Typescript Memoir Stella Musulin "The Years in Austria" 1976-09-04--1980-12-01

AuthorMusulin, Stella
  • Mayer, Sandra
  • Frühwirth, Timo
  • Grigoriou, Dimitra
PublisherAustrian Centre for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage, Vienna 2021
Source Information
  • State Collections of Lower Austria
  • Stella Musulin (Depot)
  • St. Pölten
  • 1976-09-04
  • TEI Logo
  • RDF metadata
IIIF Endpoint(s)
Cite this Source (MLA 9th Edition)Andorfer Peter, Elsner Daniel, Frühwirth Timo, Grigoriou Dimitra, Mayer Sandra, Mendelson Edward and Neundlinger Helmut. Auden Musulin Papers: A Digital Edition of W. H. Auden's Letters to Stella Musulin. Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage, Austrian Academy of Sciences, 2022, amp.acdh.oeaw.ac.at .

                 The Years in Austria.
     Half an hour from the outskirts of Vienna an invisible
thread bisects the motorway.  It leads from the church which
lies to the north, more accurately speaking from the churchyard,
disregards entirely the traffic as it thunders to and from the
capital, wriggles across a field to the south, passes a small
house which was once a garage.  Up a steep path, plum trees
on one side and apple trees on the other, through a wicket
gate, and now the thread, which has turned neither to right nor
left, has reached its objective:  a long, low house, more an
extended workman's cottage.  Originally, the address was
Hinterholz 6;  later, the lane up from the village on the other
side was renamed Auden-Strasse.  This thread or unseen line joins
the places where Auden prayed, sang (flat) and was buried, and
the place where he lived, and to me it is tangible reality,
unfailingly sensed at each frequent crossing.  Partly it is
because it was always from that direction that I arrived, being
mistrustful of the narrow lane which lies along the top of the
garden and leads into a wood where in a small clearing floored
at times by sticky mud, the car can be turned.  It seemed
preferable, and anyway became a habit, to take the cart track
 through the field with its ruts, the depth of which left the
undercarriage to slide along the plateau of coarse grass.  And
to leave the car by the garage and plod up through the orchard,
accepting the risk of slithering off the path to the right.
     On walking through the wicket-gate next to the woodshed,
there has been from time to time, and is today, the risk of
being savaged by a wall-eyed dog;  in earlier days, of having
to account for ones presence to Frau Emma.  Past the vegetable
patch, now the ground levels off and the house stands before us.
Left, at the foot of the outside staircase and below the window of
his workroom, there are the white table and comfortable garden
chairs with red cushions.  Facing the caller, the green door with
a bell, the sort which jangles when pulled.  I seldom did so,
feeling that its clamour spoke of altogether too much aggressive
jocularity.  Seeing the light through the sittingroom window, it was
better to walk straight in to the small entrance hall - coats hanging


on the wall ahead, kitchen through the right-hand door, a clutter
of books and papers on a nearby ledge - and to shout.  That
heartwarming bellow from Wystan:  "Ah!" and here is the familiar
scene, we are enveloped in the unchanging fug.  The shelves
of records and the oversized record player on the left, the
big, square dining table with its food-stained cloth.  Centre
back, the Austrian peasant cupboard containing drinks, sugar,
salt, then the corner seat, the table with its cigarette burns
and glass rings, and two arm-chairs - a Sitzecke.  To our right
a tumble of assorted titles on an invisible surface;  within a
matter of days, Auden could make a new book look like a lending
library reject:  the content was all, the package irrelevant.
Here lie, precariously balanced, collapsing, upended, volumes of
poetry, cookery books, Benson's Lucia novels, Akenfield, whodunnits
a new translation of the Bible.  Over the years, the content of
the heap varied but the overall appearance scarcely at all.
And now the stove, country style, a white dome with round green
tiles set in it, one of the glories of Austrian Wohnkultur.
How fortunate that the stove is irremovable, or it would be in
Athens now, along with the cupboard and the original drawings of
Stravinsky and Richard Strauss.  Books also lie along the top
ledge of the corner seat, and a volume or two of the OED on the
upright chairs by the dinner table, adjuncts to the Times
crossword.  Was it, I asked, essential to have the complete
Oxford English Dictionary, all thirteen volumes of it, at each
of ones residences?  "Of course" said Auden, surprised at such a
     So much was written during his lifetime about Auden's
way of life in Kirchstetten:  articles by capable journalists
in the Sunday papers and in their weekly magazines, that any
attempt at a personal memoir gives the writer the feeling that
he is working all too well-trodden ground.
     It is not only that the scene is familiar.  What can a friend
write without lapsing into triviality and gossip, without calling
down on his head the wrath of Wystan Auden himself, about whom,


if we know nothing else, we realise the obsession that he had
on the subject of personal privacy.  Think for a moment of
"Forewords and Afterwords":  again and again he writes on
these lines:  Of Wagner:  "On principle, I object to biographies
of artists, since I do not believe that knowledge of their
private lives sheds any significant light upon their works."
And on Oscar Wilde:  "Since knowledge of an artist's private life
never throws any significant light upon his work, there is no
justification for intruding upon his privacy."   Listening to
Kurt Weill records one winter's evening in Chester's flat in the
Esslarngasse, I asked him whether he could account for it.
Disappointingly, Chester only said that it was an obsession with
Wystan, an individual phobia like any other.   The only time that
Auden ever came near to snapping at me was when he spoke once,
affectionately, of Tolkien, saying that he was to speak or write
about him.  Was he, I asked, going to say anything at all about
the man as the creator of the world of Tolkien, of the Lord of the
Rings? He said "Certainly not!  I shouldn't dream of saying
anything about Tolkien himself."  So that the predicament is
understood :  either we keep silent when asked to speak and write
about Auden, which might seem a trifle portentous, not to say
uncivil.  Or else we run the dual risk of triviality or indiscretion.
In the eyes of others who knew him better, there is probably a
further risk, that of being coupled with the German mythical
figure, the horseman who rode, as he supposed, over the frozen
Lake of Constance, unaware that this was not the case at all, but
he was being carried along above dark waters, knowing nothing
of the treacherous depths beneath him.  So that my contribution
can be no more than an attempt to show how Auden lived among the
Austrians, on what sort of terms he was with them, and perhaps
to fill in one or two gaps in what is generally known.
     I got to know Wystan and Chester through the daughter
of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Christiane Zimmer, who was a friend of
Auden's in New York.  Gerty von Hofmannsthal, widow of the poet, who died in 1929,
owned Schloss Prielau at the northern tip of the lake of Zell-
am-See in Salzburg province.  She had been forced to sell when the
Nazis overran Austria but had regained possession at about the


