≡ Menu

When Poetry Mattered:This is the night mail" – WH Auden – 1936

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?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ghostsniper March 15, 2021, 2:34 PM

    All of this “stuff”, from this post and the other one, cause me to suffer from media fatigue. I guess the gradual build up over the past few decades has gotten to the point that my pop-off valve has popped. I have no more fux to give. This causes me to mostly throw the baby out with the bath water. There is probably some good stuff out there, but due to the fatigue and the flotsam I am disinclined to persevere in a search for it. The ratio of bad to good is about 90/10 and I no longer will wade through the 90 to get to the 10. There’s a concerted effort here and it is working, but maybe not like they planned. While many will go with the flow I am in the group that just goes, period. The media doesn’t pwn my ass. Not 1 square inch.

  • Kevin in PA March 15, 2021, 2:55 PM

    Being the less (perhaps least) literary of the commenters here at AD, and having now caught up on the conversation that, prior to a few moments ago, I did not realize had engaged with Ms. Barnhardt and that it also dated back to 2018 – “This question of homosexuals in art”. I missed it the first time around….and I must admit that I did not RTWT, and I should read especially about Michelangelo, but, because I find Barnhardt to be excessively wordy and a bit of a religious harpy. While I agree with her assessment in general, but she does go on.

    As a side note for perspective; I was raised a Roman Catholic and by the time I was about 14 wanted nothing to do with the effeminate men in positions of spiritual authority, so prevalent in 1970s RC, as were the Liberation Theology crowd aka Marxists. In 5th grade catechism class we learned more about JFK, MLK and Mahatma Ghandi than Jesus Christ! They were part of the reason I moved away from the R.C. and now, as a man of 64 years, as I search for fellowship in any Christian Church all I see is a bunch a whipped one-worlders, embracing the latest rubbish of enviro-globe-homo.
    I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I don’t need a mediator to communicate with my Creator.

  • Bunny March 15, 2021, 3:18 PM

    Unfortunately, the media isn’t promoting the works of Auden or anyone else of his stature. His poetry belongs to the past.
    What little poetry the general public is exposed to is more along the lines of our National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s abortion poem-gone-viral. At least it’s being called a poem and some of the words rhyme.

  • Vanderleun March 15, 2021, 5:46 PM

    These latter day “poets” have nothing and create nothing of any import and all their works will be swept away within five years of their inception. Having a perverted sexuality (and I do not include all homosexuals in the category of perverted) makes their attempts at verse little more than rap out of a failed English major’s mouth.

    As for the effeminate leaders of much of organized Christianity, I have no use for them at all. They are in fact worse than useless since, as we have seen in the last year of lockdown, only one in ten thousand of their ilk has the guts to say no state is above Christ and Christ will not be ordered by the state. This universal skulking and hiding and cringing in the face of the state makes them all heretics and apostates and fit to be excommunicated from whatever church has given them a life sinecure.

    As it says in my sidebar (yes right there on the right and down) “The more liberal the church the emptier the pews.”

  • Pissoir Dubuque March 16, 2021, 6:48 AM

    He forsakes couplets halfway through.

  • Randall R Bridges March 16, 2021, 12:02 PM

    I don’t purport to match any of the great poets. But I do like to make ends of lines rhyme, & sometimes within lines also. My father mostly educated himself & still put down some good poetry or verse. I have freely given both some of his & some of my own on my fb page – if you like rhymes. I do like a couple quotes from Auden, but just like with music, I prefer to get what I am able from the composition rather than from deep-delving into photograph albums of the composers. I love this site. Take care, all.

Next post:

Previous post: