Chris Uggen's Blog: <i>beauty, midnight, vision dies</i> -- auden centenery

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

beauty, midnight, vision dies -- auden centenery

wystan hugh auden was born a hundred years ago this month, which oughta draw a few of his well-chosen rhymes to light.

his september 1, 1939 comes back stronger with each cataclysmic world event, especially these closing lines:

...All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

strong and true, in my view. his unknown citizen seems more dated now, though i think sociologists might still profit from a close reading:

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree

That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in a hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.


At 5:39 PM, Blogger Jay Livingston said...

"September 1, 1939" must be everyone's favorite Auden poem. Everyone except Auden, who expunged it from his oeuvre. "The whole poem, I realised, was infected with an incurable dishonesty and must be scrapped."

At 12:33 AM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

hey jay, in my experience, some of my favorite sociologists say the same thing about their best articles.


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