Epistle to a Godson by W.H. Auden

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

Tomorrow night: Darryl Pinckney at the New York Public Library for Robert B. Silvers Lecture

Writer Darryl Pinckney will discuss the history of the betrayals and successes that culminated in the Obama presidency, the price of Obama’s victory for black politics, and the results of the recent election. Pinckney is the author of the novel High Cotton and, in the Alain Locke Lecture Series, Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature. He is also a former fellow of the Dorothy & Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers at the New York Public Library.

More information here.

Happy National Poetry Day

Celebrating the UK’s National Poetry Day, here are a few poems from our favorite poets:

Walking around in the park
Should feel better than work:
The lake, the sunshine,
The grass to lie on,
Blurred playground noises
Beyond black-stockinged nurses—
Not a bad place to be.
Yet it doesn’t suit me,

Toads Revisited by Philip Larkin

Bobby Breen’s. His Boston fireman’s gift
With BREEN in scarlet lacquer on its spread
Fantailing brim,

Tinctures of sweat and hair oil
In the withered sponge and shock-absorbing webs
Beneath the crown—

Or better say the crest, for crest it is—
Steel ridge, leather-trimmed, hand-tooled, hand-sewn,
Tipped with a little clasp of beaten copper…

Helmet by Seamus Heaney

Drop into it.
Noise so clamorous it sucks.
You rush your pressed-flower hackles out
To the perimeter.
And here it comes:
That unpremeditated joy as you
—The Uzi shuddering warm against your hip
Happy in danger in a dangerous place
Yourself another self you found at Troy—
Squeeze nickel through that rush of Greekoid scum!

From ‘All Day Permanent Red: the First Battle Scenes of Homer’s Iliad Rewritten’ by Christopher Logue

Photo: Louis MacNeice (far left) with Ted Hughes, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and Stephen Spender at a Faber and Faber cocktail party, 1960 (Mark Gerson)

Summer Reading, by John Ashbery

With these lighter days a concomitant
urge to scrutiny arrives. Signing in,
my motivation palls, pusillanimous.
Are we to take it inside the house?
I have to go.

Tell me another dream. The long events surface
wider, farther apart, like autumn breakers.
Birds are suddenly there. The house of cards
on sand falters, fatally. I’m elated.

You never know how things work out
except through “sleight” of hand, sometimes.
I’m worried about knowing later.
The high-school principal killed his star student,

for instance. Feeling competent,
they quashed him. Until he wins the crisis
we can’t promote it. Keep that rodent away.
What have you seemed to do?

Do interesting things well done and may
spring chasten you. We had everything in mind.
Everything softballed, wound up on my back porch.
It’s okay, though. Keep us on your docket. Cut through the…

© John Ashbery, from the October 9, 2008 issue of The New York Review of Books. Ashbery reads this and other poems in a 2009 podcast.