‘They are bluffing, and you must learn to bluff too’

In the documentary, Tell Me the Truth About Love, W.H. Auden’s friend Thekla Clark recounts the story of one of Auden’s lovers complaining to him that he thought Auden would be more “romantic,” being a poet, after all. “But you aren’t romantic,” Clark quotes the lover telling the Auden. “You aren’t romantic at all.”

“If you want romance,” Clark quotes Auden replying, “screw a journalist.” (Except the word he used was not “screw.”)

Auden was not one to ruin a good line—or a good night—by spending it an explanation of the difference between the romantic and the sentimental.
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Auden at Home

In About the House, published in 1965, W. H. Auden gives readers a tour of his home in Kirchstetten, Austria. Each of the twelve poems in the section titled “Thanksgiving for a Habitat,” bears a dedication to an individual, one of Auden’s friends.

(“Down There,” about the cellar, is dedicated to Irving Weiss, and “Up There,” about the attic, is dedicated to Anne Weiss. Irving Weiss taught in the English Department of SUNY New Paltz and retired in 1985, before I was a student in that department, but he was still around when I was there. Anne was his wife. For me, “Auden dedicated a poem to him” may as well have been the caption under his face each time I saw Professor Weiss. He is still alive, 94 years old, and a profile of him in a recent Long Island newspaper does not mention any of the above.)

Back to Auden’s home (pictured in a recent photo at top with a poster bringing the master back to the porch outside his upstairs study):
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The Kingdom of Anxiety

The concluding sections of W.H. Auden’s Christmas oratorio continue his blend of the contemporary and everyday with the mysterious and eternal. All of modern philosophy is briefly made to vanish in a blur of the mundane world:

But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays.

The fact of faith—not what one has faith in, but that faith exists, is a reality itself—that is the miracle of the day, is what Christmas is about:

Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

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