Poem W. H. Auden

Possible Duplicates: W. H. Auden – Letter to Lord Byron [Fourth stanza]

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A ship again; this time the Dettifoss.
Grierson can buy it; all the sea I mean,
All this Atlantic that we’ve now to cross
Heading for England’s pleasant pastures green.
Pro tem I’ve done with the Icelandic scene;
I watch the hills receding in the distance,
I hear the thudding of an engine’s pistons.

I hope I’m better, wiser for the trip:
I’ve had the benefit of northern breezes,
The open road and good companionship,
I’ve seen some very pretty little pieces;
And though the luck was almost all MacNeice’s,
I’ve spent some jolly evenings playing rummy-
No one can talk at Bridge, unless it’s Dummy.

I’ve learnt to ride, at least to ride a pony,
Taken a lot of healthy exercise,
On barren mountains and in valleys stony,
I’ve tasted a hot spring (a taste was wise),
And foods a man remembers till he dies.
All things considered, I consider Iceland,
Apart from Reykjavik, a very nice land.

A child may ask when our strange epoch passes,
During a history lesson, ‘Please, sir, what’s
An intellectual of the middle classes?
Is he a maker of ceramic pots
Or does he choose his king by drawing lots?’
What follows now may set him on the rail,
A plain, perhaps a cautionary, tale.

My father’s forbears were all Midland yeomen
Till royalties from coal mines did them good;
I think they must have been phlegmatic slowmen,
My mother’s ancestors had Norman blood,
From Somerset I’ve always understood;
My grandfathers on either side agree
In being clergymen and C. of E.

My home then was professional and ‘high’.
No gentler father ever lived, I’ll lay
All Lombard Street against a shepherd’s pie.
We imitate our loves: well, neighbours say
I grow more like my mother every day.
I don’t like business men. I know a Prot
Will never really kneel, but only squat.

My earliest recollection to stay put
Is of a white stone doorstep and a spot
Of pus whore father lanced the terrier’s foot;
Next, stuffing shag into the coffee pot
Which nearly killed my mother, but did not;
Both psychoanalyst and Christian minister,
Will think these incidents extremely sinister.

The mine I always pictured was for lead,
Though copper mines might, faute de mieux, be sound.
Today I like a weight upon my bed;
I always travel by the Underground;
For concentration I have always found
A small room best, the curtains drawn, the light on;
Then I can work from nine to tea-time, right on.

The Great War had begun: but masters’ scrutiny
And fists of big boys were the war to us;
It was as harmless as the Indian Mutiny,
A beating from the Head was dangerous.
But once when half the forms put down Bellus
We were accused of that most deadly sin,
Wanting the Kaiser and the Huns to win.

Surnames I must not write—O Reginald,
You at least taught us that which fadeth not,
Our earliest visions of the great wide world;
The beer and biscuits that your favourites got,
Your tales revealing you a first-class shot,
Your riding breeks, your drama called The Waves,
A few of us will carry to our graves.

How can I thank you? For it only shows
(Let me ride just this once my hobby-horse),
There’re things a good headmaster never knows.
There most he sober schoolmasters, of course,
But what a prep school really puts across
Is knowledge of the world we’ll soon be lost in:
Today it’s more like Dickens than Jane Austen.

In this respect, at least, my bad old Adam is
Pigheadedly against the general trend;
And has no use for all these new academies
Where readers of the better weeklies send
The child they probably did not intend,
To paint a lampshade, marry, or keep pigeons,
Or make a study of the world religions.

From thy dread Empire not a soul’s exempted:
More than the nursemaids pushing prams in parks,
By thee the intellectuals are tempted,
O, to commit the treason of the clerks,
Bewitched by thee to literary sharks,
But I must leave thee to thy office stool,
I must get on now to my public school.

Nation spoke Peace, or said she did, with nation;
The sexes tried their best to look the same;
Morals lost value during the inflation,
The groan Victorians kindly took the blame;
Visions of Dada no the Post-War came ,
Sitting in cafés, nostrils stuffed with bread,
Above the recent and the straight-laced dead.

