Poem By Auden on Detective Fiction
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I thought some of you might enjoy this poem on detective fiction by W.H. Auden:
by W.H. Auden
For who is ever quite without his landscape,
The straggling village street, the house in trees,
All near the church, or else the gloomy town house,
The one with the Corinthian pillars, or
The tiny workmanlike flat: in any case
A home, the centre where the three or four things
that happen to a man do happen? Yes,
Who cannot draw the map of his life, shade in
The little station where he meets his loves
And says good-bye continually, and mark the spot
Where the body of his happiness was first discovered?
An unknown tramp? A rich man? An enigma always
And with a buried past but when the truth,
The truth about our happiness comes out
How much it owed to blackmail and philandering.
The rest's traditional. All goes to plan:
The feud between the local common sense
And that exasperating brilliant intuition
That's always on the spot by chance before us;
All goes to plan, both lying and confession,
Down to the thrilling final chase, the kill.
Yet on the last page just a lingering doubt:
That verdict, was it just? The judge's nerves,
That clue, that protestation from the gallows,
And our own smile . . . why yes . . .
But time is always killed. Someone must pay for
Our loss of happiness, our happiness itself.
Thank you for the re-introduction. While It would be a stretch to suggest that it is either Noir or hard-boiled, it is welcome nevertheless. On the chance that you're opinion of Auden is similar to mine, the following link may be of interest:
The link leads to a discussion between Clive James and John Clarke on Auden's life and writing. It is witty, amusing and convivial. A gentle warning that the accents may be a little strong for some Northern Hemisphere tastes: James is an expatriate Australian living and working in the UK; while Clarke is an expatriate New Zealander living and working in Australia. The conversation was recorded in 2007 at the Melbourne writer's festival.
I am shocked to to note that LT's spelling checker does not recognise "Noir".
Yes, I thought of posting it on the "Crime and Mystery" group's page, but it's not as active (at the moment) as this one. Auden believed the ideal mystery HAD to be a "village cozy," so apparently he wasn't a fan of hard-boiled. Thanks for the tip about Clive James and John Clarke. I was able to see Stephen Spender, Auden's pal, in the late 70s and early 80s. Lord, he was droll and funny.
I liked the poem. Funny, when I think of detective and poetry, I think Poe first. But Murders in the Rue Morgue is a story not a poem.
Auden wrote another poem on the detective genre - it seems to be a satire of the nastiness underlying Christie's "cozy" fiction rather than noir:
At Last the Secret Is Out
At last the secret is out, as it always must come in the end,
The delicious story is ripe to tell to the intimate friend;
Over the tea-cups and in the square the tongue has its desire;
Still waters run deep, my dear, there's never smoke without fire.
Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghost on the links,
Behind the lady who dances and the man who madly drinks,
Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh
There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye.
For the clear voice suddenly singing, high up in the convent wall,
The scent of the elder bushes, the sporting prints in the hall,
The croquet matches in summer, the handshake, the cough, the kiss,
There is always a wicked secret, a private reason for this.
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