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Saturday, 11 May 2013

W. H. Auden: Old People's Home


Dosya:Staudammkrone Lünersee 2.JPG

Walkers on the Staudammkrone dam at Lüner Lake, Austria: photo by Friedrich Böhringer, 17 February 2010

        All are limitory, but each has her own
nuance of damage. The elite can dress and decent themselves,
        are ambulant with a single stick, adroit
to read a book all through, or play the slow movements of
        easy sonatas. (Yet, perhaps, their very
carnal freedom is their spirit’s bane: intelligent
        of what has happened and why, they are obnoxious
to a glum beyond tears.) Then come those on wheels, the average
        majority, who endure T.V. and, led by
lenient therapists, do community singing, then
        the loners, muttering in limbo, and last
the terminally incompetent, as impeccable,
        improvident, unspeakable as the plants
they parody. (Plants may sweat profusely but never
        sully themselves.) One tie, though, unites them: all
appeared when the world, though much was awry there, was more
        spacious, more comely to look at, its Old Ones
with an audience and secular station. (Then a child,
        in dismay with Mamma, could refuge with Gran
to be revalued and told a story.) As of now,
        we all know what to expect, but their generation
is the first to fade like this, not at home but assigned
        to a numbered frequent ward, stowed out of conscience
as unpopular luggage.
                               As I ride the subway
        to spend half-an-hour with one, I revisage
who she was in the pomp and sumpture of her hey-day,
        when week-end visits were a presumptive joy,
not a good work. Am I cold to wish for a speedy
        painless dormition, pray, as I know she prays,
that God or Nature will abrupt her earthly function?

W. H. Auden (1907-1973): Old People's Home, from Epistle for a Godson, 1972

A powerline stretching over winter fields near the village of Erzhausen, Germany. Looking westward: photo by Ingolfson, December 2007

Silence / Fell / Slowly: textured photo by Marie Wintzer, 26 December 2010

A powerline stretching over winter fields near the village of Erzhausen, Germany. Looking southward. The cemetery and associated buildings to the left: photo by Ingolfson, December 2007


TC said...

When in Rome, as it seems we were yesterday, I am reminded that all empires are built to fall. And that the collapse usually begins around the edges, and works inward.

W. H. Auden: The Fall of Rome

As to the specific manifestations here cited, "muttering in limbo" and the like, recent experience shows that terminal incompetence may occur without the (false) shelter of institutional binning, as well as within.

Henry said...

Aptly or ironically, there's an old folks' home in York called Auden House. In an attempt to make it less like a geriatrics' prison, it has a Costa coffee shop (with free WiFi) and a hair-dressers inside, to attract people who wouldn't otherwise have a reason to go there. This is slightly undermined by its address, on Cemetery Road: the graveyard is right next door, and presumably visible from some of the rooms.


This is alas no country for its "Old Ones," those who "appeared when the world . . . was more/ spacious, more comely to look at" -- these photos beautiful, "comely" indeed.


light coming into cloud above shadowed
buildings, birds calling from branches
in foreground, sound of cars in street

see these entries, consider
thought of it instead

of subject, but the opening
in, out of that which

silver of sun by corner of brick wall,
sunlit green of leaves across from it

TC said...

Steve, yes, fogbound in the foreground here this morning, and but a few small birds to sing... though the crows now begin to awaken with their railing against the traffic... righteous defenders of the tattered peace.

Henry, it's a good thing we survivors of the Thatcherite and Victorian Epochs have left the Irony Barrier behind us...

Well, lo and behold.

Curious thought leapt into the cranial cobweb display: can it be that that old Glaswegian shipbuilder's son, Sir Alex, who has stepped aside because he can no longer bear the stress and scrap of it all, might wish, once the compulsory "relaxing" sea cruise with the missuz has been endured, to withdraw into the shade... well, the glare... of Cemetery Road?

A quality address indeed, if ever one was.

The graveyard visible from the rooms is a nice touch. Anne Boleyn, in her holding cell in the Tower, could peek out through the bars and see her various paramours being led to the scaffold ahead of her. Another bygone trace of aristocratic privilege.

And the amenities do appear inviting, all things considered.

Those hair-dressers, useful perhaps if the roots, doubtless gone faded and bluish, can be re-discovered. (Where did I leave that microscope, I wonder?)

