Category Archive 'Poetry'
27 Mar 2020

Auden Was Apparently a Slob

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Seamus Perry, in Paris Review:

W. H. Auden had rented variously inadequate apartments since arriving back in New York at the end of the summer of 1945, and had most recently been living with Chester Kallman in a warehouse building on Seventh Avenue, an especially unsatisfactory place that lacked both hot water and a functional front door. So when he and Kallman moved to 77 Saint Mark’s Place on the Lower East Side, in February 1954, it promised to be a significant improvement; and he was certainly very pleased with the place from the start—“my N.Y. nest,” he called it. Auden would stay there until his ill-fated departure for Oxford in 1972, making it his longest single habitation. From 1949 he summered in Europe—in Ischia until 1957, when he bought a small farmhouse in Kirchstetten in Austria, which delighted him: he devoted a sequence, “Thanksgiving for a Habitat,” in his collection About the House (1965), to a celebration of his domestic existence there. It was in these summerhouses that he tended to write poems: New York was largely for his distinct life as a “man of letters,” a label he applied to himself. “It is a sad fact about our culture,” he once wrote, “that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it”; but at the same time he prided himself on his professionalism as a reviewer, essayist, anthologist, and commentator, work that in turn often suggested subjects for poems; and that work principally happened on Saint Mark’s.

Freshly installed, he excitedly invited round his young friend Charles Miller (“Come! I’ll take you on a tour”):

    The large first (entry) room with high ceiling had a green marbled fireplace flanked by built-in bookshelves, which also incorporated Wystan’s battered turntable with speaker equipment and his much-used collection of records and albums. A big shabby sofa and a swamped antique coffee table centered the cluttered room. I followed Wystan through an arch into a similar room at the front with another green marbled fireplace. This room was hardly furnished, except for built-in bookcases and Wystan’s small work table just touched by sunlight from the generous nineteenth-century windows. To the right of this room, as we faced Saint Mark’s Place, was a small room with its door to the stair hall nailed shut; the room had only a cot bed, on which Wystan slept, he said.

Just touched by sunlight, one imagines: as an undergraduate at Oxford, Auden had preferred to keep his curtains drawn at all times, and he seems to have adopted the same policy in America. When Stephen Spender had visited him in the forties he unwisely attempted to open the curtains and brought them crashing to the ground: “You idiot!” Auden scolded him, “why did you draw them? No one ever draws them. In any case there’s no daylight in New York.” Wystan’s succession of rooms gave his friend Margaret Gardiner “the sensation of brownish caverns, a brown that seemed to pervade everything, even the air itself.”

Auden’s territory was the front of the apartment; Kallman’s, the kitchen and the music room at the back of the flat, where there were also separate bedrooms for Kallman and for a tenant. Auden was especially pleased with the fireplaces, and he liked the porcelain tiles in the kitchen. The area had lots of Italian, Polish, and Ukrainian stores selling good food. And the building even had a history: Trotsky had once published works from its basement, a fact that seemed to please Auden; and, some more recent color, an illegal abortionist had been its previous inhabitant. (The flat was buzzed from time to time by would-be clients.) Auden placed his father’s barometer on the mantelpiece, and hung over it a watercolor by Blake, The Act of Creation, a present from his rich patron Caroline Newton. But his evident pride in the place did not translate into any instincts to be house-proud, as Miller’s retrospective account, despite its touches of fine writing, communicates well enough:

    The coffee table bore its household harvest of books, periodicals, half-emptied coffee cups scummed over with cream, a dash of cigarette ashes for good measure, and a heel of French bread (too tough for Wystan’s new dentures?). An oval platter served as ashtray, heaped with a homey Vesuvius of cigarette butts, ashes, bits of cellophane from discarded packs, a few martini-soaked olive pits, and a final cigarette stub issuing a frail plume of smoke from the top of the heap, signature of a dying volcano. This Auden-scape reeked of stale coffee grounds, tarry nicotine, and toe jam mixed with metro pollution and catshit, Wystanified tenement tang.

And this was his new flat. “The speed with which he could wreck a room was barely credible, certainly dangerous,” observed his friend James Stern. He spoke from experience. On one occasion he had left Auden in his flat for the day, dropping back shortly afterward to pick something up: “If it hadn’t been for the pictures on the walls I wouldn’t have known where I was,” Stern remembered: “Frustrated burglars could not have created greater chaos … God, Wystan, was a mess! ‘My dear, I do love this apartment, but I can’t understand why it doesn’t have more ashtrays!’ ” The Saint Mark’s apartment rapidly came to resemble what Robert Craft, Stravinsky’s right-hand man, had witnessed with some incredulity in Auden’s previous place, a litter of “empty bottles, used martini glasses, books, papers, phonograph records.” Dinner with them would be boozy and delicious (Kallman was an excellent cook); but the cutlery would be greasy and the plates often only imperfectly washed. “He is the dirtiest man I have ever liked,” said Stravinsky of Auden, a touching if qualified mark of regard.

