DEAR PHILIP. “Thank God for boozy godfathers”
you wrote in our guest-book, which was flattering:
though I’ve reached the years when discretion
calls for a yearly medical check-up,
who am I to avouch for a Christian
baby, far less offer ghostly platitudes
to a young man? In yester times it
was different: the old could be helpful
when they could nicely envisage the future
as a nameable settled landscape their children
would make the same sense of as they did,
laughing and weeping at the same stories.
This poem from 1969 was dedicated to Philip Spender, nephew of the poet Stephen Spender, a close friend of Auden’s.
Read more from Auden as we celebrate National Poetry Month
Through glass window pane
Up a modern office block
I saw, two floors below, on wide-jutting
Concrete canopy a mango seedling newly sprouted
Purple, two-leafed, standing on its burst
Black yolk. It waved brightly to sun and wind
Between rains—daily regaling itself
On seed-yams, prodigally.
For how long?
How long the happy waving
From precipice of rainswept sarcophagus?
How long the feast on remnant flour
At pot bottom?
Perhaps like the widow
Of infinite faith it stood in wait
For the holy man of the forest, shaggy-haired
Powered for eternal replenishment.
Or else it hoped for Old Tortoise’s miraculous feast
On one ever recurring dot of cocoyam
Set in a large bowl of green vegetables—
These days beyond fable, beyond faith?
Then I saw it
Poised in courageous impartiality
Between the primordial quarrel of Earth
And Sky striving bravely to sink roots
Into objectivity, mid-air in stone.
From the May 22, 1969 issue of the Review
We wanted a book review worthy of its subject, in which writers we admired—and who agreed with us that books were the ongoing critique, the sine qua non of civilization— would have a place to write at adequate length for readers like themselves and us.
These arbitrary cuts are exactly the opposite of what the economy needs both in the short run, and—if the promised $1 trillion in further cuts over ten years is made—in the long term.
The strangest experience of my early tenure at The New York Review involved one of our most widely read pieces of that time. Mark Danner had gotten hold of the confidential Red Cross report on torture of detainees by the CIA, and we were scrambling to go to press with the first of his pieces describing its contents. No one knew that we had this, and there was genuine worry that our phones and e-mails would be monitored and that we’d all be hauled in for treason. Bob wanted to give an advance version of the story to The New York Times, but didn’t want to send it over e-mail. What to do? Of course: send the intern! I was given cab money and a folder containing the article in a paper bag. I met the Times editorial page editor on a street corner in Union Square, where he’d been waiting in the rain, as directed, under a black umbrella. “I feel like Deep Throat,” he said. It was an exciting piece of spycraft, whether it was necessary or not. A few months at The New York Review and there I was, leaking torture memos. Somehow, this scene didn’t make it into Zero Dark Thirty.