Saturday, April 15, 2006

GBBMC: The REVEAL

Wystan Hughes Auden, more commonly known as W. H. Auden, 1907-1973. A man of many pursuits, but chiefly recognized as a poet of enormous acclaim, and, more importantly, my all-time favorite. One of my challenges in doing this was that I wanted to make it funny, in the spirit of Paul's book, and I did inject a bit of humor here and there, but my enormous respect for this man just would not allow me to take it to all-out slapstick.

Now on to the revealing of the clues that I planted along the way, particularly the first four days. I took my challenge to be that of planting solid, actual clues, but not such that would be easily Googlable, unless you already happened to at least be on the right track via your own knowledge of literature and poetry.

DAY ONE: "As I Look To My Future, 1928"
Here you are given a vague reference as to age, by my revealing the year, 1928, and describing the person as a "young man." That is also, of course, where you get your gender clue. How young? Well, you know he's through with school, and that he is some sort of writer, and he has already submitted work for publication and been rejected. And therein lies the BIG clue from this entry--that his first collection of poems (though I have not yet identified him as a poet) was rejected by the publishing house Faber and Faber, by an editor named T. S. Eliot. I expected everyone to know who T.S. Eliot was.

More obscure clues in this entry were the setting of the stage of Auden's social awareness, his British birth, his strong belief in a Nordic ancestry, and, through a VERY obscure reference, his actual specific place of birth--I've now hyperlinked a reference:

"I might as well consign myself now to be eaten by worms, then ducks, and ultimately you, dear reader, as is the way in that oft-sung song of my childhood home."

You might have gotten that one had you been actually FROM Yorkshire.

DAY TWO: "Looking Back On A Decade Of Permutation and Eclecticism, 1938"
This was the post that served up the winner of the "Grand Prize," Lisa of zeldafitz fame. But if she beat you to it, do NOT feel bad. She is, after all, a genius of near-freakish proportions. I also had, I believe, two other correct guesses on that day, close on her heels. Most incorrect guesses up to this point were Ezra Pound and George Orwell. Good guesses, both.

On to the clues:

"And all the while, all during our many machinations, Nature and Life go on at their own pace, oblivious to our personal, individual comedies and tragedies...but then, I've already written on that theme and the great painting that illustrates it, so I'll leave it alone here."Click the image for a large-scale view of Bruegel's painting...Icarus' legs are just visible in the water in the lower-left quadrant of the canvas.

This was my way of plugging in a direct reference, without actual quoting that would lend itself to a Google search, to one of Auden's most well-known poems, Musee' des Beaux Arts.

"...who do you think did me the honor of publishing me for the very first time, Dear Reader? Why, none other than T.S. Eliot himself, in his very own periodical..."

T.S. Eliot put out what would now be called a literary magazine, called The Criterion, in which he published Auden's verse play, "Paid On Both Sides," in 1930. This quite literally launched his career, and his first volume of poems, titled "Poems," was also published that very same year, to great acclaim.

"...I've published several books of my own work, and collaborated on a few plays with dear friend Chris..."

Auden was friends with, and collaborated on several literary efforts with Christopher Isherwood during the 1930's, with one of the most well-known being a verse-play titled "The Dog Beneath The Skin." I wrote of the pair traveling to, and living for a time, in China--here, they are pictured preparing to depart on that trip.

This entry also makes mention of Auden's marriage of convenience to "E.", who was Nobel Prize-winning German author Thomas Mann's daughter Erika. She was a lesbian, and needed a British passport and eventually citizenship, and Auden, being homosexual himself, and her friend, had no qualms in assisting her in this endeavor. They never divorced. The 2001 film "Escape To Life" chronicles the story of Erika and her brother Klaus, who was also gay. Here is where I included a very roundabout reference to Auden's sexual orientation, which I think no one but Lisa caught:

"...we both find ourselves in that awkward societal situation of, as Housman put it, of being burdened with the same "nameless and abominable" colour of hair...so to speak."

This is a direct reference to the following poem by A.E. Housman, titled "Oh, Who Is That Young Sinner?" and was my way of letting you know that Auden and his wife were gay without just giving it fully away for free.

Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they're taking him to prison for the color of his hair.

'Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time 'twas hanging for the color that it is;
Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable color of his hair.

Oh a deal of pains he's taken and a pretty price he's paid
To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade;
But they've pulled the beggar's hat off for the world to see and stare,
And they're taking him to justice for the color of his hair.

Now 'tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feet,
And the quarry-gang on Portland in the cold and in the heat,
And between his spells of labor in the time he has to spare
He can curse the God that made him for the color of his hair.

Yes, I am also a huge A.E. Housman fan, and he was my first choice of histo-blogger, but I tried it, and couldn't quite capture the voice of a 19th-century Englishman to my satisfaction

This entry also made mention of Auden's efforts in Spain, fighting for what he thought was "revolution." He was not taken at all seriously, because he would not claim himself as a Communist.

And finally, I ended the post with the information that Auden and Isherwood were just about to leave for America, which they did in 1939.

DAY THREE: "The World Within Me And Around Me, 1946"
Still trying to give some clues and avoid Google-guessing at this point, I concentrated on Auden's new American citizenship; his travels to Germany to conduct psychological studies on the effects of the war on German civilians; his philosophical pursuits.