turn of the fifties, and there she spent her summers until she
died, filling the house with her friends, often like herself Anglo-Austrian
émigrés - the writers, artists and scholars who had lived and
worked in Vienna during the twilight of that great explosion of
talent which coincided with the decline and end of the Austro-
Hungarian Empire.  Raimund and Liz von Hofmannsthal were often
there, with their children Arabella and Octavian.  There was
a constant coming and going between Prielau and the rehearsals
and then the performances of the Salzburg Festival;  it was a
great meeting place for retired birds of paradise such as Lady
Diana Cooper, Ledebur and the dancer and choreographer Grete Wiesenthal.  Gradually, a well-
worn track developed between Prielau and our house at the upper
end of the Schmittenhöhe valley, and friendships grew between
my family and the Hofmannsthals and several of their friends
which have survived and have been continued by our children.
My marriage broke up during 1957-58 and my son Marko and I went
to live with my mother-in-law Elsa Musulin at her home Schloss Fridau,
in Lower Austria, about half an hour's drive from Kirchstetten.
She will rate a mention here because of the entertainment value
she was to acquire for Auden.   It was in 1958 that by chance I
met Christiane Zimmer at Prielau, and she suggested I should call
on Auden:  "After all, he's your neighbour now".  I demurred with
some energy, having a great dislike of pursuing the famous
except inthe way of business where an interview is called for.
The next time I saw her - in 1959 - she asked whether I had seen
Auden, I again scoffed at the very idea that he might "love to
meet me", and she said "All right.  I'm just off to spend a
week there now and I shall fix it ."
     So in due course I came to be standing at the green door,
and yet the memory that remains is the shock of Chester's
appearance as he stood in the doorway in the strong sunlight:
pale, misshapen, fish-eyed, loose-,mouthed;  it was the
unpromising kind of exterior which makes one impatient to discover
what lies behind it, the general impression however was one of
anxious benevolence, and this proved roughly correct.
      The second time I was invited over to
Kirchstetten was a more convivial occasion:  Wystan had asked
me to come over and stand by him because he was giving a little
tea-party.  He had invited the parish priest, Father Lustkandl


- crystallized in "Whitsunday in Kirchstetten" - the local school
mistress Frau Seitz and her silent husband, and as I came in I ran into
Auden who was shuffling out to the kitchen.
     "Thank goodness you've come" he hissed, "go and look after
them, will you, keep the conversation going and hand round the
cakes."  Whereupon he shot into the kitchen for more hot water.
It was some time before he could abandon the role of the flustered
host.  His guests were quite at their ease, and as the years
went on they became his friends.  Their composure that day was,
I am sure, partly due to their own personal qualities, but
partly too to the fact that in Josef Weinheber they had had
their local poet laureate before, and now they had one again.
This was a cause for great satisfaction, but not for any transports
of ecstasy over the celebrity in their midst.
     What was so "American" about the "kitchen in Lower Austria?"
Nothing much, so far as I could see.  When fitted kitchens first
came in, Austrians dubbed them "American",  The term is
now as extinct as "Russian" tea, but must still have been
common parlance in Kirchstetten when Wystan wrote the poem.
There was a tidy row consisting of a fridge, sink, low cupboards
with a good working surface, a corner cupboard the interior of
which swung out, and a gas stove.  Both men were very proud of
the kitchen and it became Chester's habitat.  But the whole
point of a modern kitchen:  the clear surfaces, ample storage
space, accessibility, the careful rationalisation, was totally
cancelled out by the permanent clutter which invaded the room
at once and never left it.  It was a matter of principle with
Chester to have all cooking ingredients conveniently to hand,
but this meant that nothing was ever put away, and where his
loving eye saw method, even the least fussy visitor could only
observe a shambles.  But an interesting shambles, because
of the exotic nature of the preserved foods and spices that
Chester brought with him.  From an early date I was convinced
that they were both eating their way into their graves owing to
the enormous fat content of some of the dishes.  I remember the
horror with which I watched a sauce being prepared in the mixer
before being re-heated to accompany the roast duck.  First Chester
poured in the rendered down fat from the baking tin, about half
a pint of it, then he added an equal quantity of cream, a little
seasoning, and switched on the mixer.  The result would have


sustained a miner at the coal face for a full working day, but
neither Wystan nor Chester walked a yard if they could help it.

     The small heap of correspondence lying on the filing cabinet
beside my desk puts me in mind of the rise and fall of the
telegram as a means of social communication.  In English novels
during the period up to and even well beyond the first world war -
particularly in detective stories - the incessant despatch and
receipt of telegrams, often of some length, play a prominent
part in human relationships.  They were an astonishingly rapid
and comparatively inexpensive medium of communication and were
often employed over short distances.  In Austria, the reign of
the telegram persisted into the sixties, lost ground sharply
owing to automatisation, but enjoyed one last indian summer in
the post office at Kirchstetten.  There was no telephone in the
house at Holzweg 5 because of the distance from the nearest point
of contact;  it would have been too expensive to instal.  Also,
Auden liked his peace and quiet and when he wanted to telephone
he did so from the post office, combining with his daily shopping
expedition.  The lack of a telephone accounts for much of my
correspondence with Auden, or rather, because I have only scant
records of what I wrote, for his letters to me, and especially
for the telegrams.  "We are here, where are you?" or "Wednesday
would suit perfectly" and so on, are messages which mark the
development of a cosy routine of coming and going between Schloss
Fridau, my  mother-in-law's place where I have a flat, and
Kirchstetten.  "Mama" was an eccentric of the old-fashioned kind
to be met with in many countries.  Auden recognised the type at
once and rejoiced:  a rough exterior and an abrupt manner, one
who had feared neither Nazis nor Russian occupiers, obstinate,
shy, cultured, not troubled by surface blemishes, hospitable,
terrifyingly outspoken, fond of good food.  He liked to be
asked out in any case, and Fridau is an easy 25 minutes drive from
Kirchstetten, as it were across the fields:  not round by
Böheimkirchen and St.Pölten, but across farmland and through
villages,  along lanes so winding that only a snake could have
planned them.  He too liked his food, all the more so if it


were roast saddle of roe deer with cranberry preserve,
wild duck or roast pheasant, with a good wine, followed by
one of the richer Austrian cakes - Wurmbrand-Torte for instance,
which consists mainly of ground burnt almonds and creamed chocolate-
and then to carry ones wine glass back into the sittingroom and
wait while the Turkish coffee ceremony was performed.  This was,
down all the years that I have known Fridau, and still is, the
indispensable conclusion to lunches even of the humbler, everyday
sort:  turkish coffee with the kaimak hissing faintly as the cup
is filled - that pale brown foam which must be removed as the coffee
rises to the boil and carefully shared out between the empty cups.
Failure to do this is the unforgiveable sin.   And Auden would sit,
well nourished, blinking in the sunshine from the
window opposite him from where he could see the crown of an immense
pear tree.  After his second cup he was likely to leap to his feet
without any of those preliminary movements of eyes, hands and feet
with which people signal their imminent departure, shake hands
all round and hurry away.  But sometimes he felt like a turn
round the park, or even to stay on for a time, sitting in a deck
chair under the trees in the courtyard.   But if he hurried, it was
no discourtesy;  Wystan was the most courteous of men, who liked
to follow the customs of the country he lived in, and above all
he had no special voice for employees..  He got on well with
Austrian people who sometimes - without the natural excuse of
his food storekeeper in St. Mark's Place - had no idea of the calibre of
the man with whom, in his home or theirs, they were having a meal.
As I knew him, the only thing he couldn't bear was pretension.
     So one would have supposed that writers young and older
would have lost no time in beating a path out to Kirchstetten.
Are writers convivial creatures?  Do they like to congregate
together for mutual admiration and to complain about their
publishers?  At some times and in some places, yes, at others no;
that they have the patience to listen to each other reading their
works aloud is true, probably, only in circumstances of
political persecution.   Be it as it may, I sometimes see Auden's
relationship with the literary scene in Austria - such as it is -
as a string of wasted opportunities.  He was interviewed, he was


