Friday, October 06, 2006

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #40

Of course I've known the name of W. H. Auden for a long time -- you can't be a person who's interested in poetry in the modern era and not have heard it mentioned or referred to at one time or another. But embarrassingly, I have not yet read much of his work, despite its stellar reputation. (Actually I probably know him better from Richard Wilbur's stunning elegy, simply titled "For W. H. Auden," than I do from anything Auden's actually written!?!) He's just one of the many writers whom I know I need to get more familiar with, but haven't gotten around to yet... another name on that increasingly long list... I'm only one man, by God, and a father of young kids at that! My time is severely limited!!!

Anyhow (end of pity party), when I read this poem of his for the first time recently, I was utterly bowled over by it. This is one of those poems that re-introduces you to the power of poetry, that reminds you of the ways in which simple observations can lead to monumental truths, life-changing truths, in the hands of a truly gifted wordsmith. It struck me as darn near perfect when I had finished the last line.

I don't want to write any more about it -- to explain it in any way seems to rob it of some of its own unique impact. There's so much profundity within this one short poem, that to express appreciation for it might take a week... so instead I implore you to read and enjoy, and feel the potency of Auden's wisdom seep into your soul, like spring rain on a soft and fertile field...


Musee de Beaux Artes

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 Brueghel'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.


Mutt Ploughman said...

This is a superb post YET AGAIN by Duke. Is anyone reading these damned things??? Answer: No, other than me, and occasionally our pal "Aura McKnightly" (psuedonym of the year nominee!), but dang it, people ought to be.

Wisely (he said humbly), I waited until I read this poem more than once before commenting on it (and it will STILL be incoherent). It is a tremendous poem, and well worth the time it takes to read it a few times, which is what, 30 seconds? A minute?

Duke shouldn't have to make excuses for not being able to cover all the bases as far as the poetry giants go. If he does, you can toss me on that fire too. You can't get to everything, and if anyone knows Duke, they know two things: 1) he DEFINITELY can't get to everything, and 2) he wants to nonetheless. Intent goes a long way in this case.....

This poem is very fascinating. The subject of great artists' attention to the reality of suffering down through the centuries is very interesting to dwell on, let alone pen a great poem about. Isn't is it so TRUE that while someone somewhere in suffering, just about everywhere else in the world millions of people are living their daily lives, unconcerned? And what does that say about what the individual's suffering means? Auden points out to us that there are those who do not let these acts go by unnoticed and unheralded: great artists, for one. And God, as far as I am concerned, will also not overlook those who suffer.

I relished this poem and thank Duke for the effort.

Besides: any poem that specifically includes the word "ploughman" obviously works for me. I think my new blog motto should be: "the ploughman may
have heard the splash....but for him it was not an important failure." Which is pretty much how everyone else will react when my literary "career" crashes and burns!

Duke Altum said...

I just want to say that that last paragraph is one of the funniest ideas, and comments, I've heard in my entire life!!!

Too bad it ain't gonna be true in your case.