Tuesday, September 27, 2005

W H Auden

Will you leap?

Cloakroom lady. Cock Bar. Madrid Posted by Picasa

We had a small dinner at his smart flat. "Light dinner" as he warned us, "pasta and cheese, and that will be it". The windows were large opened (bless the Ciudad for its September to November Indian summer !). One could see the foliage of the trees lining up the quiet streets of the barrio, and the mini-Babylonian suspended flower-beds with obviously happy warm plants. Reflecting the home roots of each of us, places like Rome and Firenze; Split and Dubrovnik; Anjou and the Loire Valley; Lisbon and Sintra, were mentioned.

Now, a "bon vivant" approach to life does not exclude some non-frivolous stuff, I will always believe in that. That night, there would be time later on to just mere fun, aided by Mojitos, Margaritas or very strong Caipirinhas. (At the Bar Cock, where taking photographs inside is forbidden). But at dinner we talked also of pure physical courage, bullfight-related, and then of Poetry, and then, like an Hegelian synthesis of what we had been talking about, of romantic epiphanies and of moral courage. That was when the Roman Streetbiker, our host, jumped from his chair and went out of the room in search of something. He soon returned with a dog-eared paperback, we later understood it to be an anthology of Auden's poems. He looked at us with a boyish excited brilliance in his eyes, and then plunged into the book, starting to read out loud, at table, among the pasta bowls and the half-filled red wine glasses. The exquisite "Leap Before You Look":

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecrack every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

We all discussed the poem, its courageous concluding line, and what it implies. We left the apartment and went out in search of Mojitos. The night was warm and we walked.


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