Wednesday, February 21, 2007

W. H. Auden, "First Things First" / E K, "Second Thoughts"

To celebrate Auden's birthday - February 21, 1907 - I'm posting a tribute/imitation/response I wrote a few years ago while studying his poetry in Oxford (where, of course, Auden himself went).


First Things First

Woken, I lay in the arms of my own warmth and listened
To a storm enjoying its storminess in the winter dark
Till my ear, as it can when half-asleep or half-sober,
Set to work to unscramble that interjectory uproar,
Construing its airy vowels and watery consonants
Into a love-speech indicative of a Proper Name.

Scarcely the tongue I should have chosen, yet, as well
As harshness and clumsiness would allow, it spoke in your praise,
Kenning you a god-child of the Moon and the West Wind
With power to tame both real and imaginary monsters,
Likening your poise of being to an upland county,
Here green on purpose, there pure blue for luck.

Loud though it was, alone as it certainly found me,
It reconstructed a day of peculiar silence
When a sneeze could be heard a mile off, and had me walking
On a headland of lava beside you, the occasion as ageless
As the stare of any rose, your presence exactly
So once, so valuable, so very now.

This, moreover, at an hour when only to often
A smirking devil annoys me in beautiful English,
Predicting a world where every sacred location
Is a sand-buried site all cultured Texans do,
Misinformed and thoroughly fleeced by their guides,
And gentle hearts are extinct like Hegelian Bishops.

Grateful, I slept till a morning that would not say
How much it believed of what I said the storm had said
But quetly drew my attention to what had been done
—So many cubic metres the more in my cistern
Against a leonine summer—, putting first things first:
Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.


Second Thoughts

Awake, I lay trying to ball up my blanket warmth,
Listening to the idle patter of snow forming drifts
Till some pattern began to resolve in the static,
My mind a receptive fallow field or mine
Culling infinite variables from the precipitate white,
A chart of past and present, my frozen Zodiac.

Not the path I want to choose, but the prints remain,
The plow only drawing its scraping edge
To write roads familiarly traveled. I venture
That your ghost is the real occlusion of memory,
Tears forming a cataract towards the future,
A double-blindness, sullen grey and squinting white.

Expansive though it was, alone as it truly discovered me,
It re-formed a place of compact intimacy
Where the slightest budge need be shared, and, holding still
Your undulous province, bordering my frontier,
I silented an invocation of timeless peace
Written in the contour of our bodies together.

This, in a season where I routinely despaired
Of a writ of love beyond the rites of lust,
Entrapped by the air-castle, reciprocal appreciation
My ego gladly chartered, providing a flattering script,
Self-seduced in a pituitary pitfall
Deducing justice of dialectic by hormonal logic.

Troubled, I laid till a time for action
In other matters pushed these thoughts aside
And the sun turned my eyes away from their accumulation
—The drifts become deep enough to cover a man
But for the banks' high, stoic walls—second thoughts:
Water in winter is no use, without the heat to thaw.


Anonymous said...

I can't believe there aren't a million comments telling you how eloquent your response/tribute poem is. Auden was a magnificent poet, and to be able to emulate that is something special. Cherish your talent. Poetry is a dying breed. Know that, and keep it breathing a little longer.

Anonymous said...

I second the comment above -- beautiful.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Haunting. I wish you would do more of these. There is nothing like this anywhere...

Jen said...

Really enjoyed your writing. I especially find the ending quite thought provoking.

Jen said...

I really enjoyed your write. I especially found the ending to be thought provoking. Made me think of the movie Frozen, and how it's the "banks" whose hearts are "frozen".

Karen Jean Larson said...

yes, Auden's words strike at the heart. Desparate to know not only that people, poets like you care but that we can make it better! Thank you for sharing your 'sensitive awareness to the world' words!

Karen Jean Larson said...

yes Auden's words strike at the heart of the matter. I am desparate to believe poets artists scientists and just humans will be able to make it better! Thank you for your wonderful sensitive words to tell your side through poetry. I am inspired.

Anonymous said...

Superb tribute to Auden! You are very talented. Do not cease writing please.

C. Leslie Charles said...

Wow! I happened on this page quite by accident and what a gift! Auden's poem is amazing and so is yours. I read and reread your last two lines several times. Right now I'm starting another book and needed a respite from literal thought. This is just the inspiration I needed, thank you. Please continue writing!

NOWPOET said...


For sharing your second thoughts
I appreciate the way they fall
Pile into drifts
Travel or hold still
Choose their own syllables
Speak to us not at us
Carry us far as they can
Unafraid willing to melt; *