‘Thank You, Fog’

“My face looks like a wedding cake left out in the rain,” quipped W.H. Auden. Indeed, by the age of 60, Auden’s face looked like the most-read library book in the most popular library; it exhausted any adjectives thrown at it—it was its own adjective. His friend Hannah Arendt said he looked “as if life itself had delineated a kind of face-scape to make manifest the ‘heart’s invisible furies.'”

According to one biographer, Auden suffered from something called Touraine-Solente-Gole syndrome,

in which the skin of the forehead, face, scalp, hands and feet becomes thick and furrowed and peripheral periostitis in the bones reduces the patient’s capacity for activity. There [is] no therapy for the syndrome, which does not affect either life expectancy or mental status, but which account[s] for Auden’s striking appearance of grave, lined melancholy.— “Auden,” Richard Davenport-Hines

auden2

W.H. Auden

Auden probably had never heard of TSG syndrome so he may not have known that his rapid aging was the result of anything other than how he was living his life. It was a life lived in a cloud of cigarette smoke and almost continuous writing. Fueled by amphetamines, which he believed made him more productive, he certainly was productive: four hundred poems (many very long), almost the same number of essays and book reviews, several verse plays, and all written between the mid-1920s and his death in September 1973. At night, to bring that constantly working mind to some static place, he took sleeping pills and drank.

Towards the end, in May 1973, he wrote what may be his last loved poem, “Thank You, Fog.” He had lived in New York for decades and “Grown used to New York weather” and was “all too familiar with Smog.” Fog is unnamed until the end, the final word of the last line, but her name is knowable: Fog is smog’s “unsullied sister,” and years away had allowed the poet to forget “what/You bring to British winters.”

Auden in winter is a poet of few, but precious, loves: company and coziness. Fog brings both as he is kept in, with friends, for a week at Christmas. No birds outside, no outside, just friends doing crosswords and paying no mind to worldly concerns. The outside world, where one “minds one’s p’s and q’s,” only interrupts the proceedings in the form of the “Daily Papers,/vomiting in slip-shod prose/the facts of filth and violence/that we’re too dumb to present:/our earth’s a sorry spot.”

Warm by the fire, warmed by the company of friends, cozy. Aware that the earth’s a sorry spot, but unmoved by this for the moment, as coziness and comfort can sometimes trump it all. It is a cat dozing by a fireplace of a poem, and like a cat, it has claws: Who is the poet thanking? “No summer sun will ever/dismantle the global gloom.” (Ever? Ever.) “Thank you, Fog.”

* * * *
It is a rainy, gray November afternoon in upstate New York today, in which the light remains dim from dawn till after dusk; what color there is is colors that were: expired leaves lingering on branches, uncollected rakings shoved into the roads. Autumnal Auden comes to mind.

Thank You, Fog by W.H. Auden
Grown used to New York weather,
all too familiar with Smog,
You, Her unsullied Sister,
I’d quite forgotten and what
You bring to British winters:
now native knowledge returns.

Sworn foe to festination,
daunter of drivers and planes,
volants, of course, will cause You,
but how delighted I am
that You’ve been lured to visit
Wiltshire’s witching countryside
for a whole week at Christmas,
that no one can scurry where
my cosmos is contracted
to an ancient manor-house
and four Selves, joined in friendship,
Jimmy, Tania, Sonia, Me.

Outdoors a shapeless silence,
for even then birds whose blood
is brisk enough to bid them
abide here all the year round,
like the merle and the mavis,
at Your cajoling refrain
their jocund interjections,
no cock considers a scream,
vaguely visible, tree-tops
rustle not but stay there, so
efficiently condensing
Your damp to definite drops.

Indoors specific spaces,
cosy, accommodate to
reminiscence and reading,
crosswords, affinities, fun:
refected by a sapid
supper and regaled by wine,
we sit in a glad circle,
each unaware of our own
nose but alert to the others,
making the most of it, for
how soon we must re-enter,
when lenient days are done,
the world of the work and money
and minding our p’s and q’s.

No summer sun will ever
dismantle the global gloom
cast by the Daily Papers,
vomiting in slip-shod prose
the facts of filth and violence
that we’re too dumb to present:
our earth’s a sorry spot, but
for this special interim,
so restful yet so festive,
Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Fog

____________________________________________
The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 6 asks, “Someone or something you can’t communicate with through writing (a baby, a pet, an object) can understand every single word you write today, for one day only. What do you tell them?”

* * * *
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12 comments

  1. wscottling · November 6, 2014

    beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. abodyofhope · November 6, 2014

    I’m not sure what it is about that poem, but I just like it. Something soft about it I connect with.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. SHAUNA · November 6, 2014

    Thoroughly LOVED reading this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dixie · November 6, 2014

    We only have one day
    for you to hear what I must say:
    My sweet bird… so sweet,
    and nineteen years old,
    an old soul,
    you left and I cried for many years.
    Even now the thought of our happy times
    childish rhymes,
    that you repeated when I said them.
    I now know
    you heard every word in a language
    I will never speak,
    unless of course these are happily,
    mysteriously translated
    and roll off your beak –
    back to me,
    back to my heart
    that misses you every day.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dixie Copeland · November 7, 2014

    Do you ever reply to anyone?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · November 7, 2014

      Actually, yes, I do, but if one has to type that out loud …

      I apologize for not replying yet. Your comments–so often in verse–are incredibly thought-provoking. I am grateful you’re a reader and I will make this more of a conversation. Abashedly yours, Mark

      Like

  6. Swoosieque · November 7, 2014

    Lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. genusrosa · November 7, 2014

    Oh, yes, Auden….I loved this, thank you…’my cosmos is contracted’…what a beautiful expression. On Auden’s appearance, I have just been reading some Ben Jonson; his poetry/plays/presence not often obscured (fortunately) by the fact that he described his cumbersome self as ‘my mountain belly and my rocky face.’ No wonder the great writers sought solace in beautiful words. Not everyone can look like Nan Fairbrother. :o)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dixie Copeland · November 8, 2014

    Thank you very kindly, sir. I enjoy playing the “Daily Prompt”. Have a great weekend! Most sincerely, Dixie

    Liked by 1 person

  9. qrrhwe@gmail.com · November 16, 2014

    thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Mark Aldrich · February 21, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Gad About Town and commented:

    W.H. Auden was born 108 years ago today.

    Like

  11. Pingback: Auden’s ‘Thank You, Fog’ | The Gad About Town

Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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