This was W. H. Auden’s first book of poetry.

It was hardly more than a chapbook, really — it was a hand-printed pamphlet informally published in 1928 by Auden’s friend and fellow Briton, the poet and essayist Stephen Spender (second photo).  Auden would have been about 21 at the time.  In other words, Auden’s career began in a manner not unlike many indie poets today.

Only about 45 copies of Poems were released.  The book is today considered one of the rarest in 20th Century literature.

To make matters just a bit more confusing, Auden’s next two books of poetry, in 1930 and 1934, were likewise entitled simply Poems.  (And the 1930 book had two editions.)  Oddly, Auden wanted no distinctive title for any of the books because he thought a title might distract the reader from the content of the poems themselves.)  The 1930 volume was accepted for publisher Faber & Faber by none other than T.S. Eliot, who was one of his earliest influences.

 

Poems1928

 

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“I an old man,/ A dull head among windy spaces.”

Excerpts from “Gerontion,” by T.S. Eliot:

 

I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces …

 

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or if still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours. Think at last
We have not reached conclusion, when I
Stiffen in a rented house. Think at last
I have not made this show purposelessly
And it is not by any concitation
Of the backward devils
I would meet you upon this honestly.
I that was near your heart was removed therefrom
To lose beauty in terror, terror in inquisition.
I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it
Since what is kept must be adulterated?
I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:
How should I use it for your closer contact?

 

Shack_window_in_Lahälla

Photo credit: By W.carter (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

“April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land …”

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

—  from “The Burial of the Dead,” Section I. of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”

 

NPG Ax141646; T.S. Eliot; Virginia Woolf (nÈe Stephen) by Lady Ottoline Morrell

by Lady Ottoline Morrell, vintage snapshot print, June 1924

Source: Lady Ottoline Morrell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

“Fear in a handful of dust.”

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,   25
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

–  from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”