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Tag: W. H. Auden

Cavafy in April on Candles

Sunday, 29 April, 2018 0 Comments

Hosted by the Cavafy Archive and the Onassis Foundation, the International Cavafy Summer School will take place from 9 to 15 July in Athens. “Knowledge of Modern Greek is not a prerequisite, but familiarity with Cavafy’s work is,” say the organizers.

W.H. Auden famously observed that the poetry of Cavafy seemed to survive translation remarkably well, and that it was marked by “a tone of voice, a personal speech immediately recognizable as a poem by Cavafy; nobody else could possibly have written it.” Born on 29 April 1863, Constantine P. Cavafy died on 29 April 1933.

Candles

Days to come stand in front of us,
like a row of burning candles —
golden, warm, and vivid candles.
Days past fall behind us,
a gloomy line of burnt-out candles;
the nearest are still smoking,
cold, melted, and bent.
I don’t want to look at them: their shape saddens me,
and it saddens me to remember their original light.
I look ahead at my burning candles.
I don’t want to turn, don’t want to see, terrified,
how quickly that dark line gets longer,
how quickly one more dead candle joins another.

Constantine P. Cavafy

Candles in Milan


W.H Auden on Gerry Adams

Monday, 20 November, 2017 0 Comments

The weekend news that Gerry Adams intends to stand down next year as the leader of Sinn Féin brought to mind W. H. Auden’s Epitaph on a Tyrant. The great poem ends with the observation that when the tyrant cried “little children died in the streets” and there can be no doubt that many little children died at the hands of Adams and his evil companions. One thinks, for example, of three-year-old Johnathan Ball and 12-year-old Tim Parry, murdered by Sinn Fein/IRA in 1993 in Warrington.

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 wolves among us and around us

Sunday, 3 September, 2017 0 Comments

Homo homini lupus est is a Latin proverb meaning “A man is a wolf to another man.” And this truth is a lesson that life teaches again and again. The proverb’s wisdom is incorporated in Wolves, one of Louis MacNeice’s best-known poems. He wrote it in 1934 and it’s often viewed as a meditation on that dark decade and an expectation of the horrors that were to come, but treating Wolves merely as a relic of those days doesn’t do it justice because the idea of wolves lurking on the edges of civilization goes far deeper than any specific historical period. “He’d remind you of a wolf,” my mother would say when viewing a particularly lupine individual prowling past her front window.

Louis MacNeice was a Northern Irish poet and a member of the lyrical generation of that included W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis. Born in Belfast on 12 September 1907, he died in London on this day, 3 September, in 1963.

Wolves

I do not want to be reflective any more
Envying and despising unreflective things
Finding pathos in dogs and undeveloped handwriting
And young girls doing their hair and all the castles of sand
Flushed by the children’s bedtime, level with the shore.

The tide comes in and goes out again, I do not want
To be always stressing either its flux or its permanence,
I do not want to be a tragic or philosophic chorus
But to keep my eye only on the nearer future
And after that let the sea flow over us.

Come then all of you, come closer, form a circle,
Join hands and make believe that joined
Hands will keep away the wolves of water
Who howl along our coast. And be it assumed
That no one hears them among the talk and laughter.

Louis MacNeice (1907 – 1963)

Wolf


The dreamy, liquid daybreak of Stephen Spender

Sunday, 28 February, 2016 0 Comments

On this day in 1909, Stephen Spender was born. A member of a generation of British poets who came to prominence in the 1930s, he counted W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Cecil Day Lewis and Louis MacNeice as contemporaries. Like many daring young intellectuals of the era, Spender became a member of the Communist party and was adventurous in his sexuality. His autobiographical World within World, published in 1951, created a commotion with the disclosure of a homosexual relationship he had had at the time of the Spanish Civil War, but the affair ended when Spender married.

When critic Helen Vendler compared Spender and Auden she concluded that no two poets could have been more different. “Auden’s rigid, brilliant, peremptory, categorizing, allegorical mind demanded forms altogether different from Spender’s dreamy, liquid, guilty, hovering sensibility,” she wrote, adding: “Auden is a poet of firmly historical time, Spender of timeless nostalgic space.” Daybreak is dreamy and timeless.

