Saturday, September 1, 2007

Today's poem - Fairground by W.H. Auden

In my part of the world, Labor Day weekend is fair time. I'm not sure that we are going this year, but our daughter went last night with a group of friends, and her stories are much like what Auden writes about. I love the way he evokes all the facets of the midway, and what he says about the stages of life. I like particularly the words:

all hours of amusement counted, requiring
caution, agenda

That is so much how we are as we get older. We set times, we arrange, we plan. So little is spontaneous. Tom and I were talking about that if we go, we'll decide on when and with whom, and set up a time, on and on. Our daughter worked a full day yesterday, used her phone to talk to, and text friends, and they were off for a night at "the dazzling archway of colored lights."

I think the "thumping old tunes" are now mostly new tunes, but when I was a kid, the music on the rides was often old songs.

Fair time is like Christmas in the way I remember all those that have gone before. The fairs when I was really little and wanted to spend time in the agricultural section with the lambs. Then a few years older, I wanted to go on the small rides, or rather the rides for small people, such as the merry-go-round. Then suddenly, I was a teenager longing for the words of Freddie Cannon's Palisades Park to be part of my experience.

You'll never know how great a kiss can feel
When you stop at the top of a ferris wheel

And then, in the blink of an eye, I had little ones of my own to begin the cycle all over again, and blessedly at the very same Fair.

by W. H. Auden

Thumping old tunes give a voice to its whereabouts
long before one can see the dazzling archway
of colored lights, beyond which household proverbs
cease to be valid,

a ground sacred to the god of vertigo
and his cult of disarray: here jeopardy,
panic, shock, are dispensed in measured doses
by fool-proof engines.

As passive objects, packed tightly together
on Roller-Coaster or Ferris-Wheel, mortals
taste in their solid flesh the volitional
joys of a seraph.

Soon the Roundabout ends the clumsy conflict
of Right and Left: the riding mob melts into
one spinning sphere, the perfect shape performing
the perfect motion.

Mopped and mowed at, as their train worms through a tunnel,
by ancestral spooks, caressed by clammy cobwebs,
grinning initiates emerge into daylight
as tribal heroes.

Fun for Youth who knows his libertine spirit
is not a copy of Father's, but has yet to
learn that the tissues which lend it stamina,
like Mum's, are bourgeois.

Those with their wander-years behind them, who are rather
relieved that all routes of escape are spied on,
all hours of amusement counted, requiring
caution, agenda,

keep away: – to be found in coigns where, sitting
in silent synods, they play chess or cribbage,
games that call for patience, foresight, manoeuvre,
like war, like marriage.

June 1966

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