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Poem By Auden Essay

4238 words - 17 pages

Page 1 of 11 Article on Auden' September 1 1939.doc
DISCUSSION OF SEPTEMBER 1, 1939 BY W H AUDEN Tickey de Jager In 1984 Joseph Brodsky gave a lecture on this poem at Columbia University. It is printed on 53 pages in his book, Less Than One. This discussion is little more (or may be less) than a shorter version of that. It is written as a guide to the poem for people who do not have access to Brodsky's work, or would find 53 pages too intimidating. Because this is not for publication, I will quote Brodsky whenever I feel it will help the reader. I hope that seeing the quality of his writing will encourage some of my readers to read this and other works of Brodsky. Here is the poem. The ...view middle of the document...

Faces along the bar 5 Cling to their average day: The lights must never go out, The music must always play, All the conventions conspire To make this fort assume The furniture of home; Lest we should see where we are, Lost in a haunted wood, Children afraid of the night Who have never been happy or good. The windiest militant trash 6 Important Persons shout Is not so crude as our wish: What mad Nijinsky wrote About Diaghilev Is true of the normal heart; For the error bred in the bone Of each woman and each man Craves what it cannot have, Not universal love But to be loved alone. From the conservative dark 7 Into the ethical life The dense commuters come, Repeating their morning vow; "I will be true to the wife, I'll concentrate more on my work," And helpless governors wake To resume their compulsory game: Who can release them now, Who can reach the deaf, Who can speak for the dumb?

Page 3 of 11 Article on Auden' September 1 1939.doc
All I have is a voice 8 To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And the lie of Authority Whose buildings grope the sky: There is no such thing as the State And no one exists alone; Hunger allows no choice To the citizen or the police; We must love one another or die. Defenceless under the night 9 Our world in stupour lies; Yet, dotted everywhere, Ironic points of light Flash out wherever the Just Exchange their messages: May I, composed like them Of Eros and of dust, Beleaguered by the same Negation and despair, Show an affirming flame. Let someone first introduce Auden.
Edward Mendelson in the preface to his Selected Poems of Auden: "Auden was the first poet writing in English who felt at home in the twentieth century. He welcomed into his poetry all the disordered conditions of his time, all its variety of language and event. In this, as in almost everything else, he differed from his modernist predecessors such as Yeats, Lawrence, Eliot or Pound, who turned away from a flawed present to some lost illusory Eden where life was unified, hierarchy secure, and the grand style a natural extension of the vernacular. All of this Auden rejected. His continuing subject was the task of the present moment: erotic and political tasks in his early poems, ethical and religious ones later. When Auden looked back into history, it was to seek the causes of his present condition, that he may act better and more effectively in the future. The past his poems envisioned was never a southern classical domain of unreflective elegance, as it was for the modernists, but a past that had always been ruined, a northern industrial landscape marred by the same violence that marred his own." . . . "Auden was never altogether happy in his role as poetic prophet to the English left, and he was often most divided when he appeared most committed. As early as 1936 he sensed that if he were ever to escape the temptations to fame and to the power to shape opinion that led him to accept this role, he would...

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