Wednesday 27 August 2014

Another find

Another find. Here's W. H. Auden reading Now the leaves are falling fast, his fine poem from the 1930s, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London circa 1974. This recording comes from the BBC programme Bookmark, but is here used by VPRO, the Netherlands public broadcasting network. They have a mission statement which begins:

Wars, verdiepend en creatief - van highbrow tot lowbrow. Een baken van intelligent   amusement en eigenzinnige journalistiek; een keurmerk voor verdieping

"Van highbrow tot lowbrow" and "intelligent amusement" - these are my values, and of course yours. Stay to the end of the clip and hear Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) pay a brief and moving tribute.

I've sometimes wondered whether the resonant fourth line of this poem was prompted by a viewing of Eisenstein's Battleship Ptomkin at the London Film Society. Auden  would almost certainly have seen the film at some point as it was a staple of the LFS and regularly shown at private screenings for anyone connected with the documentary film movement. I mean the of course the celebrated Odessa Steps sequence. The pram appears at the 11-minute mark, and keeps rolling on. I hadn't watched this film for many years and was pleased to be overwhelmed by the power and righteous anger of the piece. So - van highbrow tot highbrow - here's the text of the Auden poem to read aloud while watching Potemkin. It differs slightly from his spoken version, so pay attention.

    Now the leaves are falling fast,
    Nurse's flowers will not last;
    Nurses to the graves are gone,
    And the prams go rolling on.

    Whispering neighbours, left and right,
    Pluck us from the real delight;
    And the active hands must freeze
    Lonely on the separate knees.

    Dead in hundreds at the back
    Follow wooden in our track,
    Arms raised stiffly to reprove
    In false attitudes of love.

    Starving through the leafless wood
    Trolls run scolding for their food;
    And the nightingale is dumb,
    And the angel will not come.

    Cold, impossible, ahead
    Lifts the mountain's lovely head
    Whose white waterfall could bless
    Travellers in their last distress.

© The Estate of W H Auden. All rights reserved

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