Daybreak

At dawn she lay with her profile at that angle
Which, when she sleeps, seems the carved face of an angel.
Her hair a harp, the hand of a breeze follows
And plays, against the white cloud of the pillows.
Then, in a flush of rose, she woke and her eyes that opened
Swam in blue through her rose flesh that dawned.
From her dew of lips, the drop of one word
Fell like the first of fountains: murmured
‘Darling’, upon my ears the song of the first bird.
‘My dream becomes my dream,’ she said, ‘come true.
I waken from you to my dream of you.’
Oh, my own wakened dream then dared assume
The audacity of her sleep. Our dreams
Poured into each other’s arms, like streams.

Stephen Spender (1909 – 1995)

Dawn


Auden in a time of public shaming

Sunday, 21 February, 2016 0 Comments

On this day in 1907, the poet Wystan Hugh Auden was born. Alexander McCall Smith, author of What WH Auden Can Do For You, describes him as an astonishingly versatile lyricist who “wrote about rocks, about love, about psychoanalysis, about the bacteria that live on our skin, about war and about cooking. In the Thirties he was a political poet; after going to America he re-embraced Christianity. In his later years he became positively Horatian in his tastes, preaching the virtues of the domestic life and simple pleasures.” Auden is kaleidoscopic and timeless; At Last the Secret is Out is the proof.

    Background: The British writer/actor Stephen Fry made headlines earlier this week with a joke about his friend, costume designer Jenny Beavan. Following Beavan’s appearance at the BAFTA film awards, Fry said, “Only one of the great cinematic costume designers would come to the awards ceremony dressed like a bag lady.” Furious accusations of misogyny followed and, appalled by the humourlessness of the PC mob, Fry quit Twitter.

Jon Ronson explores this kind of public humiliation in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, a book about reputation in an era of hysteria and recreational rage. The flames of shame are fanned today on social media but this is just an amplification of what was common in Auden’s time because “there is always a wicked secret” and it will out.

At Last the Secret is Out

At last the secret is out,
as it always must come in the end,
the delicious story is ripe to tell
to tell to the intimate friend;
over the tea-cups and into the square
the tongue has its desire;
still waters run deep, my dear,
there’s never smoke without fire.

Behind the corpse in the reservoir,
behind the ghost on the links,
behind the lady who dances
and the man who madly drinks,
under the look of fatigue
the attack of migraine and the sigh
there is always another story,
there is more than meets the eye.

For the clear voice suddenly singing,
high up in the convent wall,
the scent of the elder bushes,
the sporting prints in the hall,
the croquet matches in summer,
the handshake, the cough, the kiss,
there is always a wicked secret,
a private reason for this.

W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

WH Auden


David Bowie (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016)

Monday, 11 January, 2016 0 Comments

“And I’m floating / in a most peculiar way / And the stars look very different today.” — David Bowie, Space Oddity. With his command to “Silence the pianos and with muffled drum,” and his request to “Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come,” W H Auden is appropriate for this dark day on which a great star has gone out. Rest In Peace.

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

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

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W H Auden


Armitage, the Aga and slices of lemon drizzle cake

Sunday, 21 June, 2015 0 Comments

The first ever Professor of Poetry at Oxford University was Joseph Trapp, in 1708. Among his literary works was The Church of England defended against the Church of Rome, in Answer to a late Sophistical and Insolent Popish Book. Trapp was followed down the centuries by names including Matthew Arnold, W.H. Auden, Robert Graves, John Wain, Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon. The incumbent is Sir Geoffrey Hill and he will retire at the end of this academic term. On Friday, it was announced that Simon Armitage is to be his successor. Charlotte Runcie was lukewarm in her reaction: “Certainly his lectures will be warm, contemporary and thoughtful. But his genial, slightly scruffy demeanour on endless arts documentaries has lent him the reputation of a poet to read while taking a second helping of lemon drizzle cake with your feet up by the Aga. This is not a good thing,” she wrote in The Telegraph.

On the other hand, Britain’s Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, welcomed the decision, calling Armitage “a fine, vocational poet and a brilliant communicator for the modern age who never forgets the roots and ancestry of poetry.” Anyone who can divide the house of poetry must be worth reading.

