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Tag: Auden

Epitaph for an enemy

Saturday, 27 April, 2019

The Anglo-Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) was born on this day in 1904. Along with being the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, celebrity chef Tamasin Day-Lewis and critic Sean Day-Lewis, he was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. “The poet’s inverted snobbery in dropping the hyphen in his name on his publications (beginning in 1927) has been a source of trouble for librarians and bibliographers ever since,” is how his biographer at the Poetry Foundation puts it.

Cecil Day-Lewis became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1935 and he practiced the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist faith until the early 1950s. He renounced it in 1960 and his detective story, The Sad Variety (1964), written using the pseudonym Nicholas Blake, is a derisive portrayal of doctrinaire communists and their role in the brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. While the works of his poetic friends Auden and Spender have endured the test of time, his own verse has faded. The visceral sentiment at the heart of Epitaph for an Enemy continues to pulsate, however.

Epitaph for an Enemy

You ask, “What sort of man
Was this?”
— No worthier than
A pendulum which makes
Between its left and right
Involuntary arcs
Proving from morn to night
No contact anywhere
With human or sublime —
A punctual tick
A mere accessory of Time

His leaden act was done
He stopped, and Time went on.

Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 – 1972)

The enemy


An epitaph for an enemy

Sunday, 22 May, 2016 0 Comments

The Anglo-Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) died on this day in 1972. He was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972, and the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, celebrity chef Tamasin Day-Lewis and critic Sean Day-Lewis. “The poet’s inverted snobbery in dropping the hyphen in his name on his publications (beginning in 1927) has been a source of trouble for librarians and bibliographers ever since,” is how his biographer at the Poetry Foundation puts it.

Cecil Day-Lewis became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1935 and he adhered to its Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist line until the early 1950s. He renounced communism in 1960 in his autobiography, Buried Day, and his detective story, The Sad Variety (1964), is a contemptuous portrayal of doctrinaire communists and their role in the brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. While the works of his poetic friends, Auden and Spender, have endured the test of time, his own verse has faded. The visceral sentiment at the heart of Epitaph for an Enemy continues to echo, however.

Epitaph for an Enemy

You ask, “What sort of man
Was this?”
— No worthier than
A pendulum which makes
Between its left and right
Involuntary arcs
Proving from morn to night
No contact anywhere
With human or sublime —
A punctual tick
A mere accessory of Time

His leaden act was done
He stopped, and Time went on.

Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 – 1972)

The enemy


Boris Nemtsov and the tyrant

Sunday, 1 March, 2015 0 Comments

In his final interview, hours before he was shot dead on Friday night, Boris Nemtsov said that he was a patriot, but one who regarded the Russian flag as a “symbol of freedom” from Soviet tyranny. Vladimir Putin has revived that tyranny by creating an atmosphere of hatred, driven by an hysterical propaganda offensive that portrays opponents as traitors. Boris Nemtsov, who “died in the streets”, just outside the Kremlin, is the latest victim of the evil that W. H. Auden so brilliantly depicted during a former age of tyranny. It is a tragedy that Russia is again ruled by such wickedness.

Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

The Tyrant


He was greatly interested in armies and fleets

Sunday, 2 March, 2014 0 Comments

The word “tyrant” came to the late Middle English from the Old French tyrannie, which had its origins in the late Latin tyrannia, derived from the Latin tyrannus, via the Greek turannos, meaning “monarch, ruler of a polis”. According to Senator John McCain, Vladimir Putin is “a tyrant at home, a friend of tyrants abroad.” […]

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Today is Plough Monday

Monday, 6 January, 2014 1 Comment

The Epiphany of the Lord that’s celebrated by the Catholic Church on 6 January is called the Feast of Theophany by Eastern Orthodox Christians and it’s one of the great events of their liturgical year. The Church of England, meanwhile, celebrates the Epiphany on the Twelfth Night and its adherents refer to today as Plough Monday.

“Is my team ploughing? / That I was used to drive / And hear the harness jingle / When I was man alive?” asked the English poet A.E. Housman. His countryman, W. H. Auden, was less rustic but his subjects were rooted in the same traditions. His extraordinary lyric, For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratio, is some 1,500 lines long and meditates on a Christmas for the time after Christmas. The poem serves as an annual reminder that the child born in Bethlehem has acted “to redeem from insignificance” the routines of our everyday lives that are often associated with tedious Monday mornings. Snippet:

For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratio

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes —
Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
“Lead us 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. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God’s Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

W.H. Auden (1907 — 1973)

team ploughing


Watching Assad, thinking of Auden

Thursday, 19 September, 2013 2 Comments

When asked whether he would be willing to hand over chemical weapons to the US, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, speaking to Fox News, said: “It needs about one billion. It is very detrimental to the environment. If the American administration is ready to pay this money and take the responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don’t they do it?”

He murders thousands, he exiles millions and now he wants to make a killing on the deadly weapons he once denied possessing. It’s time to read some Auden. In Time of War was composed in 1937 against the backdrop of the Sino-Japanese war, the occasion of many atrocities, and it holds up a mirror to human nature, especially its tyrannical aspect. Auden characterized the 1930s as “the age of anxiety” and his work deserves re-reading, given the the anxieties of our age.

In Time of War

Songs came no more: he had to make them.
With what precision was each strophe planned.
He hugged his sorrow like a plot of land,
And walked like an assassin through the town,
And looked at men and did not like them,
But trembled if one passed him with a frown.

W.H Auden (1907 — 1973)


Auden on a Good Friday

Friday, 6 April, 2012

If there’s ever an award for a poem deemed worthy of Good Friday reflection, among the more deserving winners surely would be the grief-filled Funeral Blues by Wystan Hugh Auden. Funeral Blues Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, Prevent the dog from barking at a juicy bone, Silence the pianos and with muffled […]

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