We all grow up the same way, more or less;
Life is not known no give away her presents;
She only swops. The unselfconsciousness
That children share with animals and peasants
Sinks in the Sturm und drang of adolescence.
Like other boys I lost my taste for sweets,
Discovered sunsets, passion, God, and Keats.

But indecision broke off with a clean cut end
One afternoon in March at half past three
When walking in a ploughed field with a friend;
Kicking a little stone, he turned to me
And said, ‘Tell me, do you write poetry?’
I never had, and said so, but I knew
That very moment what I wished no do.

A raw provincial, my good taste was tardy,
And Edward Thomas I as yet preferred;
I was still listening to Thomas Hardy
Putting divinity about a bird;
But Eliot spoke the still unspoken word;
For gasworks and dried tubers I forsook
The clock at Grantchester, the English rook.

So much for Art. Of course Life had its passions too;
The student’s flesh like his imagination
Makes facts fit theories and has fashions too.
We were the tail, a sort of poor relation
To that debauched, eccentric generation
Than grew up with their fathers at the War,
And made new glosses on the noun Amor.

Part came from Lane, and part from D. H. Lawrence;
Gide, though I didn’t know it then, gave part.
They taught me to express my deep abhorrence
If I caught anyone preferring Art
To Life and Love and being Pure-in-Heart.
I lived with crooks but seldom was molested;
The Pure-in-Heart can never be arrested.

The only thing you never turned your hand to
Was teaching English in a boarding school.
Today it’s a profession that seems grand to
Those whose alternative’s an office stool;
For budding authors it’s become the rule.
To many an unknown genius postmen bring
Typed notices from Rabbitarse and String.

I found the pay good and had time to spend it,
Though others may not have the good luck I did:
For you I’d hesitate to recommend it;
Several have told me that they can’t abide it.
Still, if one tends to get a bit one-sided,
It’s pleasant as it’s easy to secure
The hero worship of the immature.

Which brings me up no nineteen thirty-five;
Six months of film work is another story
I can’t tell now. But, here I am, alive
Knowing the true source of that sense of glory
That still surrounds the England of the Tory,
Come only to the rather tame conclusion
That no man by himself has life’s solution.

The boat has brought me to the landing-stage,
Up the long estuary of mud and sedges;
The line I travel has the English gauge;
The engine’s shadow vaults the little ledges;
And summer’s done. I sign the usual pledges
To be a better poet, better man;
I’ll really do it this time if I can.

The part can stand as symbol for the whole:
So ruminating in these last few weeks,
I see the map of all my youth unroll,
The mental mountains and the psychic creeks,
The towns of which the master never speaks,
The various parishes and what they voted for,
The colonies, their size, and what they’re noted for.

My passport says I’m five feet and eleven,
With hazel eyes and fair (it’s tow-like) hair,
That I was born in York in 1907,
With no distinctive markings anywhere.
Which isn’t quite correct. Conspicuous there
On my right cheek appears a large brown mole,
I think I don’t dislike it on the whole.

Father and Mother each was one of seven,
Though one died young and one was nor all there;
Their fathers both went suddenly to Heaven
While they were still quite small and left them here
To work on hearth with little cash no spare;
A nurse, a rising medico, at Bart’s
Both felt the pangs of Cupid’s naughty darts.

In pleasures of the mind they both delighted;
The library in the study was enough
To make a better boy than me short-sighted;
Our old cook Ada surely knew her stuff;
My elder brothers did not treat me rough;
We lived at Solihull, a village then;
Those at the gasworks were my favourite men.

With northern myths my little brain was laden,
With deeds of Thor and Loki and such scenes;
My favourite tale was Anderson’s Ice Maiden; .
But better far than any kings or queens
I liked to see and know about machines:
And from my sixth until my sixteenth year
I thought myself a mining engineer.

I must admit that I was most precocious
(Precocious children rarely grow up good).
My aunts and uncles thought me quite atrocious
For using words more adult than I should;
My first remark at school did all it could
To shake a matron’s monumental poise; ‘
I like to see the various types of boys.’