filmed, and the Gesellschaft für Literatur did its duty by him
and more, from start to finish.  It still does.  But the Austrian
Society for Literature is neither a club nor a coffee house
but a society for the promotion of literature with a particular
mission to writers in communist eastern Europe.  Somehow, in the
sixties, there was otherwise no group of people, no meeting place
towards which Auden himself could naturally gravitate.  Think of
this in terms of the old pre-war Vienna, the life in the coffee
houses where the literary figures of the earlier 20th century
congregated, where they spent their days, read their correspondence
and the newspapers, read and wrote criticisms, blacked each
other's characters:  the Café Central and the Herrenhof.  I can
imagine Auden in this atmosphere very well, enjoying the
opportunity it gave him of rubbing shoulders with writers of all
ages, and particularly with the young, as it were by chance,
without further commitment on either side and with the minimum
of effort.  I can see the cigarette ash on the marble topped
tables, the mounds of paper, see Auden slopping to and fro in
his eternal bedroom slippers between his table and the
telephone kiosk.  But this world ended when Egon Friedell,
giving the passers by a shout of warning as he did so, jumped
out of the window to his death on the entry of the Nazis.   It
was a world, described again and again by those who knew it,
never more effectively than by one of its last active, working
survivors, Friedrich Torberg, and it has gone for ever.  Today's
writers have no time.  They are dashing from recording studios
beyond Schönbrunn to newspaper offices at the opposite end of
Vienna, from the head post office to their homes, where they kiss
wife and children, snatch a bag and rush to the airport or to
a railway terminal.
     Alternatively, like Thomas Bernhard, they bury themselves
in a farmhouse in a district carefully chosen for its unfashion-
ableness and difficulty of access, emerging, like cats, only on
their own terms, preferring to turn up unannounced in their
friends' houses, perhaps late at night, enquiring for just that
ration of warmth, light and unquestioning acceptance which,
at that moment, they happen to need.  Bernhard's fame has now
altered the character of the district he lives in and he has
withdrawn to still more distant quarters.  Auden always wanted to


meet Bernhard, and asked me to mediate, which I did on several
occasions, but to no effect;  I think I did overcome Bernhard's
disinclination but the moment never arrived
     The cultural historian Friedrich Heer, on the other hand,
asked whether he would like to go out to lunch in Kirchstetten,
replied that he would go - he has a tendency towards hyperbole - "on my knees".
The day is described in a letter of mine to a friend in Germany
dated 29th May ...
     "I still can't put yesterday's expedition to Kirchstetten
out of my mind.  Fritz Heer and I drove out to lunch.  This manic-
depressive genius Friedrich Heer, dieser verschreckter Lausbub,
and the great English poet Auden - to say nothing of Kallman -
how would it go off?  It went like a bomb.  Fritz was like a man
let out of prison.  For months at a time he never escapes from the
treadmill § and he rejoiced so over the soft greens of the Vienna
Woods, over the accacia trees whose silver shimmer stood out
against the darker background, over the good air, the clear view
after the storm of two days ago.  I was a bit worried that the
two big talkers might both speak at once or at cross purposes,
but this only happened occasionally:  each really wanted to hear
what the other had to say, they exchanged anecdotes and sometimes
they moved on to ground where Chester and I
couldn't follow them.  Each picked up the other's illusions
instantly, and the stimmung was wonderful.  We were on one of my
favourite hobby-horses, the destruction of the German language
by the Nazis.  But Fritz insisted that Mussolini had vulgarised
Italian in the same way, and suddenly he drew himself up, threw
out his chest, his face became a live mask of Mussolini and he
held forth in Italian in a ranting, hectoring, high-pitched tone - a
performance which could have been transferred to any cabaret
unaltered.  I never knew he had such a talent for mimicry.  Nor
was this all.  The conversation moved to France and the Paris
intellectuals, and now Fritz topped up his cabaret with a
simpering, lovingly luxuriant interchange between Gide and Claudel.
Wystan was convulsed.
     The talk shifted to Wagner's texts, liturgical reform,
Weinheber, Rudolf Kassner and Freud;  of these three Fritz could
speak from personal knowledge."  (The letter continues with an

§ in the Burgtheater, where he works as a


attempt at an analysis of Heer's character and personality which
would be out of place here.)
     Unless Auden had friends to stay, talk of this quality was
a rare occurrence.  It was possible to see why Bernhard, to take
one example, did not care to go to Kirchstetten:  there was a
kind of gène, and a quite unjustified fear that he would have
to speak English.  But it is impossible to discern any reason,
apart from lack of time, which could have got in the way of
personal contact between Auden and his translators.  During his
early years in Kirchstetten Auden did feel slighted by some of
his translators in Austria and Germany who would publish their
work in literary magazines, and if the poet himself ever heard
of it, it was by pure chance.  "They don't" he said indignantly,
"even send me a copy of their paper".   Nor, in those days, was
he satisfied with the quality of the work.  He said to an
interviewer in Berlin§, at a time when little of his poetry
had been translated into German:  "Translating poetry into a
different language is very very problematical - and apart from
that, people earn too little by it."  But: "Why can't one send
the translation to a living poet before it is published?"  He
might not know the exactly suitable word, but he would know what
image a word or a phrase was intended to call up in the reader.
"For instance, I spoke in a poem about corn - maize - but the
translator rendered it as wheat!  I was annoyed, because that
sort of thing can be avoided."
    The fifty minute drive to Kirchstetten presented too great
a psychological barrier even to the young, now dead, author and
poet Gerhard Fritsch (he committed suicide) who translated Auden's
Christmas Oratorio "For the Time Being" into German.  It was
published in 1961 under the title "Hier und Jetzt" (here and
now).  The translation is no masterpiece, but it was an attempt to
demonstrate a style of writing which has always been very English
and is characteristic of Auden even within the confines of a
stanza:  shifts in tone from the lofty to the colloquial.  In
"For the Time Being" Auden's language can be surrealistic, every-
day, ironical, grotesque, mocking, tender, full of grief, rising
to moments of lyrical joy.  Rarely even attempted in German
literature, in religious writing tone changes of this description
are unknown.   Austrian television showed a version of the oratorio
on the eve of Epiphany - 5 January 1967 - in which the libretto

