The vogue for Black Mass and the cult of devils
Has sunk. The Good, the Beautiful, the True
Still fluctuate about the lower levels.
Joyces are firm and there there’s nothing new.
Eliots have hardened just a point or two.
Hopkins are brisk, thanks to some recent boosts.
There’s been some further weakening in Prousts.

I’m saying this to tell you who’s the rage,
And not to loose a sneer from my interior.
Because there’s snobbery in every age,
Because some names are loved by the superior,
It does nor follow they’re the least inferior:
For all I know the Beatific Vision’s
On view at all Surrealist Exhibitions.

Now for the spirit of the people. Here
I know I’m treading on more dangerous ground:
I know there’re many changes in the air,
But know my data too slight to be sound,
I know, too, I’m inviting the renowned
Retort of all who love the Status Quo:
‘you can’t change human nature, don’t you know!’

We’ve still, it’s true, the same shape and appearance,
We haven’t changed the way that kissing’s done;
The average man still hates all interference,
Is just as proud still of his new-born son:
Still, like a hen, he likes his private run,
Scratches for self-esteem, and slyly pecks
A good deal in the neighbourhood of sex.

But he’s another man in many ways:
Ask the cartoonist first, for he knows best.
Where is the John Bull of the good old days,
The swaggering bully with the clumsy jest?
His meaty neck has long been laid to rest,
His acres of self-confidence for sale;
He passed away at Ypres and Passchendaele.

Turn to the work of Disney or of Strube;
There stands our hero in his threadbare seams;
The bowler hat who strap-hangs in the tube,
And kicks the tyrant only in his dreams,
Trading on pathos, dreading all extremes;
The little Mickey with the hidden grudge;
Which is the better, I leave you to judge.

Begot on Hire Purchase by Insurance,
Forms at his christening worshipped and adored;
A season ticket schooled him in endurance,
A tax collector and a waterboard
Admonished him. In boyhood he was awed
By a matric, and complex apparatuses
Keep his heart conscious of Divine Afflatuses.

‘I am like you,’ he says, ‘and you, and you,
I love my life, I love the home-fires, have
To keep them burning. Heroes never do.
Heroes are sent by ogres to the grave.
I may not be courageous, but I save.
I am the one who somehow turns the corner,
I may perhaps be fortunate Jack Horner.

I am the ogre’s private secretary;
I’ve felt his stature and his powers, learned
To give his ogreship the raspberry
Only when his gigantic back is turned.
One day, who knows, I’ll do as I have yearned.
The short man, all his fingers on the door,
With repartee shall send him to the floor.’

One day, which day? O any other day,
But not today. The ogre knows his man.
To kill the ogre that would take away
The fear in which his happy dreams began,
And with his life he’ll guard dreams while he can.
Those who would really kill his dream’s contentment
He hates with real implacable resentment.

He dreads the ogre, but he dreads yet more
Those who conceivably might set him free,
Those the cartoonist has no time to draw.
Without his bondage he’d be all at sea;
The ogre need but shout ‘Security’,
To make this man, so lovable, so mild,
As madly cruel as a frightened child.

Byron, thou should’st be living at this hour!
What would you do, I wonder, if you were?
Britannia’s lost prestige and cash and power,
Her middle classes show some wear and tear,
We’ve learned to bomb each other from the air;
I can’t imagine what the Duke of Wellington
Would say about the music of Duke Ellington.

Suggestions have been made that the Teutonic
Führer-Prinzip would have appealed to you
As being the true heir to the Byronic—
In keeping with your social status too
(It has its English converts, fit and few),
That you would, hearing honest Oswald’s call,
Be gleichgeschaltet in the Albert Hall.

