John Palcewski (forioscribe) wrote,
John Palcewski

W. H. Auden in Ischia

In the morning at La Piazzetta in Forio I always order "un espresso doppio con latte caldo." This pleasant establishment is right next to Bar Maria, famous for the visits years ago by W. H. Auden and his lover, Chester.

John Redmond, in a piece entitled "The Italian Auden," in UK's Poetry Magazines, reports:

"Ischia itself allowed Auden the opportunity to play another part, that of the Lucky One in Paradise. The Forians themselves encouraged the narcissism and affectation of the visitors, as Clark observes:

"We played the parts assigned to us, our unpronounceable names changed by the Forians into indicators like lo scrittore, the writer; lo studioso, the scholar; I was la biondona, the big blonde. The important thing was to play the parts well. It was as though we lived in the third person; we were what we appeared to be to others. Wystan studied it, I revelled in it and Chester accepted it unquestioningly."

The whole piece can be read here:

Of course Auden could not help but compose a poem conveying his impressions of the island:


There is a time to admit how much the sword decides,
with flourishing horns to salute the conqueror,
impassive, cloaked and great on
horseback under his faffling flag.

Changes of heart should also occasion song, like his
who, turning back from the crusaders’ harbour, broke
with our aggressive habit
once and for all and was the first

to see all penniless creatures as our siblings. Then
at all times it is good to praise the shining earth,
dear to us whether we choose our
duty or do something horrible.

Dearest to each his birthplace; but to recall a green
valley where mushrooms fatten in the summer nights
and silvered willows copy
the circumflexions of the stream

is not my gladness today: I am presently moved
by sun-drenched Parthenopea, my thanks are for you,
Ischia, to whom a fair wind has

brought me rejoicing with dear friends

from soiled productive cities. How well you correct
our injured eyes, how gently you train us to see
things and men in perspective
underneath your uniform light.

Noble are the plans of the shirt-sleeved engineer,
but luck, you say, does more. What design could have washed
with such delicate yellows
and pinks and greens your fishing ports

that lean against ample Epomeo, holding on
to the rigid folds of her skirts? The boiling springs
which betray her secret fever,
make limber the gout-stiffened joint

and improve the venereal act; your ambient peace
in any case is a cure for, ceasing to think
of a way to get on, we
learn to simply wander about

by twisting paths which at any moment reveal
some vista as an absolute goal; eastward, perhaps,
suddenly there, Vesuvius,
looming across the bright bland bay

like a massive family pudding, or, around
a southern point, sheer-sided Capri who by herself
defends the cult of Pleasure,
a jealous, sometimes a cruel, god.

Always with some cool space or shaded surface, too,
you offer a reason to sit down; tasting what bees
from the blossoming chestnut
or short but shapely dark-haired men

from the aragonian grape distil, your amber wine,
your coffee-coloured honey, we believe that our
lives are as welcome to us as
loud explosions are to your saints.

Not that you lie about pain or pretend that a time
of darkness and outcry will not come back; upon
your quays, reminding the happy
stranger that all is never well,

sometimes a donkey breaks out into a choking wail
of utter protest of what is the case or his
master sighs for a Brooklyn
where shirts are silk and pants are new,

far from tall Restituta’s all-too-watchful eye,
whose annual patronage, they say, is bought with blood.
That, blessed and formidable
Lady, we hope is not true; but since

nothing is free, whatever you charge shall be paid,
that these days of exotic splendour may stand out
in each lifetime like marble
mileposts in an alluvial land.

W H Auden – June 1948 (for Brian Howard)

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