Monday, September 1, 2014

September Song (1938/9)

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
- W.H. Auden, "September 1, 1939"

But quite Suddenly, in the years 1930-5, something happens. The literary climate changes. A new group of writers, Auden and Spender and the rest of them, has made its appearance, and although technically these writers owe something to their predecessors, their ‘tendency’ is entirely different. Suddenly we have got out of the twilight of the gods into a sort of Boy Scout atmosphere of bare knees and community singing. The typical literary man ceases to be a cultured expatriate with a leaning towards the Church, and becomes an eager-minded schoolboy with a leaning towards Communism. If the keynote of the writers of the twenties is ‘tragic sense of life’, the keynote of the new writers is ‘serious purpose’...
The poets of New Signatures(1), unlike Yeats and Eliot, are emotionally partisan. Yeats proposed to turn his back on desire and hatred; Eliot sat back and watched other people's emotions with ennui and an ironical self-pity. ... The whole poetry, on the other hand, of Auden, Spender, and Day Lewis implies that they have desires and hatreds of their own and, further, that they think some things ought to be desired and others hated.
- George Orwell, "Inside the Whale" (1940)

6 comments:

FreeThinke said...

_________ The Paradigm Shift _________

To start where everyone would love to go
Exerts a pressure on the one so blest,
Nurtured in privilege, sheltered from the low
And desperate, untoward struggling of the rest.

Foisted on us, guilt at our good luck
Lets loose a sense of deep unworthiness
Yielding urges to immerse in muck
Our untried selves, and live on earth with less.

Unravelling the stitches parents sewed
Released a spring propelling downward thrust
Helping once safe havens to implode.
Our heritage betrayed then turned to dust.

Maniacally would our forebears laugh to see
Everything they won lost -- willfully.



~ FreeThinke

FreeThinke said...

"The whole poetry, on the other hand, of Auden, Spender, and Day Lewis implies that they have desires and hatreds of their own and, further, that they think some things ought to be desired and others hated."

And what for Heaven's sake are we to make of that? I'm surprised at the triteness and shallowness of Orwell's analysis here.

What else could poetry -- and literature too by extension -- be all about BUT the expression of contrasting, conflicting emotions, passionate preferences and violent aversions? Whether epic, lyrical, or satirical, poetry is about the exigencies of living and the embrace, rejection or withdrawal from the challenges thrust upon us by "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

The one thing poetry cannot be is didactic, because once it lapses into the purely instructive or polemical is is no longer poetry.

I would daresay too that poetic expression cannot be objective either. Objectivity implies a dearth of passion, and passion, even when expressed in terms of wry sarcasm and mockery, or delicately subtle implication, is the poetry's one essential ingredient.

Without it one might as well be reading the telephone directory or the the daily listings 0 from the stock exchanges.

FreeThinke said...

I remember Walter Huston's wistful, memorably awkward rendition of September Song from early childhood. Even then I was oddly aware of its poignancy, despite Huston's notable deficiencies as a "singer."

Oh it's a long, long time
From May to December
But the days grow short
When you reach September.

When the autumn weather
Turns the leaves to flame
One hasn't got time
For the waiting game.

Oh the days dwindle down
To a precious few:
September!
November!

And these few precious days
I'll spend with you.
These precious days
I'll spend with you.


Funny how I've remembered that all these decades -- nearly seventy years now! I guess that must mean there was something great about the song, and Walter Huston's rendition of it.

I will only quibble about a small inaccuracy in the lyrics [Were they written by P.G. Wodehouse or Ogden Nash, both frequent collaborators with Kurt Weill? I can't remember.] It has NOT been "a long long time from May to December." The time has hurtled along with astonishing speed, and looking back I can honestly say all of it -- even the pain -- was good.

The saddest thing about life is that someday it ends for all of us. Too bad we waste so much time complaining about it, isn't it? Every moment spent indulging on scorn, resentment and recrimination diminishes our capacity for joy.

-FJ said...

I believe that Orwell is lamenting the death of "laissez-faire" in "Inside the Whale". And I, for one, agree with him. Economic agenda's have proven the death of this once great nation.

-FJ said...

...they tried to freeze our economy in a permanent "Spring".

Thersites said...

:P