‘Lord Byron at the head of his storm-troopers!’
Nothing, says science, is impossible:
The Pope may quit to join the Oxford Groupers,
Nuffield may leave one farthing in his Will,
There may be someone who trusts Baldwin still,
Someone may think that Empire wines are nice,
There may be people who hear Tauber twice,

You liked to be the centre of attention,
The gay Prince Charming of the fairy story,
Who tamed the Dragon by his intervention.
In modern warfare though it’s just as gory,
There isn’t any individual glory;
The Prince must be anonymous, observant,
A kind of lab—boy, or a civil servant,

You never were an Isolationist;
Injustice you had always hatred for,
And we can hardly blame you, if you missed
Injustice just outside your lordship’s door:
Nearer than Greece were cotton and the poor.
Today you might have seen them, might indeed
Have walked in the United Front with Gide,

Against the ogre, dragon, what you will;
His many shapes and names all turn us pale,
For he’s immortal, and today he still
Swinges the horror of his scaly tail.
Sometimes he seems to sleep, but will not fail
In every age to rear up to defend
Each dying force of history to the end.

Milton beheld him on the English throne,
And Bunyan sitting in the Papal chair;
The hermits fought him in their caves alone,
At the first Empire he was also there,
Dangling his Pax Romana in the air:
He comes in dreams at puberty to man,
To scare him back to childhood if he can.

Banker or landlord, booking-clerk or Pope,
Whenever he’s lost faith in choice and thought,
When a man sees the future without hope,
Whenever he endorses Hobbes’ report
‘The life of man is nasty, brutish, short,’
The dragon rises from his garden border
And promises to set up law and order.

He that in Athens murdered Socrates,
And Plato then seduced, prepares to make
A desolation and to call it peace
Today for dying magnates, for the sake
Of generals who can scarcely keep awake,
And for that doughy mass in great and small
That doesn’t want to stir itself at all.

Forgive me for inflicting all this on you,
For asking you to hold the baby for us;
It’s easy to forget that where you’ve gone, you
May only want to chat with Set and Horus,
Bored to extinction with our earthly chorus:
Perhaps it sounds to you like a trunk-call,
Urgent, it seems, but quite inaudible.

Yet though the choice of what is to be done
Remains with the alive, the rigid nation
Is supple still within the breathing one;
Its sentinels yet keep their sleepless station,
And every man in every generation,
Tossing in his dilemma on his bed,
Cries to the shadows of the noble dead.

We’re out at sea now, and I wish we weren’t;
The sea is rough, I don’t care if it’s blue;
I’d like to have a quick one, but I daren’t.
And I must interrupt this screed to you,
For I’ve some other little jobs to do;
I must write home or mother will be vexed,
So this must be continued in our next.
marnanightingale: (Default)
But you want facts, not sighs. I’ll do my best
To give a few; you can’t expect them all.
To start with, on the whole we’re better dressed;
For chic the difference to-day is small
Of barmaid from my lady at the Hall.
It’s sad to spoil this democratic vision
With millions suffering from malnutrition.

Again, our age is highly educated;
There is no lie our children cannot read,
And as MacDonald might so well have stated
We’re growing up and up and up indeed.
Advertisements can teach us all we need;
And death is better, as the millions know,
Than dandruff, night-starvation, or B.O.

We’ve always had a penchant for field sports,
But what do you think has grown up in our towns?
A passion for the open air and shorts;
The sun is one of our emotive nouns.
Go down by chara’ to the Sussex Downs,
Watch the manoeuvres of the week-end hikers
Massed on parade with Kodaks or with Leicas.

Those movements signify our age-long role
Of insularity has lost its powers;
The cult of salads and the swimming pool
Comes from a climate sunnier than ours,
And lands which never heard of licensed hours,
The south of England before very long
Will look no different from the Continong.

You lived and moved among the best society
And so could introduce your hero to it
Without the slightest tremor of anxiety;
Because he was your hero and you knew it,
He’d know instinctively what’s done, and do it.
He’d find our day more difficult than yours
For industry has mixed the social drawers.

We’ve grown, you see, a lot more democratic,
And Fortune’s ladder is for all to climb;
Carnegie on this point was must emphatic.
A humble grandfather is not a crime,
At least, if father made enough in time!
Today, thank God, we’ve got no snobbish feeling
Against the more efficient modes of stealing.

The porter at the Carlton is my brother,
He’ll wish me a good evening if I pay,
For tips and men are equal to each other.
I’m sure that Vogue would be the first to say
Que le Beau Monde is socialist today;
And many a bandit, nor so gently born
Kills vermin every winter with the Quorn.

