Thursday, April 20, 2006


Then again

It seems like only yesterday that I was ragging on Elizabeth Bishop for rhyming "then" and "again." What an amateur! But just a couple of hours ago, while I was taking a shower and humming a little tune, which turned out to be the theme from Mannix (thank you, Steve Augustine), I recalled some beautiful lines from Auden's "A Summer Night." Whoops: hasn't Auden committed a similar crime?
That later we, though parted then,
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.
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:
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.)

A) I'm going to pretend that I have no idea how the tune to 'Mannix' goes (which pales in power compared to the original theme from 'Johnny Quest,' in any case)
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 think poor Auden no longer exists...
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