Thursday, September 16, 2021

'Give Thanks and Lie Down in Peace'

On the flight back from Cleveland, with most of my fellow passengers watching movies on various devices, I finished reading A Ransomed Dissident: A Life in Art Under the Soviets (trans. Sara Jolly and Boris Dralyuk, 2019) by Igor Golomstock and leafed at random through Auden’s Collected Poems. I know Auden pretty well but he was prolific and occasionally I happen on a poem I don’t remember ever having read. Perhaps because I hadn’t visited my hometown in more than five years and haven’t flown at all since a few months before the start of the lockdown, “Atlantis”seemed to glow on the page. Auden’s theme is travel, geographical and metaphysical – the search for a place that may or may not exist: 

“O remember the great dead

And honour the fate you are,

Travelling and tormented,

Dialectic and bizarre.”


As always with Auden, gratitude is obligatory: “Give thanks and lie down in peace, / Having seen your salvation.” His final collection, Thank You, Fog, published posthumously in 1974, contains a poem titled “A Thanksgiving.” The volume’s best-known line is from “Lullaby”: “Let your last thinks all be thanks.” Dr. Oliver Sacks said of his friend: “Wystan’s mind and heart came closer and closer in the course of his life, until thinking and thanking became one and the same.”

1 comment:

Ed Kane said...

Juxtaposition: While reading a collection of Guy Davenport essays, I was surprised to note a reference to the poet Ezra Pound’s childhood home in Wyncote, PA. I lived several years in Wyncote in the mid-1970s, in a tiny second-floor apartment that was one of six very snug accommodations clawed out of a somewhat modified old Victorian home, but I never knew that Pound had grown up in the town. A quick google search disclosed his address was 166 Fernbrook, somewhat behind where I lived at 103 Webster, on the other side of a block filled with stately trees and stately old homes. When Pound was released in 1958 from thirteen years of prison (if one were to call it that), he stopped by his old home in order to “visit” a particular apple tree on the property, a tree “in whose boughs he read the lines of Yeat’s that moved him to write “The Tree” that stands foremost in his poems.” Afterward Pound left for Italy. Other prior residents of Wyncote include Reggie Jackson of baseball legend and the Netanyahu brothers, Yonaton, the hero of Entebee, which event occurred while I lived in Wyncote, and Benjamin, the prime minister of Israel. During my years living there I worked at a hotel in center city Philadelphia, catching a train at nearby Jenkintown train station, and then worked at a state prison, but the main focus of my attention and energy during that time was to study English literature at La Salle College in Philadelphia, nine years of on-and-off study while also working. I remember that during summer nights of reading, studying, and writing, I would listen to the sound of a nightjar singing and churring all the night long, a very companionable sound. It’s likely that I read many Ezra Pound poems only a few properties from the poet’s old home, and that the nightjar I heard might have perched in a tree not far from trees that the poet had revered in childhood.