The way in which we really were affected
Was having such a varied lot to teach us.
The best were fighting, as the King expected,
The remnant either elderly grey creatures,
Or characters with most peculiar features.
Many were raggable, a few were waxy,
One had to leave abruptly in a taxi.

‘Half a lunatic, half a knave.’ No doubt
A holy terror to the staff at tea;
A good headmaster must have soon found out
Your moral character was all at sea;
I question if you’d got a pass degree:
But little children bless your kind that knocks
Away the edifying stumbling blocks.

I hate the modern trick, to tell the truth,
Of straightening out the kinks in the young mind,
Our passion for the tender plant of youth,
Our hatred for all weeds of any kind.
Slogans are bad: the best that I can find
Is this: ‘Let each child have that’s in our care
As much neurosis as the child can bear.’

Goddess of bossy underlings, Normality!
What murders are committed in thy name!
Totalitarian is thy state Reality,
Reeking of antiseptics and the shame
Of faces that all look and feel the same.
Thy Muse is one unknown to classic histories,
The topping figure of the hockey mistress.

Men had stopped throwing stones at one another,
Butter and Father had come back again;
Gone were the holidays we spent with Mother
In furnished rooms on mountain, moor, and fen;
And gone those summer Sunday evenings, when
Along the seafronts fled a curious noise,
‘Eternal Father’, sung by three young boys.

I’ve said my say on public schools elsewhere:
Romantic friendship, prefects, bullying,
I shall not deal with, c’est une autre affaire.
Those who expect them, will got no such thing,
It is the strictly relevant I sing.
Why should they grumble? They’ve the Greek Anthology
And all the spicier bits of Anthropology.

I shall recall a single incident
No more. I spoke of mining engineering
As the career on which my mind was bent,
But for some time my fancies had been veering;
Mirages of the future kept appearing;
Crazes had come and gone in short, sharp gales,
For motor-bikes, photography, and whales.

Without a bridge passage this leads me straight
Into the theme marked ‘Oxford’ on my score
From pages twenty-five to twenty—eight.
Aesthetic trills I’d never heard before
Rose from the strings, shrill poses from the cor;
The woodwind clattered like a pre-war Russian
‘Art’ boomed the brass, and ‘Life’ thumped the percussion.

All youth’s intolerant certainty was mine as
I faced life in a double-breasted suit;
I bought and praised but did nor read Aquinas,
At the Criterion’s verdict I was mute,
Though Arnold’s I was ready to refute;
And through the quads dogmatic words rang clear,
‘Good poetry is classic and austere.’

Three years passed quickly while the Isis went
Down to the sea for better or for worse;
Then to Berlin, not Carthage, I was sent
With money from my parents in my purse,
And ceased to see the world in terms of verse.
I met a chap called Layard and he fed
New doctrines into my receptive head.

He’s gay; no bludgeonings of chance can spoil it,
The Pure-in–Heart loves all men on a par,
And has no trouble with his private toilet;
The Pure-in-Heart is never ill; catarrh
Would he the yellow streak, the brush of war;
Determined to he loving and forgiving,
I came back home to try and earn my living.

The Head’s M.A., a bishop is a patron,
The assistant staff’ is highly qualified;
Health is the care of an experienced matron,
The arts are taught by ladies from outside;
The food is wholesome and the grounds are wide;
The aim is training character and poise,
With special coaching for the backward boys.

More, it’s a job, and jobs today are rare:
All the ideals in the world won’t feed us
Although they give our crimes a certain air.
So barons of the press who know their readers
Employ to write their more appalling leaders,
Instead of Satan’s horned and hideous minions
Clever young men of liberal opinions.

I know -the fact is really not unnerving –
That what is done is done, that no past dies,
That what we see depends on who’s observing,
And what we think on our activities.
That envy warps the virgin as she dries
But Post coitum, homo tristis moans
The lover must go carefully with the greens.

I hope this reaches you in your abode,
This letter that’s already fat too long,
Just like the Prelude or the Great North Road;
But here I end my conversational song.
I hope you don’t think mail from strangers wrong.
As to its length, I tell myself you’ll need it,
You’ve all eternity in which to read it.

No word from Tom


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