November 12, 2003

This makes less sense [Filed under: Auden, W.H.]

Perhaps Auden’s last line points us to something about the type of cynicism that these poems exhibit. The view that the stars don’t, in fact, give a damn is born from an attempt to remove all personifiable qualities that would typically be attributed to stars (caring, watching-over, keenness in Frost’s words). What we’re left with when we strip the stars of all the mystical qualities (the ones that Bronte satirically gives them) is nothing but the pale and lifeless eyes of a statue. Perhaps Auden is inviting the question in his last line: Should we be doing this? And, if we do succumb to the cynical modern view of the stars, what are we left with when we stare at the nothingness?

PS: Do we have a second poem lined up for next week?

November 11, 2003

This makes little sense [Filed under: Auden, W.H..Brontë, Emily.General Discussion]

If one can abide stars that are simply points of light, inert things that don’t watch us and are no kind of companion—and certainly this is what we all believe nowadays—one can learn to adjust to an empty sky. An empty sky is awfully beautiful, too, and, moreover, reminds us that we are the more loving ones—the only ones who love. That is something of a distinction. Bronte would never adjust… but she is lost in her fantasy: could the dark of her pillow really be a surrogate for the washed out stars? Auden is more cynical. There is no difference between day and night if stars are not the sort to give a damn.

But maybe there is a difference… the daily washout of the stars by the blood-red sun doesn’t faze Auden while the total dark sublime would take (him) a little getting used to. I think Mike is right to wonder persistently about that last line. I feel strongly that we are meant to read ‘a little time’ as ‘a hell of a lot of time.’ So which is it—“no worries, man, the stars are just pretty lights anyway” or “this might take a good long while.” Maybe Auden is as susceptible to fantasy as Bronte. I know I am.

November 7, 2003

Dark Skies are OK too [Filed under: Auden, W.H.]

RE: #1) I’m not sure I fell similarly about the dark sky. I tend to agree more with the idea that one could learn to love an empty sky as much as the stars, not out of a residual effect of the stars but due to a newfound appreciation of total dark. One consideration: as Frost hinted, the stars die every morning and we are often left with an empty sky. Granted, it is blue and not black, but it is interesting that in stanza 2 he mentions the daytime and immediately follows it with the hypothetical situation of stars dying. These two are in many ways the same event. It seems to suggest that because he doesn’t miss the stars during the day there is no reason he should miss them at night.

But…… thinking about it further, why does Auden feel the need to replace his admiration? I think I’m liking Alan’s general theory applied to this situation. I’ll leave that to Alan. Regardless, if we take his affection to be a template for general human affection, it might point to a necessity of loving at night (during the bad times, maybe?).

November 6, 2003

On being the more loving one [Filed under: Auden, W.H.]

A couple of quick comments regarding The More Loving One before I go to bed:

  1. Brian, I think, was right to insist that ‘sublime’ is not a noun in this poem. I was perhaps overly enthusiastic about my misreading. Had he felt “the total dark sublime” I would have maintained my case, but the word in the poem is ‘its.’ That little pronoun seems to demand that the object be an attribute or quality of the empty sky, and ‘sublime’ just doesn’t work that way. I still want to believe that the sublime dark is not a substitute for the stars, and that the affection is not preserved through some transference, but rather the appreciation of the absence of the object is itself is in some way just a sublimation, so to speak, of the original sentiment. I’m certain, though, that ‘sublime’ can be used as a noun in other circumstances.
  2. In reading this poem, I was reminded of a passage from one of my favorite novels (my appreciation is somewhat idiosyncratic, and I’m not sure I’d recommend the book to anyone else):

    It’s very odd, my dear Lewis, how being loved brings out the worst in comparatively amiable people. One sees these worthy creatures lying at one’s feet and protesting their supreme devotion. And it’s a great strain to treat them with even moderate civility. I doubt whether anyone is nice enough to receive absolutely defenceless love.

    —C.P. Snow, The Light and the Dark

    I took it to mean that the speaker agrees: “If equal affection cannot be,” she’d rather not be on the receiving end. Of course, she also says, “If a love affair has come to the point when one needs to get things straight, then…it’s time to think a little about the next.” Perhaps it’s best not to pay too close attention to what she says…

  3. I keep wanting to skip the word ‘me’ in the last line. Without it, the line is iambic and comfortable; with it, I am forced to pay attention to what the line actually says.

November 2, 2003

The More Loving One [Filed under: Auden, W.H.]


The More Loving One

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.