Head Lines

Baron Wormser

One endeavor I've been doing for decades that this time speaks to is writing down poems word by word. It's wonderful to read a poem or hear a poem or speak a poem aloud but when you write it down word by word, you go to the original place. You are there with the poet, which is precious, no intermediaries. You, in a sense, are creating with the poet. So I wrote this one down, which many of you know and which I will never tire of:

Musée des Beaux Arts - W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just
walking dully along:
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the
torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

One thing about Auden that always has moved me is his sanity. He manages to be forthright but subtle, emotional but lucid, how he is able to speak so directly in those opening lines. To commune once more with him and the poem by writing it down at this time of suffering is special.

Baron Wormser is the author of 18 books.

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