§ Article in Die Zeit, Hamburg, 23.4.1965, by Cornelia Jacobsen


was adapted and the music written by the composer Paul Kont.
A review by the critic Helmut A. Fiechtner in "Die Furche"
gives the impression that it was a performance which, like
Victorian children, should be seen but not heard.  Design and
costumes were by one of Austria's leading painters of the
postwar era, Anton Lehmden, singers of the calibre of Gloria
Davy and Hilde Rössel-Majdan did their best, but the music was
unconvincing, it got in the way of the text, and the most
impressive passage, not surprisingly, was Helmut Qualtinger's
monologue as Herod.   In the following year there was a reading
of "Hier und Jetzt" in the Palais Palffy under the auspices of
the Society for Literature.  Auden read a short passage in
English and an actor took over and read in German.  It appears
that Auden was not satisfied, as he kept muttering "Nonsense -
completely wrong!" and making notes in the margin.
     In later years things changed very much for the better, and
although Auden did not actually live to see the volume
"Gedichte - Poems" published in English and German in Vienna
in 1973, he did check the proofs, and a few of the translators
had been to see him.  Today. more of Auden's poetry exists in
German than in any other foreign language.
                    +  +  +
   Talking of translations:  whatever became of the Ford
Foundation translation scheme?  At one time Auden was
thinking about a plan in which he had become involved.  This
was to bring


all the main literary works in the German language under review
in so far as they exist in English translation, to judge their
quality and to discover the gaps.  The real purpose of the
exercise was one with which Auden wholly agreed:  to encourage
professional writers of the first category to take part in the
re-creation of German literature in English.  To this end the
Ford Foundation would make funds available.  Even at that time,
for a publisher to have native poetry on his lists showed
idealism enough.  A translation fee usually wiped out any
conceivable profits on literary prose texts or poetry.  Nothing,
of course, came of the scheme.  Why, I don't know;  we had
a lot of fun making lists on the backs of envelopes and lamenting
the impossibility of sharing playwrights like Raimund, Nestroy
and Grillparzer and novelists like Adalbert Stifter with the
English-speaking world.  Auden knew quite well, of course, that
it is not so much the language barrier, as a fatal lack of
universality which has made so many leading Austrian writers - as
used to be said of Austrian wine though with less justification -
travel so badly.    In a foreword to a book I
wrote on Austria Auden was to write:
    "The relation between Art and Society is so obscure that only
a fool will claim that he understands it.  How, as the author
asks in her concluding chapter on Vienna, is one to explain the
extraordinary eruption of genius in that city which began during
the last decades of the nineteenth century and lasted until the
late 1920s, manifesting itself in every field, literature, music,
painting, philosophy, medicine?  When it began the empire was
already dying on its feet, and it continued after its total
collapse.  Why?  Even more extraordinary in my opinion were the
artistic achievements of men like Nestroy and Adalbert Stifter
living in Metternich's police state.  More than that, I cannot
help wondering if they could have written what they did under a
more liberal regime.  Talking of Stifter, (the author) says
that he, like the composer Bruckner, 'has not travelled well'.
Of Bruckner this may be true, but of Stifter I would say that he
has not travelled, period:  until a few years ago nobody had
attempted to translate him."


     Perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves of the abortive
scheme in these difficult times, because of the underlying
principle:  that leading writers of the day, who can no doubt
earn good money in other ways, should be given some form of
enducement to translate from foreign languages at a standard
equivalent to the original.  And also, to recall that Auden
himself was a translator of great stature.   On the whole, it is arguable
that English literature has been better served by its German
translators than vice versa. §  , the excellence
of Rudolf Alexander Schröder's version of Eliot's "Murder in
the Cathedral" comes to mind:  a major writer himself, Schröder
produced a rendering in which all the cadences, the true Eliot
"sound" are there, so that it is almost a matter of indifference
whether the play is read in English or German.  And in a way,
Eliot hardly deserved it:  Not long ago George Steiner referred
to English writers' lack of a sympathy towards the German
classics and mentioned Auden as a striking exception.

§ Leaving Shakespeare on one side, as no modern translators have
managed to banish the Schlegel-Tieck version from the stage,
Eva Hesse made her name with Ezra Pound's
Cantos, a masterpiece of the translator's art.

     Auden immensely enjoyed working on Goethe's "Italian
Journey", and was always delighted when he came upon errors in
the original caused by Goethe's own faulty editing.  Goethe as
a man fascinated him - three items in "Forewords and Afterwords"
and much else of an earlier date are there to prove it.  So it
can't have been later than 1962 when there was a ring at the
doorbell of my flat in Vienna.  I opened the door and there was
Auden, panting, as well he might because this was before our
lift was put in and he had climbed ninety steps from street
level.  His shirt was grubby, his tie askew, his hair was
matted, and before he was half through the door and with no
further greeting he gasped out:
    "I have come to the conclusion that Goethe was a very
lonely man."


     Which I think we may doubt.  But Auden knew loneliness.

     Gate-crashing ghost, aggressive      invisible visitor,      tactless gooseberry, spoiling      my téte-à-tête with myself,      blackmailing brute, behaving      as if the house were your own...

The strength, the violence of the pictures in this poem can
hardly be paralleled in any other on a related subject.
Loneliness is a vicious being, which makes the mind a quagmire
of disquiet.  A shadow without shape or sex, excluding
consolation, blotting out Nature's beauties, it is a grey
mist between the self and God.  What helps?  Routine; typing
business letters.  But Auden is safe from its haunting only
when fast asleep. Yet:  tomorrow

     Chester, my chum, will return.      Then you'll be through:  in no time      he'll throw you out neck-and-crop,      We'll merry-make your cadence      with music, feasting and fun.

     When Auden walked into Neulinggasse 26 and said what
he did about Goethe, it would be almost nine years before he
would write this poem, but he was already facing what may have
seemed the disaster of Chester's decision not to return to
New York.
     In October 1964 he went to a PEN conference in Budapest,
and came back saying that he had heard an unbelievable amount
of hot air.  The French delegates had got on his nerves with
much talk about "mon âme."  He may have been unjust;  Auden
was not a lover of the French language, and said that
it is quite wrong to call it the most precise and logical of languages;
in no other can a person deliver himself of so much intellectual
jibberish.  But I had the courage to
remind him that Paul Tillich had said he had learned to think
by having to express himself in English and to teach orientals
in that language.  When he read what he had written years before
in German he could barely understand it.


     By the end of October 1964 Auden was in Berlin,
where he would spend the winter as a guest of the Ford
Foundation.  As a visiting professor he would give lectures
and be at the disposal of students who wanted to consult him.
On 21st November he was arrested for drunk driving.  It must have
been rather a dreary Christmas, and he remarked in a letter
that he was lonely, as who wouldn't be in the circumstances.
Berlin-Dahlem, 23rd December, 1964:
It was sweet of you to think of me at Christmas, especially
since it's a little einsam¹ here.  Am beginning to know some
local inhabitants.  Oddly enough, the ones I can talk to most
easily are from Ost-Berlin.  The most awful thing about the
Bifkes² (sic)§ is that they are so much nicer under a little
Druck³ .  When they feel their oats they are so apt
to become uppish."


