Wednesday, 3 April 2013

W. H. Auden - expressing grief.

W. H. Auden
Hi poetry bloggers – whoever’s out there; I’m back, and it’s been a hell of a time away, and I feel I’ve been away for longer than intended.  First I took a two week holiday break to Cambodia – got some good notes for material I can work up while it’s still fresh in my memory.  I also relaxed away enough time lazing beside hotel pools to almost finish reading a biography novel on one of our contemporary Australian poets, Les Murray, so I’m up on how he got to where he is, and it gives me a new perspective on poems of his that I love.  I will post them later. 
Second, I’m flying back into Sydney on an orange dawn, back into what I think is normalcy, Monday morning, unravelling myself from head-phone cords, breakfast tray plastic, pillow, magazine paper litter stuffed into the seat pocket – and not knowing that Ernie (my step-father) had died in hospital just hours before we were due to land – probably at that time, I keep thinking, when cabin lights were dimmest, crew having disappeared for the night; and I’m surprised to find ‘The Life of Pi’ a very satisfying movie.
Suddenly, my mind is clamouring for all the poetries of grief – the Psalms, oh if I could remember the Psalms, ‘yeah though I walk through the valley of death …..’;  Dylan Thomas, ‘do not go gentle into that good night …….’.  But for rest and reflection in a fair dinkum, down to earth expression I had to turn to Wystan Hugh Auden’s, ‘Funeral Blues’.  This is one of my favourite poems.  To me it speaks in a language of earthiness and simplicity, not flowery prose that can sometimes come out contrived in celebrant funeral homes.
You will have to do your own research on who Auden was referring to when he wrote this poem (written around 1936, 1938).  Auden was a great English poet who left England at the start of WWII to live in America (controversy about him being a traitor, deserter, communist).  He was one of a number of poets of his time who established homosexual expression through their poetry.  Some say ‘Funeral Blues’ is addressed to a lover.

‘Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone’ (Funeral Blues)
(W. H. Auden, 1907 - 1973)
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Death comes upon everybody quickly – the dead, and those left to mourn.  It’s times like these that you stand as a writer, you can support as a writer, you try to express as a writer.  Sure, you can’t create on cue a brilliant poem like, ‘stop all the clocks’, but you’re more capable to summarise memory and grief for yourself and others.  My influence from poets like Auden is in, ‘Eulogy to Ernie’.

2013.  Sunday, 17th March, 2013; cramped and uncomfortable on Vietnam Airways.  And while we’re being thrust through the stratosphere by jet pod turbine blades, fuselage insert plastic flexing, cabin quiet; while all the organisation and research of the world keeps a plane in the air, Ernie is dying.

Eulogy to Ernie

You gave to me the better times,
When the beach was wide,
When the ocean blue horizon curved,
When the soldier crabs massed,
And drilled in their battalions,
When we walked beyond the tide,
On that hard packed washboard sand,
In search of the soft-shelled yabby,
Together, together, a pair,
To cast the river running out, and
We fished like mountain bears,
Until the daylight fading dies,
And the curlew’s mournful cry.
..... You gave to me the better times.
                                                                             J. O. White

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