John Palcewski (forioscribe) wrote,
John Palcewski

Country Bumpkins


“Speaking of Auden,” Harold said.
“When he was an undergraduate he intimidated the hell out of all his classmates at Christ Church and Oxford, including one Stephen Spender.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
“And I once had the pleasure of having dinner with him.”
“No, Spender. Which is as close to Auden as I ever got.”
“This was when you were at Harvard?”
“No, it was at Lafayette. Fred Closs, a friend of mine, invited me to his yearly thing that he called ‘The Roethke Humanities Festival.’ One year he was able to snag a bag full of literary luminaries. He got Sir Stephen to come, as well as May Swenson, Philip Larkin, and Derek Walcott.”
“That’s quite an assembly!”
“Yes. As it turned out Fred was tied up with something when the luminaries began to arrive and he asked me to help. I ended up being Spender’s guide and escort, even though I was largely unfamiliar with the campus.”
“What was your impression of him?”


“That shock of white hair, those aristocratic blue eyes. His enormously swollen ankles covered by white socks. He was in pain, had difficulty walking. I took him to the faculty dining room, helped him to a seat. I went to the serving line and filled plates for us. Afterward we had a couple glasses of sherry.”
“What did you talk about?”
“I saw his weariness. I said, ‘I understand these academic gatherings can get to be quite a bore.’”
“Spender nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Someone inevitably will ask me to tell them an amusing anecdote about Wystan.’”
“The rest was idle chatter. He clearly wasn’t interested in any literary shop talk. He wanted to get away from us country bumpkins as soon as he could.”


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