     Characteristic though it is, one might not feel justified
in quoting from this letter if it were not for the fact that
it goes on to throw light on a passage in his long poem to
Josef Weinheber.   It came about like this:  I had been reading
a paperback called "The Rise of the South African Reich" by Brian
Bunting and mentioned it in my letter with particular reference
to torture.  And I had complained that certain attitudes found
in so-called liberal circles tended to push one further to the
right than one wished to go.  After a sharp comment on the
American magazine "The National Review" he continues:  "Of
course you're right about the lib-labs' ostrich attitude to
those who wish to destroy them, but one cannot let ones name be
associated with shits.  Torture is the iniquity which utterly
bewilders me.  I know something about the evil in my own heart
and in the sort of people I meet, but I cannot conceive of
myself or them torturing anybody.  Where do the torturers come
from?  What class?  Whom do they marry?"  The words "Have you
ever met one?" are deleted.  "To what pubs do they go?
Much love and best wishes for 1965, Wystan."
    By 20th March 1965 he had completed, typed out and sent
off to me the long poem to Weinheber, with the verse:

              Today we smile at weddings               Where bride and bridegroom

1. lonely .
2_Piefke, the rude Austrian generic term for Germans .
3_ Pressure.


Insert after "to become uppish".

This was the private Auden.  The public Auden in the interview
with "Die Zeit" quoted earlier, hotly denied that he had been
lonely.   Many of his predecessors, said the interviewer, had
repeatedly complained that little notice had been taken of
them and that their stay was far from enjoyable.  Auden's
reply was "brusque":  Grumbles of that sort were, he thought,
unfair and personally objectionable.  "One always has to do
something to establish contacts, no one can do that for one."
Not even the wealthy Ford Foundation or the Berlin senate.
It was very ungrateful to accept a monthly grant of a couple
of thousand marks and then to start criticising, instead of
being thankful to be free to work without financial worries -
how often was this possible?  He himself, he went on, was
extraordinarily glad that in Berlin, if that was what a person
wanted, he was left in peace;  he was used to this'live and
let live' in New York.


            Were both born since the Shadow             Lifted, or rather             Moved elsewhere.  Never as yet             Has Earth been without             Her bad patch, some unplace with             Jobs for torturers.             (In what bars are they welcome?             What girls marry them?)

     Later on, I told Chester about this infinitesimal and
unwitting contribution of mine to English literature.  Chester
snapped:  "Wystan never wastes anything."
     There exists a prose translation of the poem to Weinheber,
made by Auden and "a German friend", which he sent to me for
checking together with some amendments to stanza three.  As the
occasion for which the poem was written was a celebration of
the 20th anniversary of Weinheber's death, the prose translation
was for general information.
     "Herewith my effort" Auden wrote, "to do my Gemeindepflicht."
(his civic duty.)
     It hardly needs saying that Auden's interest in Weinheber
went far beyond a mere civic duty.  It was part of his whole
relationship with Lower Austria, his feeling for the landscape,
for its history, for the history of the people who lived, or
had lived there.   For some reason he felt at home there, and
the truth of this is to be found in the best known poems of his
last decade - perhaps they are among the best he ever wrote.
There is the first part of The Cave of Making (In Memoriam Louis
MacNeice.)  He often emphasizes how unsensational it all is:

     "In a house backed by orderly woods,       Facing a tractored sugar-beet country,       Your working hosts engaged to their stint,       You are unlike to encounter       Dragons or romance:  were drama a craving,       You would not have come."

                           (For Friends Only - for John and
                                       Teckla Clark).

It strikes me suddenly as odd that he should have said that:
in the mythology of Austria this area is not, I believe,
dragon country.
     Or in The Common Life (for Chester Kallman):


                   I'm glad the builder gave           our common-room small windows         through which no observer outside can observe us:

Quite untrue.  If they had the light on, anyone approaching the
door could and did see them.   In the poem to Weinheber he
tells him:  "Here, though, I feel as at home as you did".
But the most moving declaration is in Prologue at
Sixty (for Friedrich Heer).
     It satisfied him to live next door to where the poet
Josef Weinheber had lived, a man for whom he felt a remarkable
empathy and a strange compassion.  It has occurred to me that
an element in this sense of identity might have been this:
that he himself had once changed his mind.  He, like Weinheber,
had made a political error and had entirely turned away from it.
Weinheber had allowed himself to be wooed by the Nazis, but
later on he rejected it all and finally he committed suicide.
This may be fanciful;  it is put forward simply as a suggestion.
Auden knew that he would have got on with the man next door.

            Categorised enemies             twenty  years ago,             now next-door neighbours, we might             have become good friends,             sharing a common ambit             and love of the Word,             over a golden Kremser             had many a long             language on syntax, commas,             versification.

     On May 24th 1965,Auden under the auspices of the Austro-British
Council and the Society for Literature, Auden gave a talk on T.S. Eliot in the lecture hall of
the Natural History Museum on the Ring.   It was very
well attended, largely by crowds of note-taking students of
Eng. Lit, and I have never been quite sure whether, at one moment,
he was treating us to a bit of traditional stage business.  He
told us that there is a game:  if, like the Trinity, we were
made up of three persons, what would they be?  Eliot, now,
contained, firstly, the American pre-Jackson aristocrat of a
kind which died out in 1829.  He was a dandy, very carefully


dressed in black jacket, striped trousers and bowler hat.  And
he worked two floors underground.  Then there was the little
boy aged twelve, adoring practical jokes such as cushions which
fart when you sit on them, and who liked to shock people by
saying "Goethe is awful" and so on.  Finally, there was the
Yiddish Momma...
     At this point a cascade of papers fell off the high reading
desk.  Auden disappeared altogether from our sight, scuffed
about on the floor for a bit and finally emerged, very slowly,
to complete his sentence:  "... who wrote the poems".  By now
a very few people were shaking with silent laughter, but the
students, with poised biros, blank-faced and puzzled, were
waiting for all this to stop.
     He was understandably proud of having been asked to preach
in Westminster Abbey.  His triumphant comment to me was:
"Eliot never did that".

     April 1967 brought a literary congress on avantgarde
literature to the Palais Palffy on the Josefsplatz in Vienna.
Auden came, together with a rich, at moments over-rich collection
of  dons, writers and critics from eastern and western Europe.
A number of journalists and a few public figures were present
by invitation, but no intervention from the floor was allowed
and seldom desired by the listeners.  It was enough to hear
Francis Bondy and Mary McCarthy, to enjoy the striking contrast
between Yefrim Etkind of Leningrad
and the square-headed commissar type from Moscow.  And if some
of the read contributions were dry, lifeless and badly delivered,
we only had to wait for the knockout blow from Marcel Reich-Ranicki.
On the whole it was this leading West German critic with his
maddeningly declamatory style and wagging index finger
who dominated the platform, but it was Etkind who with his quiet,
reasonable argument and his good manners won the affection of
everyone in the room.   A face-the-public session in the
Redoutensaal on the other side of the Josefsplatz ended the
congress.  I asked Auden whether there was anything I could do
to help such as lending him my flat, and he promptly replied:
"Yes, help me to look after Philip and Mary."  We agreed that
we would all meet for supper in the Neulinggasse after the public


