Monday, February 21, 2011

Where the Dogs Go On with Their Doggy Life

W.H. Auden was born 104 years ago today.



About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Some personal history: besides taking classes from Anthony Hecht, I did basic research grunt work for him in exchange for his company on two of his books, On the Laws of the Poetic Arts and The Hidden Law, a book specifically about Auden's poetry, which Hecht respected deeply. In the process of the research for and conversations with Hecht over years I must have read the majority of Auden's poems at least once, some countless times, some, like the above and below, literally dozens of dozens of times.

Until a year or two ago I hadn't read Auden since Hecht's book went to the publisher in 1992, not because I'd lost my love for Auden but because I was tired of my love for Auden. Serendipity always charms but is double-edged: I rediscovered Auden just when his poetry became fresh and relevant and urgent (to me) again.


Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

  • Now you know my first name.
  • What if the Egyptian protesters were Democrats: In short, if the Egyptian protesters were Democrats, they would have undertaken no revolution. The Democratic Party represents the pervasiveness of elite corporate power; its liberal supporters represent the appropriation of oppositional politics into the neoliberal economies of electoral hegemony; the Egyptian protesters represent a determined, collective will to social justice and legitimate freedom. If those protesters were American liberals, they would have sided with the state while professing support for the people.
  • Ponzi: Progressives should hang their heads in shame at the minimal amount of activism taking place against the banks and the escalating numbers of foreclosures. Homes and hope are being stolen from people for whom the term "depression" now has a personal, as well as economic, meaning.
  • Mideast meets Midwest.
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  • But I thought union-busting solved educational problems.
  • UPDATE! Everything is negotiation.
  • The American way. 
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  • Doh.
  • Hinge of fate
  • Archeologies of the present
  • BLAWG! On Blegsylvania.
  • ICC!
  • Borders.
  • Vinyl.
  • Darkblack's Sunday Overnight.


Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


  1. But I thought your first name was B, your last name R, your middle name D. Curse my naivete!

  2. Now you're gonna get stalked.

    They can have my blog when they pry it from my cold, bored hands.

  3. For what it's worth, your full name would come up as the author when using the RSS feed with the old site.

    More importantly, here's 12 minutes of video to over-analyze.

  4. Yeah, I know. I've never gone to any contortions to protect the pseudonymity. Anyone who wanted to could find out who I am, but why would they? I'm nobody. In any case, the only place it would matter would be work, but since I don't blog about work it doesn't matter.

  5. "Stop All The Clocks" is a particular favorite - my wife read it in a public speaking class to eulogize me, heh. I'm generally a sucker for eulogy poems. Not sure why. "To An Athlete Dying Young," etc., etc., amen.

  6. Hey, Kiwi, heard you all got rattled - you and yours OK?

  7. Fine thanks BDR. We live in The North Island and didn't even feel the shake