Posts

Showing posts from February, 2014

The Secret Auden

W.H. Auden had a secret life that his closest friends knew little or nothing about. Everything about it was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it.

I learned about it mostly by chance, so it may have been far more extensive than I or anyone ever knew. Once at a party I met a woman who belonged to the same Episcopal church that Auden attended in the 1950s, St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery in New York. She told me that Auden heard that an old woman in the congregation was suffering night terrors, so he took a blanket and slept in the hallway outside her apartment until she felt safe again.

Someone else recalled that Auden had once been told that a friend needed a medical operation that he couldn’t afford. Auden invited the friend to dinner, never mentioned the operation, but as the friend was leaving said, “I want you to have this,” and handed him a large notebook containing the manuscript of The Age of Anxiety. The University of …

Rabindranath Tagore: At The Last Watch

Pity, in place of love,
That pettiest of gifts,
Is but a sugar-coating over neglect.
Any passerby can make a gift of it
To a street beggar,
Only to forget the moment the first corner is turned.
I had not hoped for anything more that day.

You left during the last watch of night.
I had hoped you would say goodbye,
Just say 'Adieu' before going away,
What you had said another day,
What I shall never hear again.
In their place, just that one word,
Bound by the thin fabric of a little compassion
Would even that have been too much for you to bear?

When I first awoke from sleep
My heart fluttered with fear
Lest the time had been over.
I rushed out of bed.
The distant church clock chimed half past twelve
I sat waiting near the door of my room
Resting my head against it,
Facing the porch through which you would come out.

Even that tiniest of chances
Was snatched away by fate from hapless me;
I fell asleep
Shortly before you left.
Perhaps you cast a sidelong glance
At my reclining body
Like a broken boat left high …

Rudyard Kipling: If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are …

Angus Wilson: From darling to dodo

Twenty-eight years ago this month, BBC's Newsnight offered its audience a bona fide literary sensation. So inimical to him had conditions in Thatcher's Britain now become, it declared, that one of our greatest living novelists had opted for self-imposed exile. There followed an extended camera-shot of Sir Angus Wilson – damson-faced, snow-haired and looking as if he had enjoyed quite a decent lunch – gravely descending the front steps of the Athenaeum to inform the waiting interviewer that he had had enough. He was insufficiently appreciated. He had always loved France, and the French had a greater respect for writers than the benighted English. He would go, in the words of his loyal biographer, Margaret Drabble, "where he was wanted".

It was not, all things considered, one of Wilson's better performances. There was talk of empty gestures and thrown-in towels. Even his friends thought the sight of this quintessentially establishment figure – knight of the realm, p…

Rupert Brooke: The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.