Following a discussion with Kevin in PA in the previous post regarding art and homosexuality led me to that ugliest of poets (gay or straight) W. H. Auden; a man so ugly he verges on the beautiful as in “beautiful ruins.”
In any event, it reminded me that Auden, as well as many other English and American poets, were once lauded in relatively recent times. The public career of Carl Sandberg comes to mind as does the place of respect reserved for that most curmudgeonly of poets, Robert Frost. Of course, that was when contemporary poets actually produced poetry that was above the self-indulgent claptrap grunted out today at Poetry Slams (I’ve won them, yes.) and in celebration of the gods of oppression, social justice, leftoid oozing, and other clouds of coal dark flatulence that the poets cannot outrun.
Lost to modern memory (along with that of a society of laws, poetics, and rhetoric and reason) is the time when an Auden poem was commissioned and executed as the opening scene of a film about the mail. I admit that this was back in the era that brought mail that was of interest rather than coupons and bills and assorted bumpf made of recycled paper heading straight for the recycle bin next to the garbage can.
In the documentary “Night Mail” (1936), John Grierson narrates the opening scene with WH Auden’s poem of the same name, “Night Mail.” Auden wrote the poem specifically for the film.
Night Mail — WH Auden
This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb —
The gradient’s against her, but she’s on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.
Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from the bushes at her black-faced coaches.
Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes.
Dawn freshens, the climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends
Towards the steam tugs yelping down the glade of cranes,
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In the dark glens, beside the pale-green lochs
Men long for news.
Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or visit relations,
And applications for situations
And timid lovers’ declarations
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Notes from overseas to Hebrides —
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, adoring,
The cold and official and the heart outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and printed and the spelt all wrong.
Thousands are still asleep
Dreaming of terrifying monsters,
Or of friendly tea beside the band at Cranston’s or Crawford’s:
Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
And shall wake soon and long for letters,
And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?