     Since I have no pretensions to being a literary hostess,
I found the prospect alarming.  It was not that, as a journalist,
famous men worried me in the least, but famous women are somehow
a different matter and I was inclined to be overawed by Mary
MacCarthy.  But Chester was reassuring.  "Don't you worry about
Mary, she won't eat you.  In fact she'll be charming, she'll
merely put you in her next book."
      A hostess should be at home to welcome her guests, or at
the very least, she should arrive with them.  I did neither.
Having allowed myself to be pushed down to towards the front
of the hall, I was trapped and unable to get out, whereas the
members of the congress left the platform and were free.   I
at last fought my way out and the search began for Yefrim Etkind
whom I had invited as an eastern foil for the westerners  He
was run to ground in a back passage, surrounded by fans.  It was
only with the help of the Vienna fire brigade who were clearing
the building that I was at last able to extract him from the
admiring group and take him out to my car.  Knowing that the
rest of the party would be standing outside a locked door, I
drove fast.  Etkind settled himself comfortably, stretched out
his legs for a better purchase and said affably:  "One day you
must come to Leningrad, you'd love to drive there - large, wide,
empty streets."  Since then I have dreamed, Toad-like, of tearing
down the almost deserted Nevsky Prospect, but in the meantime
Etkind, about whom Auden worried greatly as time went on, mainly
on account of his friendship with Sacharow, has left Russia
and is living and working in France.  And so there they all were, a
not too friendly row of faces gazing over the banisters
on the second floor as we puffed our way upstairs:  Auden,
Kallman, Mary MacCarthy, the Toynbees, the author and critic
Hilde Spiel and a Danish journalist friend.  But over drink and
food the party soon cheered up, and Mary sighed:  "What heaven
it is to get away from that man Reich-Ranicki!"  There was a
chorus of assent.
     In August 1966 The Bassarids§ had had its première at the
Salzburg Festival.  Now, in the following year, Auden was invited

The Bassarids, Opera Seria with Intermezzo in One Act based on
The Bacchae of Euripides by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
Music by Hans Werner Henze.


to deliver the opening address - a highly festive occasion, and
his speech would be widely reported.  By late April he had already
made a draft, and he asked me for my comments.   He had, he said,
built in a good deal of criticism, but could he get away with it?
Was the package sufficiently decorative?  After a quick read
through I looked up and caught Auden's enquiring eye.  What on
earth could I say?   No amount of packaging could disguise the
fact that this was a full frontal attack on the policy behind the Salzburg
Festival and its administration;  it appeared to be wholly negative
and the estimated length of half an hour was probably too long.
Towards the end, where he should be riding high in an appeal for
devotion to optimal standards in music and the arts in general
and opera in particular, he was grumbling about the
erratic workings of the curtain in the Festspielhaus and the lack
of canteen facilities for the sceneshifters.  It was a horrible
anticlimax.  How could one tell him this in such a way as to
get results without offending him?  And there was another thing:
he should be advised to rehearse.  Auden understood all the nuances
of the German language, but his spoken German was not as good as
he seemed to think, and his delivery was apt to become
almost incomprehensible.

     The New York postmark usually meant an announcement of
domestic disaster and a request for help, and the winter of 1967
brought serious disruption to the peaceful running of the house
at Kirchstetten.  Auden's poem to Emma Eiermann begins in German:

Liebe Frau Emma, / na, was hast du denn gemacht?

and it contains just about all there is to say about her, and her
relationship with t Auden and Kallman.  How, the poet
exclaims,, could she go and die when they were both away - and what
about the cats - they had to be destroyed.  But when his letter
to me arrived he didn't yet know that:  it contains an urgent
plea to hurry over to Kirchstetten and find out what on earth
was happening to the animals.  He couldn't bear to think - it was
late November - that they were prowling around, unfed and shut out
of her cottage.  Later on he seemed to be rather upset that no one
came forward to adopt one or two of the cats;  the others were


     In February 1968 he flew over to Vienna to interview
Frau Strobl after the death of Emma Eiermann.  We were lunching
together at the Opern-Café and this was one of the very few
occasions when I kept a note of what had been said.   Auden had
frequently taken a stand against drug-taking, and had made his
attitude clear in a number of lectures and interviews.  In
October 1967, for instance, he brought up the subject in a lecture
at Eliot College, and now I told him I was glad he had been
saying to young people in England that LSD is a dead duck for
creative workers.  This led to a long account of the experiments
with LSD and mescalin that he himself had carried out in the
company of his doctor.  He was perfectly certain that no original
line of poetry and no work of art had ever been created under the
influence of drugs, and he was convinced that Aldous Huxley did
a lot of harm by publishing his experiences with mescalin, and
making people believe it to be an artistic experience.  The point
is, he said, that young people need to discover who and what they
are.  And LSD doesn't tell them, it is a purely passive effect in
which there is alienation from self.  You concentrate on things -
a chair, the ceiling etc., - and people become unimportant.  There
is a curious effect in listening to music:  it is intolerable as
the sounds lose their interrelation and form.  Basically, what you
achieve is a mild degree of schizophrenia.  After the experiment
was over, he and the doctor went round to the local pub.  Suddenly,
through a window he saw a postman waving at him, and thought my
God, this is it.  Later on, the postman said "I waved at you,
why didn't you answer?"  An interview he gave to the Sunday Telegraph,
published on October 29, 1967, under the headline "On drugs and drivel" adds to what he said in the Opern-Café.
Much of it is vintage Auden:
    "Mandrake met W.H. Auden last week to a background of, not
redbrick, but dazzling, chalkwhite college buildings, with
miniskirted freshers looking overwhelmed at having Auden pacing
all their fresh-laid corridors in his carpet slippers and Sloppy Joe
T-shirt marked with the Hobbit motif of the Tolkien fan club.
'Now, I live a lot of the time in New York.  You can live really
quietly there, you know' says Auden, and anyway Britain he finds on
every trip getting increasingly Americanised 'and vulgar and still
more vulgar.  It must be the first time in history that culture has
spread from the bottom up .  The Establishment latches on last of all


to what the mass does first.  And London is so provincial.  Paris
is provincial.  Berlin is provincial.  But New York - it's dirty
and a damned dangerous place to live in sometimes, but at least it
isn't provincial.'...   About drug-taking activities in some
British universities, Auden says firmly he is an anti-drug man,
'although I have taken them myself by way of experiment.  By
saying that, I don't want Mr. Quintin Hogg down on my neck for
corrupting the young or anything ... so what I want to make
absolutely clear are the three points which should help put young
people right off the idea of taking drugs at all.
    'First, LSD  is a dangerous thing - it should be taken only
under medical supervision, with somebody there, because you may
get the willies and end up in a loony bin.  Second, if people
think they're going to get any fulfilment in Art through
taking drugs then they're in for a hell of a disappointment.
Because on tape recordings of people under LSD it's been shown
they speak absolute drivel.
     'Thirdly, and lastly, taking drugs as a short cut to God
is absolute drivel as well.' "
     It is true, that the progressive "vulgarisation"
of London struck him like a blow in the face every time he went
there.  He seldom failed to mention the subject when he
came back to Kirchstetten, and was particularly angry about the
advertisements on the London Underground, which he said beat anything
to be found anywhere.

