Sunday, 13 June 2010


O What Is That Sound

O what is that sound which so thrills the ear
Down in the valley drumming, drumming?
Only the scarlet soldiers, dear,
The soldiers coming.

O what is that light I see flashing so clear
Over the distance brightly, brightly?
Only the sun on their weapons, dear,
As they step lightly.

O what are they doing with all that gear,
What are they doing this morning, this morning?
Only their usual manoeuvres, dear.
Or perhaps a warning.

O why have they left the road down there,
Why are they suddenly wheeling, wheeling?
Perhaps a change in their orders, dear.
Why are you kneeling?

O haven't they stopped for the doctor's care,
Haven't they reined their horses, their horses?
Why, they are none of them wounded, dear.
None of these forces.

O is it the parson they want, with white hair,
Is it the parson, is it, is it?
No, they are passing his gateway, dear,
Without a visit.

O it must be the farmer who lives so near.
It must be the farmer so cunning, so cunning?
They have passed the farmyard already, dear,
And now they are running.

O where are you going? Stay with me here!
Were the vows you swore deceiving, deceiving?
No, I promised to love you, dear,
But I must be leaving.

O it's broken the lock and splintered the door,
O it's the gate where they're turning, turning;
Their boots are heavy on the floor
And their eyes are burning.

-- W H Auden


Dick the Prick said...

Quite a remarkable man (is it?) Wisson (odd name).

Wotsonradio - but Rd4 serielizing one of Le Carre's books, not heard of, Pilgrim & the rebel, very good. Almost a fellow traveller. Very matter of fact morbid, which, I guess, seems all too familiar.


Uranus, The Magician said...

Crap stuff written by a raving poofter.

call me ishmael said...

If only we were all as succinct and erudite as yourself; that'll be your magic anus you're talking out of, I guess, sweetie.

PT Barnum said...

That's the first poem that ever gave me, as a schoolchild, a frisson of the power of poetic language. So apparently simple, so darkly suggestive.

call me ishmael said...

Me, too, mr PTB. My late brother used to sing it to a two-chord accompaniment; make your hair stand on end, it would, yet nothing to it, really, just back-of-the-neck, as you say, suggestion; how is it that we are hard-wired this way, when abstract language is such a latecomer?

call me ishmael said...

I always feel diminished by those le Carre stories, mr dtp, on the page, the telly or the radio, there was one on Radio 5 today, too, it's almost as though he is a very very grown-up and I am a wee child, as if the apparent amorality of all concerned is absolutely normal and the expectation of anything better just naive. I am not a fan, although such is the adult snootiness of his ouvre that I am always left feeling I should be.

WH Auden was one of the 'thirties so-called pink poets; he and Christopher Isherwood lived for a while in Weimar Berlin, leaving for the States as Hitler came to power; he was one of the many arty lefties of the time, although unlike his successors in our own time, he wrote some fine stuff.

Dick the Prick said...

He certainly did write some fine stuff but I bet he was shitting it. My old dear was telling me about her chum's dad who was a Polish paratrooper but had been buried alive for 3 days and crawled out; subsequently no curtains could ever be shut in the house - seems reasonable, all in all.

I dunno about The Carre, at some points I think it's tongue in cheek jibberish. He has given structure to what was essentially bollox. I'm sure people got killed and shit during the cold war but he sorts of writes if as you know he knows what's gonna happen - too clever for his own good. Death, intrigue, yada yada yada. The little life back stories he gives are knowingly glib. Good Sunday afternoon shit though.

I apologize for this but err.. have been listening to this all day, not exactly Evensong but very good bass line:


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
PT Barnum said...

You would think any self-respecting green-ink writer would try to get the spelling right. "Diabetes melititus"? No, that's "diabetes mellitus". Now go away and leave the grown-ups to talk in peace.

PT Barnum said...

Auden has now been reduced, in the public mind, to his Four Weddings ditty, 'Stop all the Clocks', which is surely as parodic a poem as he ever wrote. Myself, I have a special affection for 'Lay your sleeping head, my love/Human on my faithless arm' - sweetly, bleakly humane.

call me ishmael said...

And I think this is mine, mr ptb, "the clever hopes expire of a low dishonest decade" although it also arouses in me my raging demand: How dare there be Poets?

by W.H. Auden

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
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

call me ishmael said...

Well, I tried it, mr dtp, BodyRox, and you're right, it's not evensong.

call me ishmael said...

ps I don't know, Mr ptb, that the audience of Four Weddings consitutes the public mind entirely, at least, I hope it doesn't; the public gob, maybe, led like sheep to consumerism's trough, the noisy minority. I had an argument here the other day, somebody on the telly said, repeatedly that 23 billion people will watch the World Cup and of course there aren't 23 billion people, they just count - or more accurately, estimate - the same people over and over again. I think it's a bit like that with the Hugh Grant wankers, they count them again and again.

PT Barnum said...

I think I wrote 'public mind', Mr I., as a self-censored version of what I was actually thinking, which felt a little too judgemental of those who fancy themselves of elevated sensibilities for enjoying Mr Grant's endless twitching and gurning and mumbling. I have never seen the film in question, but I have been to two funerals where the poem was read out.

How dare there be Poets, indeed. And, it seems, there are no poets anymore, where language is so much degraded and anything of any intellecual difficulty so very despised as elitist and exclusionary. But we have Auden (and the rest) to 'undo the folded lie'.

call me ishmael said...

My anger at the trade began when I heard some harpy on the radio, feasting on the Bulger boy, how she simply had to write about it, to do it justice, because As A Poet, that's what she did.

I may have been overharsh, maybe we do need poems about Jamie Bulger but I would rather we had effective and duly-funded social work.

Often I say to people, griping about one inevitability or another: Find The Poetry In It, so it's not the idea of poetry I object to, just its career structure.

Had lunch with that Wendy Cope, once. And that other guy, On The Beach At Cambridge, wotsisname, dead now. Working down the library can be unsettling.

Goodnight Vienna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Goodnight Vienna said...

Pullman hocks
Betjamin mocks
Larkin cocks
Amis focks
Cope mocks
Ishmael rocks

PT Barnum said...

Ah, methinks that is the same Wendy Cope who spread malicious innuendo about Derek Walcott when both were contending for the Chair in Poetry at Oxford. Charming woman, passing notes in class about his BlackMan's endowment to set her own feet more firmly on the career ladder to become The Poet. Just not Laureate material.

"Amis focks
Cope mocks
Ishmael rocks"
Funny, and very true, Mr GV.

PT Barnum said...

Tsk, should check my facts first before opining. Ruth Padel (who she?) not Wendy Cope. (PTB wonders what scrag-end of academic gossip the brain is concealing about Cope..)

Woman on a Raft said...

It's all poets this morning.
There's a ding-dong
Going on
In Oxfong

In light of which I've withdrawn my candidacy.

Today Programme Tuesday 15 June
The election of the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University has once more been rocked by controversy. Arts editor Will Gompertz and poet Paula Claire discuss whether the system should be changed.

This suggests a genteel comment, instead of which Claire had a right old go at Gompertz who presumably stepped on her pet corn, going by the shrieks. Worth listening replay a five-minute item.

"She is protesting over the fact that she was described as a "performer and artist" in Oxford's announcement of the 11 candidates for the post, omitting the fact that she is a poet."

The Guardian summarizes then puts on a tin hat and ducks behind a wall, wisely.

call me ishmael said...

Yes, she definitely sounds like a fucking poet to me.

They should, mrs woar, beseech you, on bended knee.