Why Auden Matters…

The Secret Auden

Edward Mendelson in New York Review of Books

1.

W.H. Auden had a secret life that his closest friends knew little or nothing about. Everything about it was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it.

mendelson_1-032014.jpg Jerry Cooke/Pix Inc./Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
W. H. Auden, Fire Island, 1946

I learned about it mostly by chance, so it may have been far more extensive than I or anyone ever knew. Once at a party I met a woman who belonged to the same Episcopal church that Auden attended in the 1950s, St. Marks in-the-Bowery in New York. She told me that Auden heard that an old woman in the congregation was suffering night terrors, so he took a blanket and slept in the hallway outside her apartment until she felt safe again.

Someone else recalled that Auden had once been told that a friend needed a medical operation that he couldnt afford. Auden invited the friend to dinner, never mentioned the operation, but as the friend was leaving said, I want you to have this, and handed him a large notebook containing the manuscript of The Age of Anxiety. The University of Texas bought the notebook and the friend had the operation.

From some letters I found in Audens papers, I learned that a few years after World War II he had arranged through a European relief agency to pay the college costs for two war orphans chosen by the agency, an arrangement that continued, with a new set of orphans every few years, until his death at sixty-six in 1973.

At times, he went out of his way to seem selfish while doing something selfless. When NBC Television was producing a broadcast of The Magic Flute for which Auden, together with Chester Kallman, had translated the libretto, he stormed into the producers office demanding to be paid immediately, instead of on the date specified in his contract. He waited there, making himself unpleasant, until a check finally arrived. A few weeks later, when the canceled check came back to NBC, someone noticed that he had endorsed it, Pay to the order of Dorothy Day. The New York City Fire Department had recently ordered Day to make costly repairs to the homeless shelter she managed for the Catholic Worker Movement, and the shelter would have been shut down had she failed to come up with the money.

At literary gatherings he made a practice of slipping away from the gaunt and great, the famed for conversation (as he called them in a poem) to find the least important person in the room. A letter-writer in the Times of London last year recalled one such incident:

Sixty years ago my English teacher brought me to London from my provincial grammar school for a literary conference. Understandably, she abandoned me for her friends when we arrived, and I was left to flounder. I was gauche and inept and had no idea what to do with myself. Auden must have sensed this because he approached me and said, Everyone here is just as nervous as you are, but they are bluffing, and you must learn to bluff too.

Late in life Auden wrote self- revealing poems and essays that portrayed him as insular and nostalgic, still living imaginatively in the Edwardian world of his childhood. His Doggerel by a Senior Citizen began, Our earth in 1969/Is not the planet I call mine, and continued with disgruntled complaints against the modern age: I cannot settle which is worse,/The Anti-Novel or Free Verse. A year after he wrote this, I chanced on a first book by a young poet, N.J. Loftis, Exiles and Voyages. Some of the book was in free verse; much of it alluded to Harlem and Africa; the authors ethnic loyalties were signaled by the name of the publisher, the Black Market Press. The book was dedicated To my first friend, W.H. Auden.

A few years later I got a phone call from a Canadian burglar who told me he had come across Audens poems in a prison library and had begun a long correspondence in which Auden gave him an informal course in literature. Auden was especially pleased to get him started on Kafka. He was equally helpful to unknown young poets who sent him their poems, offering detailed help on such technical matters as adjectives and enjambment.

When he felt obliged to stand on principle on some literary or moral issue, he did so without calling attention to himself, and he was impatient with writers like Robert Lowell whose political protests seemed to him more egocentric than effective. When he won the National Medal for Literature in 1967, he was unwilling either to accept it in Lyndon Johnsons White House during the Vietnam War or to make a Cal Lowell gesture by a public refusal, so he arranged for the ceremony to be held at the Smithsonian, where he gave an acceptance speech about the corruption of language by politics and propaganda.

He was always professional in his dealings with editors and publishers, uncomplainingly rewriting whole essays when askedexcept on at least two occasions when he quietly sacrificed money and fame rather than falsify his beliefs. In 1964, for his translation (with Leif Sjöberg) of Dag Hammarskjölds posthumous Markings, he wrote a foreword that mentioned Hammarskjölds narcissistic fascination with himself and alluded almost invisibly to Hammarskjölds homosexuality, which Auden perceived as something entirely inward to Hammarskjöld and never acted upon:

A thorn in the flesh which convinces him that he can never hope to experience what, for most people, are the two greatest joys earthly life has to offer, either a passionate devotion returned, or a lifelong happy marriage.

