Tag Archives: The Quest

“Women and books would teach his middle age …”

“Vocation,” by W. H. Auden (Part XII of “The Quest”)

Incredulous, he stared at the amused
Official writing down his name among
Those whose request to suffer was refused.

The pen ceased scratching: though he came too late
To join the martyrs, there was still a place
Among the tempters for a caustic tongue

To test the resolution of the young
With tales of the small failings of the great,
And shame the eager with ironic praise.

Though mirrors might be hateful for a while,
Women and books would teach his middle age
The fencing wit of an informal style,
To keep the silences at bay and cage
His pacing manias in a worldly smile.

 

Auden1970ByPeter

“I won the Queen because my hair was red.”

“The Lucky,” by W. H. Auden (Part XV. of “The Quest”)

Suppose he’d listened to the erudite committee,
He would have only found where not to look;
Suppose his terrier when he whistled had obeyed,
It would not have unearthed the buried city;
Suppose he had dismissed the careless maid,
The cryptogram would not have fluttered from the book.

“It was not I,” he cried as, healthy and astounded,
He stepped across a predecessor’s skull;
“A nonsense jingle simply came into my head
And left the intellectual Sphinx dumbfounded;
I won the Queen because my hair was red;
The terrible adventure is a little dull.”

Hence Failure’s torment: “Was I doomed in any case,
Or would I not have failed had I believed in Grace?”

 

800px-Rosso_Fiorentino_-_Madonna_dello_Spedalingo_-_Google_Art_Project

Rosso Fiorentino & Pontormo: Angeletto con liuto, 1518

“Solitude /Became his flattered duchess in the dark.”

“The First Temptation,” by W. H. Auden (Part VI. of “The Quest”)

Ashamed to be the darling of his grief,
He joined a gang of rowdy stories where
His gift for magic quickly made him chief
Of all these boyish powers of the air;

Who turned his hungers into Roman food,
The town’s asymmetry into a park;
All hours took taxis; any solitude
Became his flattered duchess in the dark.

But, if he wished for anything less grand,
The nights came padding after him like wild
Beasts that meant harm, and all the doors cried Thief;

And when Truth had met him and put out her hand,
He clung in panic to his tall belief
And shrank away like an ill-treated child.

 

AudenVanVechten1939

“The Preparations,” by W. H. Auden

The Preparations” (Part II. of “The Quest”)

All had been ordered weeks before the start
From the best firms at such work: instruments
To take the measure of all queer events,
And drugs to move the bowels or the heart.

A watch, of course, to watch impatience fly,
Lamps for the dark and shades against the sun;
Foreboding, too, insisted on a gun,
And coloured beads to soothe a savage eye.

In theory they were sound on Expectation,
Had there been situations to be in;
Unluckily they were their situation:

One should not give a poisoner medicine,
A conjurer fine apparatus, nor
A rifle to a melancholic bore.

 

AudenVanVechten1939

“Out of it steps our future, through this door …”

“The Door” (Part I. of “The Quest”), by W. H. Auden

Out of it steps our future, through this door
Enigmas, executioners and rules,
Her Majesty in a bad temper or
A red-nosed Fool who makes a fool of fools.

Great persons eye it in the twilight for
A past it might so carelessly let in,
A widow with a missionary grin,
The foaming inundation at a roar.

We pile our all against it when afraid,
And beat upon its panels when we die:
By happening to be open once, it made

Enormous Alice see a wonderland
That waited for her in the sunshine and,
Simply by being tiny, made her cry.

 

1024px-Bushy_Park,_Dublin_(8390613432)

Photo credit: William Murphy from Dublin, Ireland [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

“The Crossroads,” by W. H. Auden

Part III of “The Quest”

Two friends who met here and embraced are gone,
Each to his own mistake; one flashes on
To fame and ruin in a rowdy lie,
A village torpor holds the other one,
Some local wrong where it takes time to die:
This empty junction glitters in the sun.

So at all quays and crossroads: who can tell
These places of decision and farewell
To what dishonour all adventure leads,
What parting gift could give that friend protection,
So orientated his vocation needs
The Bad Lands and the sinister direction?

All landscapes and all weathers freeze with fear,
But none have ever thought, the legends say,
The time allowed made it impossible;
For even the most pessimistic set
The limit of their errors at a year.
What friends could there be left then to betray,
What joy take longer to atone for; yet
Who could complete without the extra day
The journey that should take no time at all?

 

235e2d3

“For those who dread to drown, of thirst may die.”

“The Tower,” by W. H. Auden

(Part IX of “The Quest”)

This is an architecture for the old;
Thus heaven was attacked by the afraid,
So once, unconsciously, a virgin made
Her maidenhead conspicuous to a god.

Here on dark nights while worlds of triumph sleep
Lost Love in abstract speculation burns,
And exiled Will to politics returns
In epic verse that makes its traitors weep.

Yet many come to wish their tower a well;
For those who dread to drown, of thirst may die,
Those who see all become invisible:

Here great magicians, caught in their own spell,
Long for a natural climate as they sigh
“Beware of Magic” to the passer-by.

 

Backbone_(8498394038)

“Or look at clouds through bits of coloured glass. “

The only difference that could be seen
From those who’d never risked their lives at all
Was his delight in details and routine:

For he was always glad to mow the grass,
Pour liquids from large bottles into small,
Or look at clouds through bits of coloured glass.

— from W. H. Auden’s “The Hero” (section XVI. of “The Quest”)

 

20181011_185329b

20181011_185329f

20181011_185329e

 

 

“Adventure,” by W. H. Auden

“Adventure,” by W. H. Auden (Part XVII of “The Quest”)

Others had found it prudent to withdraw
Before official pressure was applied,
Embittered robbers outlawed by the Law,
Lepers in terror of the terrified.

But no one else accused these of a crime;
They did not look ill: old friends, overcome,
Stared as they rolled away from talk and time
Like marbles out into the blank and dumb.

The crowd clung all the closer to convention,
Sunshine and horses, for the sane know why
The even numbers should ignore the odd:

The Nameless is what no free people mention;
Successful men know better than to try
To see the face of their Absconded God.

 

 

“Adventure,” by W.H. Auden

“Adventure,” by W.H. Auden (Part XVII of “The Quest”)

Others had found it prudent to withdraw
Before official pressure was applied,
Embittered robbers outlawed by the Law,
Lepers in terror of the terrified.

But no one else accused these of a crime;
They did not look ill: old friends, overcome,
Stared as they rolled away from talk and time
Like marbles out into the blank and dumb.

The crowd clung all the closer to convention,
Sunshine and horses, for the sane know why
The even numbers should ignore the odd:

The Nameless is what no free people mention;
Successful men know better than to try
To see the face of their Absconded God.

 

aeed7a0fd6b92a669866f8de91e098a5--cecil-beaton-famous-photographers