I once again brought up Auden's sexual orientation:

"I have reconciled myself to the fact that I live in sin, it is a sin that I am unable to stop committing..."

And what appears to be the reconciliation he made with this "sin" and his reaffirmed faith. Auden carried the conflict of Christianity and homosexuality throughout the rest of his days.

For most of the rest of this post, I did my best to describe Auden's well-known philosophy of teaching and learning, and T.S. Eliot's criticism of Auden's writing, which Eliot felt suffered for Auden's teaching vocation. He was known to make comments about Auden's "preaching" and in-depth explanations detracting from his work.

DAY FOUR: "Of Public Recognition, 1968"
Here is where you learn flat-out that Auden had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and that Eliot had won the Nobel Prize...I withheld for one more day the fact that they won them in the same year, because that would have been a Google giveaway! I also introduced here his long-term relationship with "C.", who was Chester Kallman.

There is also, in this entry, the only blatantly Google-friendly clue I inserted in any of the entries thus far:

"At times I resist the urge to rush some poor unsuspecting drone on the street and shake him by the collar, shouting, "Look, Stranger! Be AWARE!"

A very popular volume of Auden's poetry, published in 1936, was titled, "Look, Stranger!" And then I made another pass at "Musee des Beaux Arts," thinking that perhaps folks who had missed the reference the first time might put it together with this second clue:

"Be aware of yourself, your surroundings, your very LIFE! Why, things could be falling from the sky as you trudge on in your myopic, oblivious way, and you'd never know!"

DAY FIVE: "Looking Back On A Lifetime And Then Beyond, Your Present-Day"
Yep, thought it'd be fun to bring him back from the afterlife for this last post. This is where I gave up EVERYTHING you could possibly need to identify this mystery-blogger.

First I quoted a lengthy passage from one of my favorite poems, "As I Walked Out One Evening." Any phrase from that, run through Google, would have brought you to your answer.

Then I gave you the year, cause, circumstance, and location of his death.

And next surrendered was the fact that Auden's Pulitzer was won the same year as Eliot's Nobel Prize. Another easy Google search.

I then described the movie "Four Weddings And A Funeral" in every way except giving the title, but I did give the popular title of the Auden poem that was read during the funeral scene, "Funeral Blues." It is also during this section that "C.'s" name is given as "Chester."

And yet ANOTHER nod to "Musee des Beaux Arts" follows--I think I was downright determined that someone should at least read that wonderful poem:

"...you are the ones who might even notice that "something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky," and perhaps even be changed by the experience."

In the final paragraph, I mention the title of yet another well-known poem, "Epitaph On A Tyrant," and then, to end the entry, I quoted, for the love of Pete's sake, the poem "The Unknown Citizen," in its entirety, including the title!

Whew! This entry was harder than all the others! Now, hasten away and pre-order Paul Davidson's book:The Lost Blogs: From Jesus to Jim Morrison--The Historically Inaccurate and Totally  Fictitious Cyber Diaries of Everyone Worth Knowing
The Lost Blogs: From Jesus to Jim Morrison--The Historically Inaccurate and Totally Fictitious Cyber Diaries of Everyone Worth Knowing


And while you're there, do your heart and soul and mind a true solid, and also order at least one book of the amazing, beautiful, and still-relevant collected poems of the great W.H. Auden.

UPDATE: If you were one of the handful of brilliant answerererers, post a comment here so I can email you with details on how you may claim your fabulous prizes! (OK, you know it's soap, since I'm shipping out eightyleven packages of it this week anyway, but it's NICE soap.)

10 comments:

  1. Wow, I'm in awe. You are uber talented. And smart. I am so not well-read it's pathetic. If it weren't for my ex-girlfriend I wouldn't have even recognized the NAME.

    Love your writing, Belinda. Thanks for putting so much into this.

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  2. I have a Bachelor's Degree in English and American Literature and I have never heard of Auden. Should the MSU College of Arts and Letters be ashamed of themselves or what?

    Excellent, Belinda. Just, like Karl said, awe-inspiring. Such a BIG BRAIN in that lovely head!

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  3. Thanks, Karl...I enjoyed yours too, and you won a prize, you lucky dawg!!

    Yes, elizabeth, they should be. Very. I think I need to send you a collection of his poetry!

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  4. This was so much geeky fun! Maybe next year I will give it a whirl, too. Good job, Belinda!

    --Michelle, a.k.a Less Brilliant Than ZeldaFitz

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  5. Yea! I love poetry and poets and soap. Thanks for providing such good clean fun.

    kel

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  6. I have to admit, I didn't really try to figure this out. And I'll tell you why: because I know you are a lot smarter than I am and I would never get it in a million years.

    But I'm cool with that. We can't all be brains. The world needs jesters, too.

    Wanna see me juggle? :)

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  7. This was fun and I was stuck on Orwell for a while, but finally figured out it was Auden.

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  8. whoo hoo! i love soap:)

    oh, and as a certain person who teaches at a certain college mentioned by a certain person above. i am deeply ashamed. that and the fact i did not get it right right away...

    but i am a WINNER! HA!

    (gingajoy@gmail.com)

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  9. i guess i'm a winner, although i, too, was stuck on orwell for a bit... :)

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