W. H. Auden: Tell Me the Truth About Love

W. H. Auden: Tell Me the Truth About Love

Biographic Notes

Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973) was born in York, England. He moved to Birmingham during childhood and was educated at Christ Church, Oxford. At Oxford his precocity as a poet was immediately apparent, and he formed lifelong friendships with two fellow writers, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood.

As a young man, he traveled through Germany, Iceland, and China, served in the Spanish Civil war and in 1939 moved to the United States, where he met his lover, Chester Kallman, and became an American citizen. A prolific writer, Auden was also a noted playwright, librettist, editor, and essayist. Considered by some to be the greatest English poet of the twentieth century, his work has exerted a major influence on succeeding generations of poets on both sides of the Atlantic.

Dark Night of the Soul

In 1952, Auden and his life-long companion moved to an apartment at 77 St. Marks Place in New York’s East Village. It was, more or less, Auden’s permanent home for the rest of his life. During the initial years, Auden lived, however ambivalently, actively engaged in social and political interests, as well as enjoying his status as an internationally renowned poet. In his later years, Auden became increasingly withdrawn and lonely.

This was profoundly reflected in his writings, through which he deliberately attempted to discard much of his own public dignity, a significant sign that indicated the painful depth of his feelings of personal isolation. Many of his last poems spoke to, rather than about, silent objects and people who were either absent or dead. Ruminations about “night” (the darkness and ending of one’s day/life) dominated his writings in 1972, and particularly in his poem Lullaby that was addressed to himself. In that poem, writing about sleep was framed by the language of finality: “Let your last thinks all be thanks,” anticipating a time of final endings, completions and a state surpassing all feelings of resentment.

On another note, Auden’s life-long anxieties about his seemingly paradoxical wishes to maintain a clear sense of autonomy, versus his strong needs for attachment, were perhaps no more clearly presented than in his book of poems, About the House, inspired by various rooms in his home. Writing about groups of people visiting in the “living room”, Auden’s thoughts turned to the impact of the size of such rooms upon the internal experiences of psychological boundaries versus a lack of boundaries.

If the room was too small, he believed that, “…people can’t forget at will that they’re not alone.” In other words, they can’t remember that while together (or part of a “we”), they are also alone, instead drowning in a sense of enmeshment, lack of personal identity, autonomy and achievement.

At another extreme, if the room was too large, it would encourage people to engage in ever-more strong efforts to make contact with each other, with intensively forceful attempts to achieve a sense of attachment, along with heightened wishes and strivings for nurturing dependency.

Near the very end of his life, Auden’s poem entitled Loneliness purported to convey his prediction that his intense feelings of solitude would be relieved on the following day, when his companion, Chester Kallman, was to return. In fact, the poem only addresses in the first person his own terrifying image of Loneliness itself, the “Gate-crashing ghost, aggressive / invisible visitor.”

Concluding this brief commentary, we return to Auden’s feelings of the dark night of his soul as the end of life approached, best captured in his poem entitled Lullaby

Lullaby

First stanza
W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Kenneth Granham Reads W. H. Auden’s Lullaby

W. H. Auden: Tell Me the Truth About Love

Tell Me the Truth About Love is a BBC documentary film looking at the poetry of W. H. Auden, revealing how it came not just from inspiration but from a rigorous personal analysis of love itself. When he died in 1973, he left behind some of the greatest love poems of the 20th century. Most of his unpublished material was destroyed, apart from two short journals and a series of jottings, containing diagrams and notes about the nature of love.

W. H. Auden: Tell Me the Truth About Love

Photo-Gallery: W. H. Auden Through the Years

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Anthony Pisano’s East Village Apartment: A Home for the Heart

Anthony Pisano’s East Village Apartment: A Home for the Heart

Welcome to My Home is delightful documentary short film by Kelsey Holtaway and Mark Cersosimo at Departure/Arrival Films. Anthony Pisano is a sweet old man who sits on the sidewalk and invites passersby to browse the contents of his East Village home, an amber-lit apartment-space packed with antiques, photographs, knickknacks, figurines and watch parts, which might easily be confused with a rummage sale or second-hand shop.

But nothing in the collections Mr. Pisano has built throughout his life is for sale. Instead, for Mr. Pisano, the benefit of living in his East Village storefront is that it offers him a chance to meet people. He leaves the front door ajar, and blasts Frank Sinatra music into the street. Passersby peer at his collection of unusual items, like a Bill Clinton doll on an antique model boat. .The New York Times reported in 2010 that Pisano “estimates he gives away 10 to 12 trinkets every day.”

Anthony Pisano’s East Village Apartment: A Home for the Heart

(Best Viewed in HD Full-Screen Mode)

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Photo of the Day: New Rock City

Photo of the Day: New Rock City

Photography by:  Joseph O. Holmes, NYC

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MoMo Tags Manhattan: The Biggest Graffiti Tag in the World

MoMo Tags Manhattan: The Biggest Graffiti Tag in the World

For the past four years, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have walked by or on top of the orange lines have unwittingly passed what is the biggest graffiti tag in the world.  The tag, which is so vast that all parts of it cannot be viewed at the same time, was created by an artist known as Momo in 2006 and consists of a single paint line that runs about eight miles long and spells out his name.

It runs from the East River to the Hudson River and extends north to 14th Street and south to Grand Street.  The line runs over curbstones and subway grates and zigzags around lampposts and manhole covers.  Its route begins at the edge of a West Side pier and ends after crossing a footbridge over the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.  “I wanted to make a trail that people could follow,” Momo said.  “And I realized that I could write something if I planned it out with the street grid.”

The project was inspired by a series of purple footprints that were painted on Manhattan sidewalks in 1986, which stretched all the way from the Upper East Side down to Foley Square.  Those mysterious markings led to a spot on Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side, where the city had bulldozed an elaborate community garden called the Garden of Eden, which had been created by a squatter named Adam Purple.  Momo said he glimpsed the footprints as a child and was captivated.

It was a really ephemeral, strange sight,” he said.  “And it felt like those footprints created a path that was all mine.”  Years later he experimented for months with a way to make his own paint trail and eventually lashed a homemade funnel-shaped bucket to the back of a bicycle.  He fitted the bucket with a hose that was controlled by a ball valve of the kind used in swimming pool plumbing systems.  The line was created with 15 gallons of paint dispensed over the course of two covert missions carried out between 3 and 6 in the morning.  “Everyone was oblivious except for one guy who chased me,” he said.  “But I think he was trying to be helpful, believing I was heading to a job site and had a legitimate leak.”

You can read more about MoMo’s Manhattan tag in The New York Times here.

MoMo Tags Manhattan: The Biggest Graffiti Tag in the World

Slide Show: MoMo Tags Manhattan/The Biggest Graffiti Tag in the World

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Photo of the Day: Look on the Sunny Side

Photo of the Day: Look on the Sunny Side

Photography by:  Joseph O. Holmes, NYC

June Carter Cash: Keep On The Sunny Side

June Carter and Johnny Cash: Keep On The Sunny Side

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Photo of the Day: The Lower East Side Moving Van Man

Photo of the Day: The Lower East Side Moving Van Man

Photography by:  Joseph O. Holmes, NYC

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Photo of the Day: Thinking-Walking-Working

Photo of the Day: Thinking-Walking-Working

Photography by:  Joseph O. Holmes, NYC

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