Other People’s Poetry Break: W.H. Auden

Foggy Morning Neighbor’s Pool | thestoryisthething.com | 2020

Grown used to New York weather,
all too familiar with Smog.
You, Her unsullied Sister,
I’d quite forgotten and what
You bring to British winters:
now native knowledge returns.

Sworn foe to festination,
daunter of drivers and planes,
volants, of course, will curse You,
but how delighted I am
that You’ve been lured to visit
Wiltshire’s witching countryside
for a whole week at Christmas,
that no one can scurry where
my cosmos is contracted
to an ancient manor-house
and four Selves, joined in friendship,
Jimmy, Tania, Sonia, Me.

Outdoors a shapeless silence,
for even those birds whose blood
is brisk enough to bid them
abide here all the year round,
like the merle and the mavis,
as Your cajoling refrain
their jocund interjections,
no cock considers a scream,
vaguely visible, tree-tops
rustle not but stay there, so
efficiently condensing
Your Damp to definite drops.

Indoors specific spaces,
cosy, accomodate to
reminiscence and reading,
crosswords, affinities, fun:
reflected by a sapid
supper and regaled by wine,
we sit in a glad circle,
each unaware of our own
nose but alert to the others,
making the most of it, for
how soon we must re-enter,
when lenient days are done,
the world of work and money
and minding our p’s and q’s.

No summer will ever
dismantle the global gloom
cast by the Daily Papers,
vomiting in slip-shod prose
the facts of filth and violence
that we’re too dumb to prevent:
our earth’s a sorry spot, but
for this special interim,
so restful yet so festive,
Thank You, Thank, Thank You, Fog.”

~ from “Thank You, Fog: Last Poems” by W.H. Auden (1972)

NOTES: This is the title poem from Auden’s last published book of poems, “Thank You, Fog,” a delightful homage to what happens when fog shuts down the world around you, leading to more intimate encounters with your house, your loved ones, closing off the outer cacophony. I picked up a hard-bound, first edition of the book at The Strand, on a recent visit to New York City. It leaves the house with me these days. I’m in an ongoing state of exasperation and impatience with public words these days, which sound either like noise, propaganda or a come-on sales pitch. Sometimes, all three. Then, there’s that social media crack addiction. ‘Get thee to poetry,’ the bedraggled, harried Muses urge. ‘Or we shall flee.’ As Ezra Pound once said: ” Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.” 

Great writers send you to the dictionary. ‘Sapid’ and ‘festination’ sounded like they had negative connotation (recalling their cognates ‘vapid.’ And ‘infested’ or ‘defenestrated’) But a ‘sapid supper’ is one ‘having a strong pleasant and savory flavor.’ And a ‘sworn foe to festination’ signifies the fog slowing people down, as ‘festination’ is “involuntary hurrying in walking, observed in some nervous diseases” or, simply, ‘haste.’ I am stealing ‘My Cosmos Is Contracted’ for a song title, And I may start capitalizing pronouns for the Fog. Brilliant & bravo, my dear Auden.

PS: This series is dedicated to my brother-in-words, who left too soon, Stephen Dowdall.

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