I Say I Say I Say

Autoplay next video
Anyone here had a go at themselves
for a laugh? Anyone opened their wrists
with a blade in the bath? Those in the dark
at the back, listen hard. Those at the front
in the know, those of us who have, hands up,
let’s show that inch of lacerated skin
between the forearm and the fist. Let’s tell it
like it is: strong drink, a crimson tidemark
round the tub, a yard of lint, white towels
washed a dozen times, still pink. Tough luck.
A passion then for watches, bangles, cuffs.
A likely story: you were lashed by brambles
picking berries from the woods. Come clean, come good,
repeat with me the punch line ‘Just like blood’
when those at the back rush forward to say
how a little love goes a long long long way.

Simon Armitage


Drinking and singing with Yeats

Sunday, 14 June, 2015 1 Comment

“Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry” said W.H. Auden to W. B. Yeats, who was born 150 years ago yesterday. He was one of the great figures of 20th century letters and no greater tribute can be paid to the man than to say that his verse is filled with eternal verity.

A Drinking Song

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

W. B. Yeats (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939)


Leap Before You Look

Sunday, 10 May, 2015 0 Comments

The proverb “Look before you leap” was first recorded in John Heywood’s A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, published in 1546. Some believe that it originated in the wisdom of checking a fence before jumping over it on horseback, but others say it expresses an ancient warning about rashly rushing into marriage.

W. H. Auden turned the proverb on its head 75 years ago and urged readers to experience all that life has to offer instead of worrying about every possible outcome. Danger is everywhere: “Our dream of safety has to disappear.” The best place to be is in the present says Auden. If “tough minded men” have no problem breaking silly “by-laws” that any “fool can keep”, why should the rest of us live in fear?

Leap Before You Look

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

W. H. Auden


Neither fading nor decaying, unaging

Wednesday, 13 November, 2013 0 Comments

If those much-derided artificial flowers on the hospital bedside table lack scent says C.P.Cavafy, there’s no need to get upset. “We’ll pour out perfume, burn romantic myrrh before them.” Oscar Wilde would have loved that approach to such an aesthetic challenge.

Artificial Flowers

I don’t want real narcissi — neither lilies
nor real roses please me,
decorating trite and common gardens. I am grieved,
fatigued, afflicted by their flesh
their perishable beauty bores me.

Give me artificial flowers — porcelain and metal glories —
neither fading nor decaying, forms unaging.
Flowers of the splendid gardens of another place,
where Forms and Styles and Knowledge dwell.

I love flowers made of glass or gold,
true Art’s true gifts,
their painted hues more beautiful than nature’s,
worked in nacre and enamel,
with perfect leaves and branches.

Their charm derives from wise and pure Good Taste;
they didn’t vilely sprout in dust or mud.
If they lack scent, we’ll pour out perfume,
burn romantic myrrh before them.

C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 — 29 April 1933). Artificial Flowers translated by Peter J. King and Andrea Christofidou

“But if the importance of Cavafy’s poetry is his unique tone of voice, there is nothing for a critic to say,” wrote W.H. Auden, and he continued: “For criticism can only make comparisons. A unique tone of voice cannot be described; it can only be imitated, that is to say, either parodied or quoted.” Then, paying the ultimate compliment, Auden noted: “I have read translations of Cavafy made by many different hands, but every one of them was immediately recognizable as a poem by Cavafy; nobody else could possibly have written it.”


Candles day

Monday, 17 June, 2013 0 Comments

W.H. Auden famously observed that the poetry of Cavafy seemed to survive translation remarkably well, and that it was marked by “a tone of voice, a personal speech immediately recognizable as a poem by Cavafy; nobody else could possibly have written it.” If there is a thread running through Cavafy’s take on life, it’s transience.

Candles

Days to come stand in front of us,
like a row of burning candles —
golden, warm, and vivid candles.
Days past fall behind us,
a gloomy line of burnt-out candles;
the nearest are still smoking,
cold, melted, and bent.
I don’t want to look at them: their shape saddens me,
and it saddens me to remember their original light.
I look ahead at my burning candles.
I don’t want to turn, don’t want to see, terrified,
how quickly that dark line gets longer,
how quickly one more dead candle joins another.

Constantine P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 — 29 April 1933)

Candles