Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A few words about Auden.

This morning as I was standing in the vestibule of the 8:37am MetroNorth express, hurtling towards New York, my eye happened to bounce over a blue-suited shoulder. I noticed the name Auden in the left hand column of section B1 (as in bomber) of the NYT. Now, the Times is not a paper I normally read for news, preferring as I do to get my propaganda free of pretensions, but I have to admit that the name Auden caught my eye, like the face of a beloved old friend suddenly glimpsed in a crowd of strangers.

This year marks the centennial of Auden's birth. I was reading Auden's poem, September 1st, 1939 on the morning of September 11th, 2001. For six years I carried the book, The English Auden, edited by Edward Mendelson, around in my backpack wherever I went. A dilapidated copy of The Collected Poems of W.H. Auden, bound discreetly in duct tape, sits on my desk here at work, to my immediate right.

I have spent more time with Auden in the last decade than I have spent with anyone else, even myself. But I haven't been reading much Auden lately, and the fleeting glimpse of Auden's name over a gray column of print reminded me that my life has been emptier for it.

When I arrived at work this morning I gingerly opened the paper and began to read. Half way down the page I encountered the following lines, from "Tell Me the Truth About Love," soon to be appearing in a subway car near you:

When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I'm picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love!

"Will it alter my life altogether?" I think if it is the real thing, it really should. I know that if it is the wrong thing, it certainly will. But how do we distinguish between the real thing and the wrong thing, and avoid ruining our lives?

I have no idea.

Do you?