‘Lead us not into temptation and evil for our sake.’
They will come all right, don’t worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine.
(W.H. Auden, For the Time Being; A Christmas Oratorio, 1942).
Archive for the ‘Just Another Auden October’ Category
This entry originally appeared on October 20, 2010 at 9:19 am.
Photographed by mjagiellicz on the d.a.
Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse’s flowers will not last,
Nurses to their graves are gone,
But the prams go rolling on.
Photographed by bittersea on the d.a.
Whispering neighbors left and right
Daunt us from our true delight,
Able hands are forced to freeze
Derelict on lonely knees.
Photographed by leenaraven on the d.a.
Close behind us on our track,
Dead in hundreds cry Alack,
Arms raised stiffly to reprove
In false attitudes of love.
Photographed by cookiemonstah on the d.a.
Scrawny through a plundered wood,
Trolls run scolding for their food,
Owl and nightingale are dumb,
And the angel will not come.
Photographed by redribboninyourhair on the d.a.
Clear, unscalable, ahead
Rise the Mountains of Instead,
From whose cold, cascading streams
None may drink except in dreams.
(Auden, W.H. “VI.:Autumn Song.” Twelve Songs. March 1936.)
If ever there were a view on which to turn your back à la Gertrude Stein, a sweeping vista of the Mountains of Instead would be the one. No going back. Too late. Prams rolling on. Breathtaking strong tide of inevitability that takes all the water with it and leaves you and your petty fears and dreams dragging in the dust.
Time is stolen from us in such tiny ways — although I guess it is scarcely a theft when you never lock the door or look out the window to see if there is a shadow waiting for you to turn your back, as if all you possess are invincible by dint of being yours — and we use landmark occasions to mark the loss, but we only once in a while really look at what momentous and yet totally miniscule shit comprises what is destined to be our one and only, short history.
This Autumn was already weighing as heavily on me as last year. Now all I feel like I can handle doing is to take a hot bath and climb back beneath the covers (you see what I mean about aiding in our own robbery by time?). Thanks a lot, Auden. I guess what scares me most about it is does it always steal up on you? Does it just sneak up and you turn around and cry out, “Oh, not yet. It can’t be time yet. I’m not finished. I thought I would have more time.”
Photographed by disco_ball on the d.a.
Is there any way to escape that, that moment of realization, that punch in the gut when the waste, all the time you wasted suddenly comes rushing up around you so you can’t even breathe? Your life is over and you’re not ready because you thought you could always keep backsliding, that there would be special accounting for prodigal, last minute, golden you, who always slid in under the wire, who always got a second chance if you smiled big enough when you asked. There is no talking or charming or dodging your way out of final reckoning, and no method by which I can imagine escaping the horror of that realization, and you finally turn around and see the Mountains of Instead. You made them that tall. What do you do about the regret which will follow. Is there a way to soften that blow?
I don’t think there is. I can make vows about viewing this poem as a cautionary tale, and shine you on about how I plan on avoiding such a fate by making every moment count, and on and on until the sun goes supernova, but a plucky attitude does not lower the Mountains of Instead even an inch. No changing the past. No erasing regrets. That is just some fucked up shit right there.
“Lady Writing a Letter With Her Maid.” Jan Vermeer, 1677.
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
“A Youth Making a Face.” Adriaen Brouwer, 1635.
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.
“Landscape With the Fall of Icarus”. Pieter Brueghel*, 1558.
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.
(W.H. Auden, “Musee des Beaux Artes.” 1938).
*It has been discovered through radiocarbon dating that Landscape With the Fall of Icarus is not by Brueghel the Elder, though it is thought to be based on a lost painting of his, and that association lead to the centuries-long misattribution of the painting’s provenance.
“Ritual Dance” by Aëla Labbé.
Alone, alone, about the dreadful wood
Of conscious evil runs a lost mankind,
Dreading to find its Father.
(W.H. Auden, For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. 1941-2.)
Photographed by bagnino on the da.
This great society is going smash;
They cannot fool us with how fast they go,
How much they cost each other and the gods.
A culture is no better than its woods.
(W.H. Auden, Bucolics II: “Woods.” 1952. 51-54)
This post originally appeared on at October 27, 2010 at 8:45 a.m.
Photographed by Mieke Willems.
Prohibit sharply the rehearsed response
And gradually correct the coward’s stance. …
Harrow the house of the dead; look shining at
New styles of architecture, a change of heart.
(W.H. Auden, “Petition.”)
Like that bird, for instance — do you think he woke up knowing he’d get to perch on a pert ass today? I expect not: I expect he thought it would be just another day, the same as all the others he has lived.
I guess what I’m suggesting is that, as Auden petitions, it is worthwhile to defy the lessons of experience, throw caution to the wind, and look with a hopeful heart for the unexpected and unpredictable new. How to completely go about doing that I am less certain of, but I know that it must be worth trying.
Just Another Auden October: Composed of Eros and of dust, show an affirming flame — ft. photography by Andre de DienesOctober 20, 2011
All photographs by Andre de Dienes.
The date in the poem’s title refers, of course, to the invasion of Poland by Hitler’s Wehrmacht … or does it refer with remarkably prescient precedence to my birthday?
No. It refers to the other thing.
Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982). Previously discussed here during E.E. Cummings month.
May it not be that, just as we have to have faith in Him, God has to have faith in us and, considering the history of the human race so far, may it not be that “faith” is even more difficult for Him than it is for us?
(W.H. Auden, “God”. A Certain World, 1970.)
Men will pay large sums to whores
for telling them they are not bores.
(W.H. Auden. “New Year Letter to Elizabeth Mayer.” 1941.)
Larry King and fourth wife Shawn Southwick King.