Adventurers, though, must take things as they find them
And look for pickings where the pickings are.
The drives of love and hunger are behind them,
They can’t afford to be particular:
And these who like good cooking and a car,
A certain kind of costume or of face,
Must seek them in a certain kind of place.
marnanightingale: (Default)
Well, you might think so if you went to Surrey
And stayed for week-ends with the well-to--do,
Your car too fast, too personal your worry
To look too closely at the wheeling view.
But in the north it simply isn’t true.
To those who live in Warrington or Wigan,
It’s not a white lie, it’s a whacking big ‘un.

There on the old historic battlefield,
The cold ferocity of human wills,
The scars of struggle are as yet unhealed;
Slattern the tenements on sombre hills,
And gaunt in valleys the square-windowed mills
That, since the Georgian house, in my conjecture
Remain our finest native architecture.

On economic, health, um moral grounds
It hasn’t got the least excuse to show;
No more than chamber pots or otter hounds;
But let me say before it has to go,
It’s the most lovely country that I know;
Clearer than Seafell Pike, my heart has stamped on
The view from Birmingham to Wolverhampton.

Long, long ago, when I was only four,
Going towards my grandmother, the line
Passed through a coal-field. From the corridor
I watched it pass with envy, thought ‘How fine!
Oh how I wish that situation mine.’
Tramlines and slagheaps, pieces of machinery,
That was, and still is, my ideal scenery.

Hail to the New World! Hail to those who’ll love
Its antiseptic objects, feel at home.
Lovers will gaze at an electric stove,
Another poésie de départ come
Centred round bus-stops or the aerodrome.
But give me still, to stir imagination
The chiaroscuro of the railway station.

Preserve me from the Shape of Things to Be;
The high-grade posters at the public meeting,
The influence of Art on Industry,
The cinemas with perfect taste in seating;
Preserve me, above all, from central heating.
It may be D. H. Lawrence hocus-pocus,
But I prefer a room that’s got a focus.
marnanightingale: (Default)
I’m writing this in pencil on my knee,
Using my other hand to stop me yawning,
Upon a primitive, unsheltered quay
In the small hours of a Wednesday morning.
I cannot add the summer day is dawning;
In Seydhisfjördur every schoolboy knows
That daylight in the summer never goes.

To get to sleep in latitudes called upper
Is difficult at first for Englishmen.
It’s like being sent to bed before your supper
For playing darts with father’s fountain-pen,
Or like returning after orgies, when
Your breath’s like luggage and you realize
You’ve been more confidential than was wise.

I’ve done my duty, taken many notes
Upon the almost total lack of greenery,
The roads, the illegitimates, the goats:
To use a rhyme of yours, there’s handsome scenery
Bur little agricultural machinery;
And with the help of Sunlight Soap the Geysir
Affords to visitors le plus grand plaisir.

The North, though, never was your cup of tea;
‘Moral’ you thought it so you kept away.
And what I’m sure you’re wanting now from me
Is news about the England of the day,
What sort of things La Jeunesse do and say.
Is Brighton still as proud of her pavilion,
And is it safe for girls to travel pillion?

I’ll clear my throat and take a Rover’s breath
And skip a century of hope and sin—
For far too much has happened since your death.
Crying went out and the cold bath came in,
With drains, bananas, bicycles, and tin,
And Europe saw from Ireland to Albania
The Gothic revival and the Railway Mania.

We’re entering now the Eotechnic Phase
Thanks to the Grid and all these new alloys;
That is, at least, what Lewis Mumford says.
A world of Aertex underwear for boys,
Huge plate-glass windows, walls absorbing noise,
Where the smoke nuisance is utterly abated
And all the furniture is chromium-plated.
marnanightingale: (Default)
Having been without internet for two days, I must catch up on my Auden, so here is the rest of Part One:

There is one other author in my pack
For some time I debated which to write to.
Which would least likely send my letter back?
But I decided I'd give a fright to
Jane Austen if I wrote when I'd no right to,
And share in her contempt the dreadful fates
Of Crawford, Musgrove, and of Mr. Yates.

