Posts Tagged ‘W.H. Auden’

Flashback Friday — Just Another Auden October: Autumn Song

October 28, 2011

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.

Just Another Auden October: A lane to the land of the dead

October 27, 2011


Photographed by Logan White.

The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

(W.H. Auden, “As I Walked Out One Evening.” Juvenelia, 1922-1928).

Just Another Auden October: The terminal point of addiction

October 26, 2011


All sins tend to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is damnation.

(W.H. Auden, “Hell.” A Certain World, 1970).

Just Another Auden October: Musee des Beaux Arts

October 25, 2011


“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.

Just Another Auden October: Let music for peace / Be the paradigm

October 24, 2011



Let mortals beware of words
For with words we lie,
Can speak peace
When we mean war.



But song is true.
Let music for peace
Be the paradigm,
For peace means change
At the right time.

(W.H. Auden, “Hymn to the United Nations.” 1971.)

Just Another Auden October: The dreadful wood of conscious evil

October 23, 2011


“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.)

Flashback Friday: Just Another Auden October, Harrow the house of the dead edition

October 21, 2011

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: Apocalypse yesterday

October 19, 2011


via.

The stars are dead; the animals will not look:
We are left alone with our day, and the time is short and
History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot help or pardon.

(W. H. Auden, “Spain.” 90-93. 1937. )

Anything that men make will shake apart*. Eventually the feats of engineering and machinery humanity has wrought will fall to ruin, maybe sooner than later. Running will be no good: depend on it.


Photograph of Auden’s typewriter via swarthmore.

This poem was first published as “Spain” in 1937. Auden included it in his 1940 anthology Another Time as “Spain 1937” but later disavowed the poem’s political and apocalyptic tone, saying that he never really believed what he’d written, but wrote it because he thought it would be “rhetorically effective.” According to the late Frank Kermode, Auden hated most of all the above, which is the final stanza of “Spain”/”Spain 1937.”

I like it.




*(Except plutonium rods. I admit that those are going to take a really long time to shake apart. Way to fucking go, everybody.)

Just Another Auden October: Faith in humanity

October 4, 2011


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.)

Just Another Auden October: King Zing

October 3, 2011


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.

Daily Batman: Just Another Auden October

October 2, 2011


No human being is innocent, but there is a class of innocent human actions called Games.

(W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand. 1962.)

Short-shrifted Mr. A last year and I’m looking to remedy. Welcome to Just Another Auden October.

Auden October: “I was wrong.”

October 28, 2010


via.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

(W.H. Auden. “Song IX,” Twelve Songs. 1936.)

Auden October: Look shining at a change of heart

October 27, 2010


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.

Auden October and Fight Club Friday: All that we are not

October 22, 2010


When I woke in to my life, a sobbing dwarf
Whom giants served only as they pleased, I was not what I seemed;
Beyond their busy backs I made a magic
To ride away from a father’s imperfect justice,
Take vengeance on the Romans for their grammar,

(Auden, W.H. The Sea and the Mirror: A Commentary on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. 1944.)


Usurp the popular earth and blot out for ever
The gross insult of being a mere one among many…

… I am that I am, your late and lonely master;
Who knows now what magic is; — the power to enchant
That comes from disillusion.

(Ibid.)


All that we are not stares back at what we are.

(Ibid.)

The speaker is Prospero, addressing Ariel.

Auden October: “Autumn Song”

October 20, 2010


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.

Auden October: Alone about the dreadful wood

October 19, 2010


“Enchanted forest” by ostmo on the d.a.

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 Oratio.” 1942.)

Auden October: Inaugural edition, “The More Loving One”

October 6, 2010

This month will focus on W.H. Auden. Starting … now.


Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.


How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.


Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.


Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

(Auden, W.H. “The More Loving One.” Homage to Clio. New York: Random House. 1960.)


via rimbaud-was-a-rolling-stone on the tumblr.

It seems to me, I suppose unfairly, that in a pair there is always a lover and a lovee. My nearly lifelong preference for the safely sheltered harbor of being a lovee has made me deliberately pass over and miss crucial opportunities, not to mention made a secret hypocrite and liar of me many times over, while allowing me never to really share all of myself.


Masculin Féminin (Godard, 1966).

It’s a journey that lacks the thrill of a rocky climb or winding bridge over water where your hands are clasped and you jump together over giant roots; it’s a dry, smooth, straight path that lacks all scenery and leaves you feeling more alone with someone else than by yourself. To consciously choose to change this behavior (which of course is a shield I long ago threw up to defend against pain down the road and have never fallen out of the habit) is one of my many resolves, but one that I don’t know when I will possibly be ready to put in to practice.


via bleedtoblack on the tumblr.

Oh — I’m coming at this poem from the perspective that it’s about more than stars. But even just the stars layer of meaning is cool, too, I guess.