A shilling life will give you all the facts
How father beat him, how he ran away,
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts
Made him the greatest figure of his day:
Of how he fished, hunted, worked all night,
Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea:
Some of the last researchers even write
Love made him weep his pints like you and me
With all his honours on, he sighed
Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;
Did little jobs about the house with skill
And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still
Or pottered round the garden; answered some
Of his long marvellous letters but
W. H. Auden
Thanks a million for the letter and comments on my poem.
I’m delighted and excited that you showed it to the lads. I have this shiver and tremour going through me at the idea that the austere British greats of the 20s and 30s are reading the meanderings of a Dublin working class woman. What a giggle.
I read your sonnet Who’s Who very carefully and showed it to Tony and Michael my two great writing friends. Michael reckons you to be the greatest of that lot over there, by the way, and he has a very canny ear for poetic rhythm.
His first language is what you lot would have called Erse in your blind arrogant ignorance, not personally directed, but you know what I mean, so he has a very musical ear.
Now here’s where I have to diverge with you about the piece.
We all here agree that it sounds and feels like a tiny leak of the intensely personal Wystan, in a profoundly nostalgic and, dare I say it, spiritual craving mode. It’s a wistful desire to return to the womb of the family library away from public gaze
and comment. There is nothing cold, impersonal or objective about it. We loved it and, of course, in strict English sonnet form – what else would you expect.
By the way was God what you finally expected?
A remembrance of my Nana who taught me how to cook
(After Paula Meehan)
There is delight to be alone
To choose what might a gourmet like to cook
beuf bourguignon, salade nicoise, to hook the
Discerned palette with high class wine
To bring along the flavour, baste the tongue
With top drawer tastes exciting
ary nerves to a point ecstatically spent
a sensation high to which the body clung
At once an echo back to early years
When he was tasked to win his first scout badge
He begged his Nan for help to cook.
Of laughter she set him on the task
And out of all the mess and strife, a pie
Of apple, edible, no cause to die.
A Nobody’s Dream
Consider a young boy of little note
No life outside the home of humble seam
So he would never share his secret dream
though masters were unmoved by
what he wrote
He would never let it slip even by chance
The yearning ache, that went against the trend
Deep longing for his great big friend
Who passed him out without a backward glance
Who’s ego compensated for his
So large in fact his frame could not contain
So big that his ambition caused him strife
And when he found his niche in public life
He drove himself right to the top
Until tribunals cut him down and made him stop