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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

W. H. Auden: Taller To-day


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The Vale: Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, 1855-60, oil on wood, 35 x 53 cm (Musée du Louvre, Paris)



Taller to-day, we remember similar evenings,
Walking together in the windless orchard
Where the brook runs over the gravel, far from the glacier.

Again in the room with the sofa hiding the grate,
Look down to the river when the rain is over,
See him turn to the window, hearing our last
Of Captain Ferguson.

It is seen how excellent hands have turned to commonness.
One staring too long, went blind in a tower,
One sold all his manors to fight, broke through, and faltered.

Nights come bringing the snow, and the dead howl
Under the headlands in their windy dwelling
Because the Adversary put too easy questions
On lonely roads.

But happy now, though no nearer each other,
We see the farms lighted all along the valley;
Down at the mill-shed the hammering stops
And men go home.

Noises at dawn will bring
Freedom for some, but not this peace
No bird can contradict: passing, but is sufficient now
For something fulfilled this hour, loved or endured. 
 

 
W. H. Auden: Taller To-day, 1929, from Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957

12 comments:

Susan Kay Anderson said...

"Where the brook runs over the gravel, far from the glacier"

"Again in the room with the sofa hiding the grate"

"dead howl"

What is this place? It is not as mild as this poem seems to state. It is walking the cow with the memory of a storm or something else wild but not mentioned. Something is restrained, hidden, like the grate, the glacier far away. It is memory. I like the brook the best, running over the gravel, it is most alive. I like the feeling of feeling taller. This poem is memory telling about itself--almost Beatnik as it runs but on a strict leash.

Wooden Boy said...

This poem is a map that shifts scale. Time and Space swells and contracts.

In this curious and particular landscape, lives are lived far from, but in relation to, that slow glacial time. I seem to remember Auden loved his geology.

"...though no nearer each other..."; it's good to be truthful about the distances, especially in an age of imaginary intimacies.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

A different walk than the day before.
Every walk different but the same.
The story of the captain the lunatic in the tower tell about time in a gossipy way--insider way-- but is not the focus of this.
Most days don't change anything or answer any questions but just are dullness--fuzzy edges but beautiful all the same. Be in it and be comforted and loved in this way, too.

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

What a lovely poem, so quiet/moving from first to last, including "Walking together in the windless orchard/ Where the brook runs over the gravel, far from the glacier." and "passing, but is sufficient now/ For something fulfilled this hour, loved or endured." -- especially together with the Corot.

9.25

grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, bird chirping on shadowed branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

the condition of some being
which, also concealed

that it was meant, relation
to terms, idea of its

grey white of fog against top of ridge,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit

Susan Kay Anderson said...

The sky, their caps, the stones
same pearl
out there
with them walking

far away the solid glacier
contained in the sea
wash away erode the day
familiar shapes their colors

I did not see it until later
when I was remembering you
autumn of the short vale my shoes
near the ditch's mild curve
its unchanged meander

TC said...

Talking of geology, there's a bit of that in the first part of this interesting Auden bio. (The whole of the 60 minute BBC documentary is posted in installments.)

W. H. Auden: The Addictions of Sin (1/6).

Hazen said...

It’s the tone of this poem that catches me up. It’s beautiful and disturbing in its own quiet way. Melancholy lurks on some deep level.

Susan seems to have found something proximate: ‘Most days don't change anything or answer any questions but just are dullness--fuzzy edges but beautiful all the same.’

TC said...

Hazen seems to have hit upon the mystery that lurks quietly in the shade here. That melancholy tone, that something in the voice one can't quite grasp.

In a time when complications are so much more proximate and constant and easier to fall into than solutions (or resolutions), there is something curiously consoling about poems that don't try to explain themselves.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Mystery of the Shade

Footsteps hoofprints
cool disappearance

that's how the range
feels without water
walk on it

those bushes wild plums
cut open juicy purple
diamonds now taken

hold the day dear
it's careful a brushing
the temp like water
without the wet

Susan Kay Anderson said...

The church is far away
what a relief
to know
of it
not close
that it does not move
but perched
angles
beaten by weather
questions mark
the horizon
it does not own
does not face into.

It is huge
but small inside
where they've left
a picture on the floor
of different grains--
wheat, corn, flax, rye
it is dry smelling
brings in too much
the grapes outside
thoughts there.

Artemesia said...

Beautiful Auden poem with its weavings of todays and yesterdays. It immediately brought to mind his “Letters from Iceland (Armchair Traveller Series),” and his “Norse Poems.” He was heavily immersed with the Norse Sagas and what one might call the voice of the landscapes and people both read about and experienced in his trip to Iceland…As one reviewer wrote:
“ In 1936 poets W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice took a summer journey to Iceland and sent letters home that are a combination of poetry and prose. This is an interesting snapshot of the two poets and their journey to Iceland after World War I and before World War II. Sometimes lighthearted and filled with joy and love for the country, other times a bit snarky and mirroring a subtle disappointment in the journey.”
I found this on Youtube. Auden is reading “Journey to Iceland.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKVh2D0MXH0

Thank you for posting that most refreshing Auden poem.

TC said...

Artemisia,

Thanks for that link, and yes, I did think of it -- it's almost as if this poem possessed a premonitory connection to that one.