It’s been a busy week in my part of Penn’s Woods–busy, snowy, icy. And while I’ve had a lot to catch up on I thought it would be a shame to miss the chance at a Friday Flashback on W. H. Auden’s birthday. Auden was a technician, my old mentor would say, a master of meter and form.
He’s honestly not been one of my favorite poets, but I’ve been studying him more and more recently, especially since a friend posted on Facebook a rather racy poem called “A Platonic Blow,” attributed to him. There’s a lot of evidence that it really was written by him, although I admit that a few of the lines strike me as rather too cliché for a poet of his caliber. But further investigation seems to point to the fact that the version printed may have been lifted from one of his notebooks, and might have been an unfinished draft. At the very least it was written only for close friends, and I would guess by its randy nature, for the sheer fun of it. He publicly denied authorship.
Friends if you do that to me I will come back and haunt and possibly seriously harm you. It’s not that I think he would be, especially now, ashamed of the homosexual content of the poem. It’s not the only one, just maybe the sauciest one. It’s just that if a poet’s work is unfinished, and possibly unpolished, or at least not meant for public view, it seems unfair to expose (pardon the pun) the piece to the world where it may be judged alongside other works that were much more finely crafted. Ah well, such is the risk of being a writer, diaries and letters and all seem fair game for publication.
I’ve got at least one very close friend who will probably disagree with my current assesment, but that’s okay. I’m open to discussion. In fact in the future after I’ve given the thing a bit more study we may talk more about it and Auden here.
But for now I want to flashback to almost two years ago during National Poetry Month of 2012 where I shared this reading of Auden’s “The Unknown Citizen.” I think there are better readings of it than mine online, but I found it so eerily up-to-date socially and politically that I felt compelled to record it.
The next day I posted a reading that really gets to me. It was originally written as something of a cabaret piece, but this scene from “Four Weddings and a Funeral” brought it to people’s attention as something beautifully raw and heartbreaking. “Funeral Blues” was first introduced to me on one of my visits to Northern Ireland when a dear friend of mine, also named David, read it to me one tipsy night in his kitchen over gin and cigarettes. I think we cried. That’s how I will remember it anyway.
And so here it is for Flashback Friday and W. H. Auden’s birthday (okay, about twenty minutes late), recited by actor John Hannah.