Monday, February 23, 2009

W. H. Auden & Nina Simone

This past Saturday, February 21st, was the shared birthdays of W. H. Auden and Nina Simone. Auden was never a man of too few words; this poem, however, has the power of his longer works with an unaccustomed conciseness.

Epitaph On A Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter;
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
W. H. Auden

Which calls to mind, for me, E. E. Cummings's

a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man

There is a kinship here of a bygone era and yet the subject transcends all culture and time.

Also, here is an Auden poem from the 1936 film titled "Night Mail." A minor sub-genre of poetry, the mail is something that habitually creeps into the work of most poets, who are typically awaiting news of a manuscript or proof copies of a new book. In "Night Mail, Auden universalizes this obsession of writers everywhere. Oddly, the recitation of the main verses in the film, in an attempt to replicate the motion of the train carrying the night mail, comes off as a sort of stiff upper lip rap, many decades before its time.

When it comes to trains, give me John Lee Hooker anyday. When it comes to the mail, Auden, however, has the inside track:


And then there is Nina Simone, who knew how to give a different sort of look at sinnermen. Tt's all about the power, despite the static slide show presentation (lovely as the individual images may be). Just close your eyes and sway ... and, if you are work, make sure the cat is belled.

Finally, here is a 30 minute documentary entitled "Nina Simone." A wonderful snippet of her singing Kurt Weill, whose work I coincidentally spent some time listening to this weekend, is a great moment, among quite a few others. The sound is not up to modern standards and this is a warts and all production, as she notes herself, but well with a glimpse of an artist coming to terms with herself and the world. Enjoy.



Charles Gramlich said...

That first Auden poem hits like a punch to the face. Tremendous.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles, glad you liked it. It definitely grabbed me. Don