Thursday, April 20, 2006
That later we, though parted then,No, he brought it off. The reason being that in "A Summer Night," there's a metaphysical abyss between "then" and "when"--experience on one side, innocence on the other. Using the shopworn vocabulary amounts to a kind of reticence, a muffled acknowledgment that what's past is past. Don't take my word for it. Read the whole poem--which will gradually engrave itself upon your brain--and see what I mean. While we're at it, Auden's famous explanation of how he came to write the poem has always fascinated me:
May still recall these evenings when
Fear gave his watch no look;
The lion griefs loped from the shade
And on our knees their muzzles laid,
And Death put down his book.
One fine summer night in June 1933 I was sitting on a lawn after dinner with three colleagues, two women and one man. We liked each other well enough but were certainly not intimate friends, nor had any of us a sexual interest in another. Incidentally, we had not drunk any alcohol. We were talking casually about everyday matters when, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, something happened. I felt myself invaded by a power which, though I consented to it, was irresistible and certainly not mine. For the first time in my life I knew exactly--because, thanks to the power, I was doing it--what it means to love one’s neighbour as oneself. I was also certain, though the conversation continued to be perfectly ordinary, that my three colleagues were having the same experience. (In the case of one of them, I was later able to confirm this.)
B) 'A Summer Night' sounds like Auden's yearning travesty of an Icelandic Saga...he fancied himself Norse, you know. Lovely poem...every once in a while a lyric packs an extra jolt of poignancy...to think poor Auden no longer exists...