RTWT

22 Mar 2020

“The Ballad of Dunny Roll”

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A contemporary problem described in the style of the great Australian bard, Banjo Patterson.

HT: Vanderleun.

03 May 2019

A Zen Death Poem

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Sixty-six times my eyes

have contemplated the ephemeral spectacle of autumn.

I’ve talked enough about the light

of the moon. Don’t ask me more.

Listen only to the voice of the pines and

of cedars when there is no longer a breath of wind.

The nun Ryōnen Gensō (1646-1711)

05 Mar 2019

Anna Akhmatova Died This Day in 1966

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About her husband, Nicolai Gumilev.

He loved…

He loved three things alone:

White peacocks, evensong,

Old maps of America.

He hated children crying,

And raspberry jam with his tea,

And womanish hysteria.

… And he had married me.

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1911)

– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas.

29 Jan 2019

Edgar Allen Poe: “The Raven”

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First published January 29, 1845 in the New York Evening Mirror.

The Raven
— Edgar Allan Poe (1809 — 1849)

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never—nevermore.'”

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

26 Sep 2018

Old but Good

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25 Sep 2018

Scott Fitzgerald Reads Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale

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01 Sep 2018

The Cuirassiers Of The Frontier

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Goths, Vandals, Huns, Isaurian mountaineers,
Made Roman by our Roman sacrament,
We can know little (as we care little)
Of the Metropolis: her candled churches,
Her white-gowned pederastic senators,
The cut-throat factions of her Hippodrome,
The eunuchs of her draped saloons.

Here is the frontier, here our camp and place—
Beans for the pot, fodder for horses, And Roman arms.
Enough. He who among us
At full gallop, the bowstring to his ear,
Lets drive his heavy arrows, to sink
Stinging through Persian corslets damascened,
Then follows with the lance—he has our love.

The Christ bade Holy Peter sheathe his sword,
Being outnumbered by the Temple guard.
And this was prudence, the cause not yet lost
While Peter might persuade the crowd to rescue.
Peter reneged, breaking his sacrament.
With us the penalty is death by stoning,
Not to be made a bishop.

In Peter’s Church there is no faith nor truth,
Nor justice anywhere in palace or court.
That we continue watchful on the rampart
Concerns no priest. A gaping silken dragon,
Puffed by the wind, suffices us for God.
We, not the City, are the Empire’s soul:
A rotten tree lives only in its rind.

— Robert Graves,

19 Jul 2018

Kipling’s “If” Removed from University Wall by Students

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Telegraph:

He is regarded as one of England’s greatest writers, whose poems were praised as the nation’s favourites and whose books were lauded as classics of children’s literature.

But it appears that Rudyard Kipling has fallen out of favour with today’s generation of students, after it emerged that his “If” poem has been scrubbed off a building by university students who claim he was a “racist”.

Student leaders at Manchester University declared that Kipling “stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights”.

The poem, which had been painted on the wall of the students’ union building by an artist, was removed by students on Tuesday, in a bid to “reclaim” history on behalf of those who have been “oppressed” by “the likes of Kipling”.

In lieu of Kipling’s If, students used a black marker pen to write out the poem Still I Rise by Maya Angelou on the same stretch of wall.

    today, as a team, we removed an imperialist’s work from the walls of our union and replaced them with words of the maya angelou – god knows black and brown voices have been written out of history enough, and it’s time we try to reverse that, at the very least in our union ✊🏽 pic.twitter.com/VT5N3zlfyN
    — Fatima Abid (@fatimabidSU) July 16, 2018

Sara Khan, the liberation and access officer at Manchester’s students’ union (SU), blamed a “failure to consult students” during the renovation of the SU building for the Kipling poem being painted on the wall in the first place.

“We, as an exec team, believe that Kipling stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights – the things that we, as an SU, stand for,” Miss Khan said.

RTWT

13 Dec 2017

Rejection Letter

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13 Nov 2017

Poem

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FROM MYTHOLOGY

First there was a god of night and tempest, a black idol without eyes, before whom they leaped, naked and smeared with blood. Later on, in the times of the republic, there were many gods with wives, children, creaking beds, and harmlessly exploding thunderbolts. At the end only superstitious neurotics carried in their pockets little statues of salt, representing the god of irony. There was no greater god at that time.

Then came the barbarians. They too valued highly the little god of irony. They would crush it under their heels and add it to their dishes.

–Zbigniew Herbert

22 Oct 2016

“A Case For Jefferson”

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robertfrost

A Case for Jefferson
by Robert Frost

Harrison loves my country too,
But wants it all made over new.
He’s Freudian Viennese by night.
By day he’s Marxian Muscovite.
It isn’t because he’s Russian Jew.
He’s Puritan Yankee through and through.
He dotes on Saturday pork and beans.
But his mind is hardly out of his teens:
With him the love of country means
Blowing it all to smithereens
And having it all made over new.

Hat tip to neo-neocon via Vanderleun.

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