For the ancient Greeks poeisis was the making, producing, creating of anything… including verse.
At this blog — especially with the encouragement of Christopher Bellavita (the Greek and Latin amalgam meaning Christ-bearer/Beautiful Life) — we periodically wonder and argue about the making of homeland security.
The last few days I have been in New England on various homeland security assignments. After my last Saturday morning appointment I discovered the Brattle Bookshop at 9 West Street in Boston. From their open air shelves (and shelves and shelves) of $1, $3, and $5 books, I purchased The Collected Poetry of W.H. Auden (Random House, 1945).
This edition includes September 1, 1939, that Auden later exiled from his authorized oeuvre, but was so often quoted in the days following September 11, 2001. Especially:I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain and afraid As the clever hopes expire Of a low dishonest decade: Waves of anger and fear Circulate over the bright And darkened lands of the earth, Obsessing our private lives; The unmentionable odour of death Offends the September night…
The last stanza is my favorite, but it has been less associated with homeland security. See comments for this bit.
At the time, and even at Auden’s death, the war poems were not critically admired. Many claimed America had confused, even cheapened the Englishman.
But in our own war-time the words have found renewed resonance. From Spring 1940:O not even war can frighten us enough, That last attempt to eliminate the Strange By uniting us all in terror Of something known, even that’s a failure Which cannot stop us taking our walks alone, Scared by the unknown unconditional dark, Down the avenues of our longing: For however they dream they are scattered, Our bones cannot help reassembling themselves Into the philosophic city where dwells The knowledge they cannot get out of; And neither a Spring nor a war can ever So condition his ears as to keep the song That is not a sorrow from the Double Man. O what weeps is the love that hears, an Accident occurring in his substance.
Last weekend I returned to my childhood home. There most do not share our concerns. The debt is a bigger deal than any pending disaster (rather is the pending disaster). For them TSA is a bigger threat than terrorism. Should I disagree? Though I was happy to have an old friend guide me through the full-body scanner at the Peoria airport.
A bare remnant seeks the philosophic city where dwells The knowledge.
What are we to make of that, O Christ-bearer?
What are we to make of that, O beautiful life?