I'll have the tall white coffee, sponge cake and cerements, please, Missy!

To each of us our time must come. Myself, the sell-by date long forgot, the shelf-life clearly approaching an end, but as the long day closes, where is the bin that would make room for me, here in the Empire of Privatization??

Touching a bit of a raw nerve, here... thankful for short term memory failure.

And oh my, even as I speak... materializes ANOTHER of these Auden Houses, a Mancs version.

Auden House, Manchester

Can this be a franchise arrangement perhaps?

In any case, it seems there will be space in the lounge, somewhere out there in the Greater Sepia Pond Codependency Sphere, after all.

Wooden Boy said...

stowed out of conscience

This pretty much catches it. That "lives" might carry on with the doses of work and leisure till they come to the same place.

I can't bear the cult of youth that does much to make this setting apart possible.

I love the sound of Auden's poetry, such careful use of the patterns of English speech. Very spiky in places, strange in the mouth. He's not afraid to be unlovely for the sake of a better alien beauty.

Marie's photo, silence/fell/slowly matches perfectly - pylons holding up wires full of a sad electricity.

TC said...

Auden's discriminating diction is spiky indeed (in those opening lines alone "limitory", "decent themselves", "ambulant", then later on, "sumpture", "dormition"). The care for word choices reflects a sensitivity of feeling concerning the pathos of the setting and its inhabitants... almost said "victims". It's as if they were owed at least the minor dignity of the carefully chosen word.

As for the young, the care, as far as one can make out from here, extends only as far as themselves. And of course the old are in their way. And they themselves will never grow old. Don't try going on about word choices around them. Out of the way with that dictionary rubbish.

And yes the old people's home, it's the cold binning of those who have outlived their usefulness. These warehouses, waiting rooms of a Beyond that's long since been emptied out of spiritual life... so that there will be plenty of room for them, the dread Old.

After a hip fracture and replacement the medical sales personnel descended like fruitflies upon my dear companion, who was advised to commit herself into a nursing home. But a hospital physical therapist countered that advice on the Q.T. with the real lowdown: All that happens to sick people in there is that they get sicker.

Those warehouses will take your life savings, then if you insist on hanging about, your life. So much for that!

Anonymous said...

The photo "Silence / Fell / Slowly" is masterfully done, and a fine partner to Auden's poem. The textured composition of both hint at life, or its relief / pre-dawn exhaustion, lurking somewhere / set to the side, if not quite underneath, provoking a shimmer / shiver of something, always, else / nearly gone.

TC said...

Brad, yes that photo is an important note in the chord, here. Marie's photos are tonally masterful. And as we know, tone is something difficult to convey, and as such rarely to be detected among the drifting bubbles that make up the Aethereal Sphere of the World Wide Wig.

Marie W said...

Tom, thank you so much for pairing Silence / Fell / Slowly with this wonderful poem and photos. Looking at your picture selection post after post there is always a sense of harmony. Here the neighbours Austria, Germany and Alsace have worked closely together at bringing a subtle veil of mist. No horizon to be seen whatsoever, and this works so well with the lines of W.H. Auden. As I write this I am speechlessly hanging there at the words "terminally incompetent". I shall stay on that branch for a while. Looking at the Auden House from up here, from a distance (but how long still?), it seems to be a "moindre mal". I found a set of photos on FLickr and the hair and beauty section seems decent. But it's like time does not exist anymore. Clocks have stopped ticking. Already.

(and as ever, thank you everyone for such kind words)

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Auden’s poem—surely that is no country for old men—but which place is or is not?

Elmo St. Rose said...

The legal universe in nursing
homes today:

she came,stroked out,
decerebrate posture,
bedsores, activated
primitive relfexes,
aphasic...later her
bedsores better known
as decubitii,worsened.
the family sued,
won,not by virtue
of reality but
because a nurse
had a drug habit
and didn't document well.
sometimes, it pays
to be 98% dead.

TC said...

I shouldn't joke about Auden House. Things look quite a bit more organised there than here.


More of Marie's great photos

(Not to mention, Vassilis, more salmon and mackerel...)

TC said...

Elmo, hadn't seen that comment until just now.

Ouch, doc, that hurts. Too close for comfort!

The "end-care" reality, as (so far) only dimly perceived here, but specifically and acutely witnessed by this extremely well-qualified commenter -- who knows whereof he speaks.