He also alluded to Hammarskjölds inner sense of a messianic, sacrificial missionsomething he seems to have recognized as a version of the messianic fantasy to which he had himself been tempted by his youthful fame as a revolutionary left-wing poet. Continue reading

Emilio DeGrazia… A Muse for….

Our Favorite F-Words

The question surfaced as a bad joke among a group of thoughtful friends: Whats the favorite American F-word? A womanwho happens to be a very attractive blonderesponded first. Freedom, she said with a slight twist to her smile.
Two F-words obviously troubled her. When she is seen as a typeand stereotypeit seems easy to assume that her good looks provide her the opportunity to have more freedom, and fun, than most other people. Doors that remain closed to the unattractive would open to her. She would have a wider choice than most about where she lives, with whom, and what work she would do. Shed even have a shot at becoming a million dollar newscaster for a FOX TV news station.
But she seemed to have a better sense than we did of the downside of her good looksthe constraints, call them lack of freedom, her presence as a type placed on her. She no doubt knows, for example, what it is like to be held in the grip of gazes refusing to let go of her, how some of those gazes freeze her with fear, and how her freedom of movement is controlled by personal safety concerns. If she got a millionaire job with FOX shed have to perform on cue, force her smiles on audiences looking for any small excuse to send their remotes in search of a different face, and keep her opinions to herself without improving on the words she hasnt written but has to recite.
These are ordinary constraints, and no doubt there are others more serious. But if her type, blessed by biology, has to live within limits too, how free are the millions who dont have her advantages? Does any woman freely choose her role as news anchor, mother, wife, cheerleader, cancer patient or millionaire? Well, yes, perhaps, if we believe the noisy and glib libertarian voices addicted to telling us were all singular captains of our individual fates. But no, if biology, the stock market, social mores, education, governments, genetics and chance have any say about how she turns out.
To be American israther too simplyto let freedom ring, especially as a word. Americans believe people are free to choose, free to make winners or losers of themselves, free to go to heaven or hell because theyre free to work or not to work hard enough to end up where they end up, even if theyre in an unemployment line and there are no jobs. Americans believe in free markets and the free enterprise system and in free trade and free expression. And everybody knows freedom doesnt come cheap, that if we want to keep it we may have no choice but to pay for it with our lives.
Belief in Americanized freedom does not chime well with the second most popular American F-word.
Its hard to insist that the lines about freedom should be dropped from the refrains Americans routinely croon when they feel the need to feel good about themselves and their beliefs. Freedoms often the word we attach to a positive feeling we enjoy, especially when were well cared for and not wholly in the grip of some control. The thought of freedom dignifies us by providing strokes for what we do that turns out right, even if we are mainly just lucky. Its a favorite topic of political candidates, especially at the fundraising events they have to do. It has, in short, many usespsychological, political, practical, inspirationalnot all of them morally defensible. And the power, influence, and currency of the wordlike moneysseem directly proportional to its immeasurability. If we dont know what freedom is, it therefore must exist out there somewhere, circulating freely in its own sounds.
No one, as yet, has invented a thermometer, gauge or app that measures how free (or happy) we are or are not. Actual prisons, with their solitary confinement cells, would be a good place to begin taking baseline measurements, and the hungry and disabled might also provide us a few key indicators about what freedom is. But inner freedom, which maybe sits at home in our easy chairs or walks down the street toward a liquor store while we whistle a tune, would be trickier to calculate.

Common sense tells us that the choices we make, consciously or not, entangle us in a chain of consequences that can liberate or maybe strangle us. Way leads on to way, not always to greener pastures. We choose to drink or smoke too much, marry this woman rather than that one, have children or not, attend this church or that one, take this job or none at all. These choices, some of them resulting from accident of birth, routinely result in outbursts of the second most favorite American F-word, the nasty one. This second most favorite American F-word seems to make it clearalong with the contempt, frustration and anger it communicates in no uncertain terms that there are a lot of Americans not enjoying their freedom as advertised.

