"Men of few words are the best men." - William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act III, Scene II

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mycroft's Poetry Corner ... W.H. Auden (#3)

It was mid-afternoon in the Diogenes Club and I was in the midst of ordering "a large pot of tea, a club sandwich with extra mustard ..." when the thick-limbed young waitress taking my order interjected " ... with half a gherkin on the side and a mille-feuille for sweet? Master Webb!" finishing the remainder of my order without batting an eyelid. Smiling, I acknowledged her accomplishment with a nod and waved her away without a word.

Damn, but it was good to to be back in the saddle again after six months in the wilderness. 

There is a school of thought that would have a man believe that the primary benefit of embarking upon an adventure to travel the globe is the change of perspective granted to the erstwhile traveller as he experiences one new cultural awakening after the next. Poppycock!

Do they really think that a gentleman such as myself could return home from his travels, find all as he left it except for the changes within himself? No sirs, this particular school of thought is no alma mater of mine.

Shortly after I returned from my grand tour, you will not be surprised to learn that I made it my business to call in at my club as soon as was practicable. I tunnocked quickly up the steps, making little time for well-wishers as I passed through the foyer and charged up the stairs to the large mahogany doors guarding the library. 

As I twisted the ornate large brass handle slowly, I could have sworn that I heard the words "Sanctuary" being whispered to me. 

I moved into the room silently, the deep pile of the Axminster under my heel confirming that I was home once more. I quickly found the first available wing-backed armchair, kicked off my oxblood Grensons and started making footfists in the carpet - each new footfist slower, deeper and more sensual than the last. 

Thirty minutes of solid footfisting later, I sat contented in my armchair, the shelved walls of books staring back at me like a vast literary catacomb. I reached over to an adjacent table and found one of my most beloved books of poetry within reach and laid hands on it. I turned the pages to one of my favourite poems: "The Shield of Achilles" by W.H. Auden and started reading as I had done countless times before.  


As I finished the last few familiar words, the thought came over me that although I may have just circumnavigated the globe, the same images were running through my head now as always did in the past. 

As I sipped, the newly arrived Sherry, I took great comfort from this poem now as I had always done and remarked to no one in particular  "Damn you to hell Auden, you notorious peter-puffer ... but you can certainly wield a pen."  

"From Poets.org: Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York, England, in 1907. He moved to Birmingham during childhood and was educated at Christ Church, Oxford. As a young man he was influenced by the poetry of Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, as well as William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Old English verse. At Oxford his precocity as a poet was immediately apparent, and he formed lifelong friendships with two fellow writers, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood.

In 1928, his collection Poems was privately printed, but it wasn't until 1930, when another collection titled Poems (though its contents were different) was published, that Auden was established as the leading voice of a new generation.

Ever since, he has been admired for his unsurpassed technical virtuosity and an ability to write poems in nearly every imaginable verse form; the incorporation in his work of popular culture, current events, and vernacular speech; and also for the vast range of his intellect, which drew easily from an extraordinary variety of literatures, art forms, social and political theories, and scientific and technical information. He had a remarkable wit, and often mimicked the writing styles of other poets such as Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, and Henry James. His poetry frequently recounts, literally or metaphorically, a journey or quest, and his travels provided rich material for his verse."

Here are some other works by Auden which I enjoy, one is read by the man himself and the other is read by Doctor Octopus from SpiderMan 2. Enjoy.