Friday, February 21, 2014

"To hold off chaos at arm's length"

Since today marks the 107th anniversary of the birth of the great twentieth century English poet, Wystan Hugh Auden, known, of course, simply as W.H. Auden, our Friday traditio is a given.



Without a doubt, Auden is one of my favorite poets. My copy of his collected poems is worn and dog-eared and I wouldn't replace it for the world. Our Friday traditio is a video of Auden reciting his 1969 poem, "Doggrel by a Senior Citizen." My Dutch readers will be happy to learn that it features Dutch subtitles. The video gets off to a ragged start. Here is the first stanza, which is garbled:

Our earth in 1969
Is not the planet I call mine,
The world, I mean, that gives me strength
To hold off chaos at arm's length.




I find his slip-up charming. I am hard-pressed to think of a contemporary English-speaking figure, public intellectual, if you will, of the depth and humanity of W.H. Auden.

Three stanzas from "Doggrel"-


The Book of Common Prayer we knew
Was that of 1662:
Though with-it sermons may be well,
Liturgical reforms are hell.

Sex was of course -- it always is --
The most enticing of mysteries,
But news-stands did not then supply
Manichean pornography.

Then Speech was mannerly, an Art,
Like learning not to belch or fart:
I cannot settle which is worse,
The Anti-Novel or Free Verse.

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