Why is it that so many Americans so frequently use both F-wordswith connotations so antithetically positive and negativein the same conversation? If the freedom word is routinely used as a way to unify and inspire us as a people, the nasty F-word is a weapon by which we express frustration, contempt, and even hatred for each other. Though women especially know how this words weaponry is linked to sex, we seem screwed up about a lot of things when we use the nasty F-word.
Do we use the nasty F-word because we feel betrayed by the promises the freedom word offers, especially when the gap between the haves and have-nots is so obvious? Though the rich and powerful in some ways may be the most restricted among us, they are also inclined to use the freedom word as a way of putting down those who dont enjoy the privileges they suffer from. While researchers in the health sciences are finding that some rich folk are suffering from a new disease being referred to as affluenza, this affliction doesnt prevent those passionate about the virtues of wealth from dismissing the poor and destitute as complainers when those in the underclasses talk freely about the constraints they face. Freedom, when its meaning is perpetually on the loose, goes into hiding in those experiencing the realities of joblessness, unattractiveness, disability, old age, poverty, and bad luck. In a climate of opinion requiring us to be free while denying us the means to achieve a reasonably comfortable life style, the other F-word, and the nasty behaviors that follow from it, has its say.
In the old days our moms would wash our mouths out with soap when we didnt watch our language. But modern moms arent as free to do that these days. So when we have the urge to use either of the F-words, I think wed be better off biting our tongues on our way to second thoughts.

Jacob Bacharach Has A Poem

A Spate of Unions

That which wasnt is becoming by
best estimations something well achieve
within what Im assureds a reasonable time
as soon as now, if I can be believed.
The past is past. The future is to come.
Mistakes, if they were made, and let me say,
I can conceive that they were made by some
impatient staffer, unpaid junior aide,
although of course I cant with certainty
identify what they might be, because,
let me be clear, they were not made by me,
will nonetheless . . . where was I? Let me pause.
To those whod make us choose between what may
and might never be done, I say, I say.

jacobbacharach.wordpress.com/author/jacobbacharach/

There could be a wee problem here…

but no doubt our overlords are on it…

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/opinion/capitalism-vs-democracy.html?_r=0

[NYTimes] Thomas Pikettys new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, described by one French newspaper as a a political and theoretical bulldozer, defies left and right orthodoxy by arguing that worsening inequality is an inevitable outcome of free market capitalism.

Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, does not stop there. He contends that capitalisms inherent dynamic propels powerful forces that threaten democratic societies.

Gene McCarthy Talks To Marc Chagall

When I met Marc Chagall
I asked him first of all
whether he had ever seen
in life or in a dream
a cow just sitting down
He said that he had seen
cows both blue and green
and also that he knew
cows that danced and cows that flew
but that he had never seen
in life of in a dream
a cow just sitting down

(Gene McCarthy, at his 1780’s farmhouse Rappahannock Co. Virginia)

Gene McCarthy, Selected Poems p.20
Lone Oak Press, 1997

What Good People Want To Be When They Grow Up

Emilio DeGrazia  emilio-degrazia head shot 20130907-120x116-edged
When one’s vocabulary shrinks to one word––“No!”––the mind trains the body to perform sick tricks. While sitting on their hands the anti-government slugs have taught themselves to point a finger of blame all around. This finger has yet to develop the flexibility enabling it to turn itself around.
There’s more good news for them to complain about. College students prefer to work in government. In a survey of recent college grads, conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, students expecting to graduate with B.A. degrees by the end of 2013 chose government work as their top choice, with human services, education, and social services their next highest preferences. Far below in their rankings were careers in finance, retail trade, computer and electronic manufacturing, other manufacturing, and oil and gas extraction.
We told you so, is what the nay-saying fickle finger must be telling itself. Government is bad, and this generation of college students has turned out bad because of it. Their schools and teachers are also bad, because when children go to schools where cooperation and self-esteem are taught they want to make a career out of what they’ve learned. A generation of young people who care so deeply about government, human services, education, and social services that they actually want to get paid for doing things like that must be suffering from the morally corrosive influence of ObamaCare. Why, these anti-Darwin social Darwinists must be asking themselves, can’t everyone be like us, busy devising new ways to cut government, human services, education, and social services? How can so many students get college degrees without believing that making a lot of money enriches lives? Why do they put so little faith in oil and gas extraction? Don’t they believe in futures? Continue reading

The Sea Wing Disaster of 1890 by Fred Johnson @ GCHS Jan 26 2014

Fred Johnson, Red Wing historian introduces his new book on the Sea Wing Disaster that killed 98 people in Lake Pepin in 1890. About 50 minutes. Filmed at the Goodhue Co. History Society 1166 Oak St, Red Wing, MN 55066 (651) 388-6024. Fred’s book will be available in June/July 2014. Call the GCHS at 388-6024 for details. And of course you could pre-order and you could join the GCHS !!!