Then she's a novelist. I don't know whether
You will agree, but novel writing is
A higher art than poetry altogether
In my opinion, and success implies
Both finer character and faculties
Perhaps that's why real novels are as rare
As winter thunder or a polar bear.

The average poet by comparison
Is unobservant, immature, and lazy.
You must admit, when all is said and done,
His sense of other people’s very hazy,
His moral judgements are too often crazy,
A slick and easy generalization
Appeals too well to his imagination.

I must remember, though, that you were dead
Before the four great Russians lived, who brought
The art of novel writing to a head;
The help of Boots had not been sought.
But now the art for which Jane Austen fought,
Under the right persuasion bravely warms
And is the most prodigious of the forms.

She was not an unshockable blue-stocking;
If shades remain the characters they were,
No doubt she still considers you as shocking.
But tell Jane Austen, that is if you dare,
How much her novels are beloved down here.
She wrote them for posterity, she said;
'Twas rash, but by posterity she's read.

You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle-class
Describe the amorous effects of 'brass',
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society.

So it is you who is to get this letter.
The experiment may nor be a success.
There’re many others who could do it better,
But I shall not enjoy myself the less.
Shaw of the Air Force said that happiness
Comes in absorption: he was right, I know it;
Even in scribbling to a long—dead poet.

Every exciting letter has enclosures,
And so shall this—a bunch of photographs,
Some out of focus, some with wrong exposures,
Press cuttings, gossip, maps, statistics, graphs;
I don’t intend to do the thing by halves.
I’m going to be very up to date indeed.
It is a collage that you’re going to read.

I want a form that’s large enough to swim in,
And talk on any subject that I choose,
From natural scenery to men and women,
Myself, the arts, the European news:
And - since she’s on a holiday, my Muse
Is out to please - find everything delightful
And only now and then be mildly spiteful.

Ottava Rima would, I know, be proper,
The proper instrument on which to pay
My compliments, but I should come a cropper;
Rhyme-royal’s difficult enough to play.
But if no classics as in Chaucer’s day,
At least my modern pieces shall be cheery
Like English bishops on the Quantum Theory.

Light verse, poor girl, is under a sad weather;
Except by Milne and persons of that kind
She’s treated as démodé altogether.
It’s strange and very unjust to my mind
Her brief appearances should be confined,
Apart from Belloc’s Cautionary Tales,
To the more bourgeois periodicals.

‘The fascination of what’s difficult’,
The wish to do what one’s not done before.
Is, I hope, proper to Quincunque Vult,
The proper card to show at Heaven’s door.
Gerettet nor Gerichtet be the Law,
Et cetera, et cetera. O curse,
That is the flattest one in English verse.

Parnassus after all is not a mountain,
Reserved for A1 climbers such as you;
It’s got a park, it’s got a public fountain.
The most I ask is leave to shame a pew
With Bradford or with Cottam, that will do:
To pasture my few silly sheep with Dyer
And picnic on the lower slopes with Prior.

A publisher’s an author’s greatest friend,
A generous uncle, or he ought to be.
(I’m sure we hope it pays him in the end.)
I love my publishers and they love me,
At least they paid a very handsome fee
To send me here. I’ve never heard a grouse
Either from Russell Square nor from Random House.

But now I’ve got uncomfortable suspicions,
I’m going to put their patience out of joint.
Though it’s in keeping with the best traditions
For Travel Books to wander from the point
(There is no other rhyme except anoint),
They well may charge me with - I’ve no defences—
Obtaining money under false pretences.

I know I’ve not the least chance of survival
Beside the major travellers of the day.
I am no Lawrence who, on his arrival,
Sat down and typed out all he had to say;
I am not even Ernest Hemingway.
I shall not run to a two-bob edition,
So just won’t enter for the competition.

And even here the steps I flounder in
Were worn by most distinguished boots of old.
Dasent and Morris and Lord Dufferin,
Hooker and men of that heroic mould
Welcome me icily into the fold;
I’m not, like Peter Fleming, an Etonian,
But if I’m Judas, I’m an old Oxonian.

