Friday, October 1, 2010

Poetry makes nothing happen


For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

From In Memory of W. B. Yeats by W.H. Auden 

I haven't read this poem for years, but poured over it at university. Met up with an old 
university friend the other day. Phil. Mentioned poetry (how I'm writing it, reading it). In 
the mail comes a CD with poems on it including Auden reading this astonishing poem. I  
was stopped still for the fullness of the poem. And here, these six lines about poetry! Suchperfection. 

I can't find the Auden recording to link to, but here's a reading on youtube. 

5 comments:

Vespersparrow said...

Mary, dear, how wonderful that you posted one of the great English poems. Very moving to hear apparently curmudgeonly Auden read and clearly mean such a loving elegy.

When the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky was incar-cerated in a camp at the Arctic Circle because he had been found by the courts to be a 'parasite' on the nation (he was a poet), he had with him one small Faber book of verse in English, which he didn't know. What dazzled him, he used to say, was when he'd translated the lines 'Time. . worships language and forgives/Everyone by whom it lives."

The idea of Time worshipping language saved his life. When he was tossed out of the country, he went immediately to Vienna to Auden's house, with his pockets full of poems and a bottle of the very best Russian vodka.

Think of it--"Time, , , , , worships language and forgives/Everyone by whom it lives."

Thank you, Mary dear.

T. Clear said...

Lovely stuff.

A few years ago, I lost a treasured silver bracelet somewhere around Yeats' grave in County Sligo, Ireland. And then the following year, my husband dropped (accidentally!) his camera in the toilet at the cafe at Yeats' grave. We seem to be pulled by a magnetism greater than that which is possible to understand, I believe. I like to think of the silver bracelet as a kind of offering to the poetry gods, but the camera incident really defies explanation!

Mary McCallum said...

Melissa and T Clear - two brilliant stories - thank you. Wonderful stuff about Brodsky (it made me meditate on those lines a moment - thank you for that - those who write/use language are forgiven by Time/don't 'die' because language lives on...) I don't know what to make of the camera and the bracelet! I'll make sure I strap jewellery and cameras to myself if I ever get to County Sligo (would love that.) And Melissa, unlike the lovely CD version of the poem, the youtube clip I've included isn't Auden but someone else. Auden sounds a lot more craggy and curmudgeonly than that...

Jim Murdoch said...

I was so struck by that poem when I first read it that it inspired one of my own:

The Happening

( after Auden )

Nothing happened today.
I wrote a poem but
the world refused to change.

Someone died, another
someone was born and still
the world refused to change.

Everything changes though
nothing really changes.
The world remains the same.

I wrote this poem to
keep something of today
safe until tomorrow.

A word can change a man.
A man can change a world.
Anything could happen.





from In Memory of W.B. Yeats

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.



Thursday, 28 February 2008

Mary McCallum said...

Jim - pottering through my blog at the start of the year and I happened upon your poem, which I must have missed when it was first posted, or perhaps been too busy to engage with it. I'm sorry for that - it's great! Thank you.