+ + +

     Auden liked to be amused.  As I mentioned earlier, he was
interested, as a human phenomenon, in my mother-in-law who
until she was forced to abandon it was certainly one of the
worst and most dangerous drivers who ever drove the roads of
Austria.  She never went very fast but she had no idea where
the car began and ended nor by what means it was propelled,
and she drove her car as though it were a tank, ignoring all
that lay in her path.  I have seen her move off, the engine
howling, in a series of leaps;  she had clearly forgotten to
release the hand-brake.  Her accidents were frequent, and
often bizarre, and for all this her basic attitude to traffic
was usually to blame.  This attitude she made clear once and
for all when sitting beside the driver - my brother-in-law - on
the road to St. Pölten, which was her, and for that matter
Auden's, shopping town.  They came to a T crossing.  It is a
blind corner, one is about to turn on to a main arterial road
down which the traffic thunders.  The law and common sense
require one to stop dead, look both ways, and only then to
swing across into a gap in the stream of traffic.  The driver


did precisely this, whereupon my mother-in-law favoured
him with a withering glance and said, unforgivably:  'COWARD!'
This was Auden's favourite story.  She caught him once when
he had nipped round to the garage in Fridau to a look at the
state of her Volkswagen after one of the usual smashes.  It
may have been the time she left the road and charged through
one of those telegraph poles with two legs in the shape of
an inverted Y, or another time when she failed to take a
bend in the road and ended up with one wheel suspended
over a vertical drop into the River Pielach far below.  At
all events there was a long and painful silence - Mama was
famous for her silences - which Auden found it difficult to
break.  Whenever I saw him again for the first time after
his arrival in the spring, sooner or later a look of gleeful
expectancy would usher in the question:  "Now:  tell me about
ma-in-law's latest car smash."

     The reason why Auden himself failed one day to take a
corner in Kirchstetten village and crashed I never had the
courage to ask.    It happened on the first day of his
arrival in about April9 1968 .  A message reached me in Vienna:
he had had an accident, was in St. Pölten hospital and could I
come at my convenience?  As my informant thought that Auden
was about to be sent home it seemed advisable to telephone
the hospital and find out where he would be by the afternoon.
The following conversation ensued:
    "May I ask whether Professor Auden is still in hospital ,
presumably in the casualty department, or whether he
has been sent home?"
      "Professor who?"
      "Auden.  A - U - D - E - N, Anna Union Dora Emil Nordpol."
      "The name is not familiar.  I will check the records."
Pause.  "No, we have no one of that name here."
      "But I am informed that Professor Auden was admitted.
By the way he is an American citizen."
      "Ah" (confidently) "then I can say quite definitely
that he has not been admitted here."
     So I drove out to Kirchstetten.  And there was Auden,
a bundle of misery, sitting at the big table all by himself,


his right arm and shoulder in plaster.   He was a little
offhand about the accident, but his memories of the hospital
which he had just left by taxi were unimpaired.  They hadn't
exactly put out the red carpet.  For a long time, the first and
only attention he had received was from a man who wanted
name and address and all relevant details and, above all, "how
I proposed to pay for the treatment."
     Soon I was asking what I could do for him and in what order.
What was the most urgent thing?
     "I'm almost out of gin".  Perhaps I would be kind enough
to ring up Wild, the grocers on the Neuer Markt in Vienna, and
ask them to send some down.   But why, I asked, couldn't I
drive to Böheimkirchen right away and fetch some?  They'd have
the usual brands.  No, call up Wild.
     Back in the Neulinggasse I rang up that high quality
emporium and gave the order.  "Are you" it seemed sensible to
ask, "delivering in that district during the next few days?"
     "We virtually never deliver to the country, Madam,
but we always make a special trip for the Herr Professor."
      After a shocked
silence I said:  "It's no business of mine, but that's a pretty
pricey way of buying the same make of gin as he could get at
the local grocer's."
     "Quite right, Madam, "said the cheerful voice.  "But that
has been the Herr Professor 'susual practice for some years.
Who am I to criticise?"
     A carefully worded letter to the hospital was indicated.
After a brief summary of events came a few lines of comment:
It was not of significance,, I said heavily, that Professor Auden was a poet
and author of international reputation who had been honoured by
the Austrian state.  
A hospital was not a respecter of persons, and a casualty was a
casualty.  But to disclaim all knowledge of a patient who was
occupying a bed in the hospital would certainly create confusion
and distress in any family which might be the victim of such a
mishap.   A day or two later I went out to Kirchstetten again
with the idea of entertaining Wystan with a few horror stories


about Austrian politics or anything else that came to mind
to cheer him over the interval until Chester arrivedfrom
Athens.  He had been back to the hospital for a check-up on
the sit of the plaster, and as I walked in he grinned
from ear to ear:  "What did you say to them?  I was treated
like royalty."   For the record, the hospital did in fact
write a handsome apology in reply to my letter.

     Auden would often lend his car to someone or other during
the winter, and one day when he and Chester turned up to lunch
at Fridau I was shown, with some amusement, a bullet hole in
the car - just b below the windscreen, in line with the
driver's seat.  Having had a little experience of some of
Chester's friends in Vienna I wasn't altogether surprised,   C
but it later transpired that I was wrong.  Naturally, no one had
told me of the existence of Auden's callboy Hugie, and it was
he who, having been lent the car, was involved in events which
led to his arrest and imprisonment.  In the end, the car became a
total wreck, and the circumstances are the subject of various
increasingly frantic letters from Auden before and after
Christmas 1968.  In December, Chester's Greek friend Jean Boras
who often stayed with the two men in Kirchstetten, was in Vienna
and using the car.  One day, on the road between Vienna and
Kirchstetten he collided with a lorry head on and was killed
instantly.    I was away at the time and only got back to the
Neulinggasse shortly before Christmas, to find a letter from Auden
telling me what had happened.  Chester had been so prostrated with
grief that he, Auden, had hardly been able to understand him on
the telephone line from Athens, but he believed that he must be in
Vienna.  Would I look for him and see what I could do?   The
thought of Chester's fstate of mind, alone in Vienna over
Christmas, was blood-chilling, and my imagination ran away with me.
A protracted search produced no signs that he had been in Austria
at all, and it finally turned out that he had never left Athens.
Letters flew to and fro on the subjects of:  release of corpse,
release of wrecked car and/or papers, with Auden becoming
increasingly impatient ("I am in despair") over the inaction both
of officialdom and of his lawyers.  He was learning the hard way


