Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Obesity / and a little fame"

Lowell described this poem, in a letter to Bishop, as "really marvelous"; I agree. Auden's late style required him to walk a tightrope between goofiness and preachiness that he tended to fall off, but every now and again, almost fortuitously, he did something like this:

W.H. Auden 
On a mid-December day, 
frying sausages
for myself, I abruptly
felt under fingers
thirty years younger the rim
of a steering wheel,
on my cheek the parching wind
of an August noon,
as passenger beside me
You as then you were.

Slap across a veg-growing
alluvial plain
we raced in clouds of white dust,
and geese fled screaming
as we missed them by inches,
making a bee-line
for mountains gradually
enlarging eastward,
joyfully certain nightfall
would occasion joy.

It did. In a flagged kitchen
we were served boiled trout
and a rank cheese: for a while
we talked by the fire,
then, carrying candles, climbed
steep stairs. Love was made
then and there: so halcyoned,
soon we fell asleep
to the sound of a river
swabbling through a gorge.

Since then, other enchantments
have blazed and faded,
enemies changed their address,
and War made ugly
an uncountable number
of unknown neighbors,
precious as us to themselves:
but round your image
there is no fog, and the earth
can still astonish.

Of what, then, should I complain,
pottering about
a neat suburban kitchen?
Solitude? Rubbish!
It's social enough with real
faces and landscapes
for whose friendly countenance
I at least can learn
to live with obesity
and a little fame. 

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