Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Auden, Anita and Che

An Auden Moment

From As I Walked Out One Evening, by W. H. Auden

'O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

'O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.'

Friends and loved ones come into and out of our lives . . . mostly they enter and exit peacefully . . . but even with the gentle exits of moving away, losing touch, drifting apart, there is pain . . . but what of the pain of the living for the dead and dying?

Whose pain is it?

What right have we who are not dead or dying to feel pain for or with or around those who are?

Whose pain is it?

A friend imagines the horrors of war and terror and feels the pain of strangers.

Mostly, we cannot feel each other’s pain. . . maybe not ever . . .   Empathy is as close as we can get.  Some are better at it than others.  A few seem to have been born with an empathetic gene — you know the ones – people who seem to be natural listeners, the ones to whom everybody flocks in sorrow times.

But most of us learn empathy, usually the hard way.  Maybe it happens in an instant.  Maybe it takes a lifetime.  But there we are, thinking only of self and how this affects the very important ‘me’ of the situation, when something turns in us and we become aware, if only for an instant, of the other and the reality of their separate existence, of their pain . . . and their beauty . . . and the glory of their existence . . .

I think on Auden and my friend Anita and Che Guevera . . . an unlikely trio . . . Anita, who introduced me to the story of Che at his trial . . . a woman much later in life recounts being there and how it changed her life that when he was sentenced to die, Che looked . . . directly . . . at . . . her . . . Anita’s voice in the dark night of the stairwell we sit in in Baghdad, smoking our cigarettes away from offended noses and lungs, comes at me with this story . . . or maybe it was bright daylight and we were on the roof . . . Everybody puts themselves center stage, Beth, she says.  Do you really think Che Guevera gave one hoot about that little girl?  I doubt he even saw her.  He had just been sentenced to death, #@!!#@!

Knowingly, we both suck on our cigs and let out long sighing exhales.

But what I secretly know is that I’m not like Anita.  I’m that 9-year-old girl, sure Che is looking at me.

And it isn’t just that we put ourselves center stage, is it?  In our rush to be in the middle of it all, we push each other off . . . there isn’t even room for you to make a cameo appearance, let alone be best supporting actor on my stage when I’m in full-on Beth mode.

So how can I truly love the you that is you when I can barely let you step, even briefly, onto my stage?

An Auden moment . . . that’s what I’m in need of . . .

“Then, in June 1933, Auden experienced what he later called a ‘Vision of Agape’. He was sitting on a lawn with three colleagues from the school where he was teaching, when, he wrote, ‘quite suddenly and unexpectedly, something happened. I felt myself invaded by a power which, though I consented to it, was irresistible and certainly not mine. For the first time in my life I knew exactly – because, thanks to the power, I was doing it – what it meant to love one’s neighbor as oneself.’” from Selected Poems, by W. H. Auden, Edward Mendelson, Ed.

Somehow, it gets all mixed in together for me, this over value of self with undervalue of other with judging both self and other with anger and with sadness with love with beauty . . . it’s all of one piece, somehow . . .

I don’t think I’ve had an Auden moment yet . . . I’ve come close . . . but that was empathy . . . sorrow at another’s sorrow . . . caring because they cared . . . it’s close, but it’s not quite there . . . there . . . there where the neighbor lives . . . there, on the neighbor’s stage . . . there, where I have no place, and yet am still blessed to merely sit and watch and be . . .

I know the place . . .but I haven’t been there yet . . .

A Summer Night, by W. H. Auden

Out on the lawn I lie in bed,
Vega conspicuous overhead
In the windless nights of June,
As congregated leaves complete
Their day’s activity; my feet
Point to the rising moon.

Lucky, this point in time and space
Is chosen as my working-place,
Where the sexy airs of summer,
The bathing hours and the bare arms,
The leisured drives through a land of farms
Are good to a newcomer.

Equal with colleagues in a ring
I sit on each calm evening
Enchanted as the flowers
The opening light draws out of hiding
With all its gradual dove-like pleading,
Its logic and its powers:

That later we, though parted then,
May still recall these evenings when
Fear gave his watch no look;
The lion griefs loped from the shade
And on our knees their muzzles laid,
And Death put down his book.

Now north and south and east and west
Those I love lie down to rest;
The moon looks on them all,
The healers and the brilliant talkers,
The eccentrics and the silent walkers,
The dumpy and the tall.

She climbs the European sky,
Churches and power stations lie
Alike among earth’s fixtures:
Into the galleries she peers
And blankly as a butcher stares
Upon the marvelous pictures.

To gravity attentive, she
Can notice nothing here, though we
Whom hunger does not move,
From gardens where we feel secure
Look up and with a sigh endure
The tyrannies of love:

And, gentle, do not care to know,
Where Poland draws her eastern bow,
What violence is done,
Nor ask what doubtful act allows
Our freedom in this English house,
Our picnics in the sun.

Soon, soon, through the dykes of our content
The crumpling flood will force a rent
And, taller than a tree,
Hold sudden death before our eyes
Whose river dreams long hid the size
And vigours of the sea.

But when the waters make retreat
And through the black mud first the wheat
In shy green stalks appears,
When stranded monsters gasping lie,
And sounds of riveting terrify
Their whorled unsubtle ears,

May these delights we dread to lose,
This privacy, need no excuse
But to that strength belong,
As through a child’s rash happy cries
The drowned parental voices rise
In unlamenting song.

After discharges of alarm
All unpredicted let them calm
The pulse of nervous nations,
Forgive the murderer in the glass,
Tough in their patience to surpass
The tigress her swift motions.

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