Friday, August 12, 2011


I don't like memorials, I don't like monuments. I don't like institutionalized mourning. I like trees, and silence.

I am not looking forward to the much-advertised tenth anniversary of September 11th. Even NPR is on the bandwagon - what music would you like to hear on the day? The New York Times, what memento did you keep, what is your special story.

I turn from it with a feeling of profound distaste.

"Remembering". As if anyone could forget.

Last night had been a perfect evening, cool for August with low humidity. We had eaten the first ratatouille from the roof farm and a delicious, herby chicken, cucumbers from Frank's beach farm. Earlier the president had rattled overhead in his helicopters, on his way to some fundraiser. In Battery Park, where Vince had been running, he was held up for half an hour by the presidential security detail. Later he jogged past a couple of sharpshooters carrying their gear, having packed up for the day. Humans in the cross hairs. He was late home and I was worried - he is one thing in my life I do not take for granted - and he told me that he had asked a woman in the waiting throng whether he might borrow her cell to call me, and that her response had been simply, Heck! He does not run with a phone. It was a strange response for a New Yorker. They are usually quite helpful. In fact, what was I thinking? What New Yorker says, Heck, anyway! She was from out of town.

After supper I left the candles burning deep into the black early morning hours. We went to bed. At some point I heard Vince get up and blow them out. I think he thought I had forgotten them. But there is something about these flames in the night, points of light in the profound darkness of the world. That is all.

1 September 1939
WH Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.


  1. I've always thought that spoke well to 9/11.

    But Auden had other poems that I think are also appropriate to our times -

    Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
    That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
    But on earth indifference is the least
    We have to dread from man or beast.

    How should we like it were stars to burn
    With a passion for us we could not return?
    If equal affection cannot be,
    Let the more loving one be me.
    (From The More Loving One)

    Perhaps if the more loving one were us maybe our world today would be a bit better?

  2. So much in this poem, one which I have never read before. Also reverberates with meaning to me as I try to understand why the streets of my country have been ravaged by greed and violence in recent days.

  3. No. There is no forgetting of that. Ever.

  4. Glad you like the cukes. They're declining now, although we have a pile on the counter.

    I am not well interested in the media memorial and I can't say it will add anything to my understanding or grief either. I will probably see the ocean that day.

    As for the NYT memento? Yeah, I got one, its called those frayed nerves. You try to forget!

    But, as memorials go, I am enthralled with the Lincoln Memorial. I still find it powerful to experience, from the distance at the end of the pool all the way up to lincoln.

  5. I can't imagine anyone who lived through those days needing or even wanting a memento. It's burned into our memories, like it or not, where we were, who we were with, who we were trying to find, what we saw, what we heard, what we smelled. There are many times in my life when I see something sad and I tell myself don't worry, you'll forget it in a day or two. Not that. Not ever.

  6. Wow. You always so amazingly state what's in my mind. Thank you.

  7. A lovely post. There's no need to highlight that day - it's etched into our hearts and will never be far away from our thoughts. Better to do something to promote peace and brother-(sister)-hood one small piece at the time.

  8. Institutionalized mourning... I very much like the expression, and very much dislike the idea too.

    If we are going to mourn, let's do so globally. It's so easy to feel sorrow for our loss, to miss our loved ones, and forget theirs.

    Very few people who deserve to die, do, sadly. And too many who don't, do.

    What should never be forgotten is that those who fall, on all sides, are never the guilty, the untouchable pulling the strings of war. The fallen are but necessary casualties in the very lucrative battle between stupidity and cupidity.

    PS I did think you'd forgotten the candles. ;-)


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