The Haig Thomases are at Myvatn now,
At Hvitarvatn and at Vatnajökull
Cambridge research goes on, I don’t know how:
The shades of Asquith and of Auden Skökull
Turn in their coffins a three-quarter circle
To see their son, upon whose help they reckoned,
Being as frivolous as Charles the Second.

So this, my opening chapter, has to stop
With humbly begging everybody’s pardon.
From Faber first in case the book’s a flop,
Then from the critics lest they should be hard on
The author when he leads them up the garden,
Last from the general public he must beg
Permission now and then to pull their leg.
marnanightingale: (Default)
Now home is miles away, and miles away
No matter who, and I am quite alone
And cannot understand what people say,
But like a dog must guess it by the tone;
At any language other than my own
I’m no great shakes, and here I’ve found no tutor
Nor sleeping lexicon to make me cuter.

The thought of writing came to me today
(I like to give these facts of time and space);
The bus was in the desert on its way
From Mothrudalur to some other place:
The tears were streaming down my burning face;
I’d caught a heavy cold in Akureyri,
And lunch was late and life looked very dreary.

Professor Housman was I think the first
To say in print how very stimulating
The little ills by which mankind is cursed,
The colds, the aches, the pains are to creating;
Indeed one hardly goes too far in stating
That many a flawless lyric may be due
Not to a lover’s broken heart, but ‘flu.

But still a proper explanation’s lacking;
Why write to you? I see I must begin
Right at the start when I was at my packing.
The extra pair of socks, the airtight tin
Of China tea, the anti-fly were in;
I asked myself what sort of books I’d read
In Iceland, if I ever felt the need.

I can’t read Jefferies on the Wiltshire Downs,
Nor browse on limericks in a smoking-room;
Who would try Trollope in cathedral towns,
Or Marie Stopes inside his mother’s womb?
Perhaps you feel the same beyond the tomb.
Do the celestial highbrows only care
For works on Clydeside, Fascists, or Mayfair?

In certain quarters I had heard a rumour
(For all I know the rumour’s only silly)
That Icelanders have little sense of humour.
I knew the country was extremely hilly,
The climate unreliable and chilly;
So looking round for something light and easy
I pounced on you as warm and civilisé.
marnanightingale: (confusion of imagery)
Having in a past year obliged at this time with the entirety of Lord Byron's Don Juan, which you can read via its tag, for this April we are proud, happy, and slightly appalled to present to you WH Auden's Letter to Lord Byron, roughly five stanzas at a time (which should obviate the need for cut-tags), but if I get behind I may have to double some days. Also some days there may be other or bonus poems, Just Because.


Excuse, my lord, the liberty I take
In thus addressing you. I know that you
Will pay the price of authorship and make
The allowances an author has to do.
A poet’s fan-mail will be nothing new.
And then a lord—Good Lord, you must be peppered,
Like Gary Cooper, Coughlin, or Dick Sheppard,

With notes from perfect strangers starting, ‘Sir,
I liked your lyrics, but Childe Harold’s trash,’
‘My daughter writes, should I encourage her?’
Sometimes containing frank demands for cash,
Sometimes sly hints at a platonic pash,
And sometimes, though I think this rather crude,
The correspondent’s photo in the rude.

And as for manuscripts—by every post . . .
I can’t improve on Pope’s shrill indignation,
But hope that it will please his spiteful ghost
To learn the use in culture’s propagation
Of modern methods of communication;
New roads, new rails, new contacts, as we know
From documentaries by the G.P.O.

For since the British Isles went Protestant
A church confession is too high for most.
But still confession is a human want,
So Englishmen must make theirs now by post
And authors hear them over breakfast toast.
For, failing them, there’s nothing but the wall
Of public lavatories on which to scrawl.

So if ostensibly I write to you
To chat about your poetry or mine,
There’s many other reasons: though it’s true
That I have, at the age of twenty-nine
Just read Don Juan and I found it fine.
I read it on the boat to Reykjavik
Except when eating or asleep or sick.


marnanightingale: (Default)

May 2014

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