that to attempt to carry out any form of business in Vienna
 between the last days
before Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th
is a sheer waste of time;  during the Twelve Days of Christmas
not even a partridge in a peartree moves.
    When Auden and Kallman got back to Austria in April
Chester was still profoundly shaken up and I remember Auden's
anxiety, saying to me "I don't know how he's going to get
through the summer."  And it struck me:  what a contrast between
these two writers:  the lesser poet but much younger man,
cooking too much rich food for the entirely sedentary life
that they both led, but otherwise with little purpose left.
And the far greater and much older poet, with his regular
hours of work and his considerable output.  The days of their
very fruitful collaboration on opera libretti were already
over;  what remained was the Times crossword.
     It was so easy, I think, to make fun of the slightly
old-maidish ways of the house.  In all those amusing and
essentially true articles in newspapers and glossy
magazines the tendency is to leave out this all-important fact:
Auden was a very hard-working, systematic, self-disciplined
writer, who knew, none better, how nice it is to sit sipping
a cool drink in the shade of a tree, whiling away the hours,
looking with contentment upon his flowers and his asparagus beds.
This he did, but having worked steadily through from 9 o'clock
until lunchtime.  And much of the bosky contentment, the cool
drinks and so on, were simply owing to the presence of guests,
including the journalist with his sharp eye.  So that these
sometimes rather rib-nudging descriptions of this unconventional
household leave it altogether to us to remember that in the
last dozen years of his life, Auden was writing several volumes
of poetry, opera libretti, translating the Elder Edda, the
"Italian Journey ", Dag Hammarskjöld's "Markings" and other
works, editing "The Dyer's Hand", the "Faber Book of Aphorisms",
his Commonplace Book, "Forewords and Afterwords", and that
heavenly compilation the "Nineteenth Century Book of Minor Poets".
He was reading over an enormous field, writing and delivering
lectures, writing articles and book reviews - sometimes they
were demanding publications such as Emily Anderson's 3 volume


"Letters of Beethoven" - which he gave me, the blank pages are
filled with his notes - and even a new 12 volume annotated
translation of the Bible.  In any case, the sacred beast in his
lair was probably much wittier than most strangers who came
to view the set-up.

     On 19th May 1970 I was mildly horrified (I write in German
but do not translate into it) to get a telegram asking "If I
sent half hour speech in a few days could you translate soon
into German - Love Wystan."  On the principle:  say yes now,
worry afterwards, I agreed.  He was to deliver the speech a couple
of weeks later in the small country town of Neulengbach in the
presence of the governor of Lower Austria.  After making a draft,
I sent both texts to my husband so that he could polish up my
version.   It had not been easy.

    "Sehr verehrter Herr Landeshauptmann,meine Damen und Herren:
     I hope you will pardon me if I speak somewhat personally.
I do so, not out of vanity, but because I do not wish to give the
impression that I am attempting to lay down absolute laws which
are valid for all.  I give you my experiencesas a poet, in the hope
that you will be able to compare them with yours, and form your
own judgment about them.
     Most of what I know about the writing of poetry, or at least
about the kind I am interested in writing, I discovered long
before I took any interest in poetry itself.
     Between the ages of six and twelve, I spent a great many
of my waking hours in the fabrication of a private secondary
sacred world, the basic elements of which were a) a limestone
landscape mainly derived from the Pennine Moors in the North of
England and b) an industry - lead-mining.
     It is no doubt psychologically significant that my sacred
world was autistic - that is to say, I had no wish to share it
with others nor could I have done so.  However, though constructed
for and inhabited by myself alone, I needed the help of others,
my parents in particular, in collecting its basic materials;
others had to procure for me the necessary text-books on geology
and machinery, maps, catalogues, guide-books and photographs,
and, when occasion offered, to take me down real mines, tasks


which they performed with unfailing patience and generosity.
     From this activity, I learned certain principles which I was
later to find applied to all artistic fabrication.  First, whatever
other elements it may include, the initial impulse to create a
secondary world is a feeling of awe aroused by encounters, in the
Primary World, with sacred beings or events.  This feeling of awe
is an imperative, that is to say, one is not free to choose the
object or the event that arouses it.  Though every work of art
is a secondary world, it cannot be constructed ex nihilo, but is
a selection from and a recombination of the contents of the
Primary World.  Even the 'purest' poem, in the French Symboliste
sense, is made of words which are not the poet's private property,
but the communal creation of the linguistic group to whom he
belongs, so that their meaning can be looked up in a dictionary.
     Secondly, in constructing my private world, I discovered
that, though this was a game, or rather precisely because it was a
game - that is to say, not a necessity like eating or sleeping,
but something I was free to do or not as a chose - it could not
be played without rules.  Absolute freedom is meaningless:
freedom can only be realised in a choice between alternatives.
A secondary world, be it a poem, or a game of football or bridge,
must be as much a world of law as the Primary, the only difference
being that in the world of games one is free to decide what its
laws shall be.  But to all games as to real life, Goethe's lines

         In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister          Und das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben.

     As regards my particular lead-mining world, I decided, or
rather, without conscious decision I instinctively felt, that I
must impose two restrictions upon my freedom of fantasy.  In
choosing what objects were to be included, I was free to select
this and reject that, on condition that both were real objects
in the Primary World, to choose, for example, between two kinds of
water-turbine, which could be found in a text-book on mining
machinery or a manufacturer's catalogue:  but I was not free to
invent one.  In deciding how my world was to function, I could
choose between two practical possibilities  - a mine can be drained


either by an adit or a pump - but physical impossibilities and
magic means were forbidden.  When I say forbidden, I mean that I
felt, in some obscure way, that they were morally forbidden.
Then there came a day when the moral issue became quite conscious.
As I was planning my Platonic Idea of a concentrating-mill, I
ran into difficulties.  I had to choose between two types of a
certain machine for separating the slimes, called a buddle.
One type I found more sacred or 'beautiful', but the other type
was, I knew from my reading, the more efficient.  At this point
I realised that it was my moral duty to sacrifice my aesthetic
preference to reality or truth.
     When, later, I began to write poetry, I found that, for me
at least, the same obligation was binding.  That is to say, I
cannot accept the doctrine that, in poetry, there is a 'suspension
of belief'.  A poet must never make a statement simply because
it sounds poetically exciting:  he must also believe it to be true.
This does not mean, of course, that one can only appreciate a
poet whose beliefs happen to co-incide with one's own.  It does
mean, however, that one must be convinced that the poet really
believes what he says, however odd the belief may seem to oneself.
    Between constructing a private fantasy world for oneself alone
and writing poetry, there is, of course, a profound difference.
A fantasy world exists only in the head of its creator:  a poem
is a public verbal object intended to be read and enjoyed by others.
To become conscious of others is to become conscious of historical
time.in various ways.  The contents of a poem are necessarily
past experiences, and the goal of a poem is necessarily in the
future, since it cannot be read until it has been written.
Again, to write a poem is to engage in an activity which human
beings have practised for centuries.  If one asks why human beings
make poems or paint pictures or compose music, I can see two
possible answers.  Firstly all the artistic media are forms of
an activity peculiar to human beings, namely, Personal Speech.
Many animals have impersonal codes of communications, visual,
olfactory, auditory signals, by which they convey to other members


of their species vital information about food, territory, sex,
the presence of enemies etc., and in social animals like the bee,
such a code may be exceedingly complex.  We, too, of course, often
use words in the same way, as when I ask a stranger the way to the
railroad station.  But when we truly speak, we do something quite
different.  We speak as person to person in order to disclose
ourselves to others and share our experiences with them, not
because we must, but because we enjoy doing so.   This activity
is sometimes quite erroneously called 'self-expression'.  If I
write a poem about experiences I have had, I do so because I think
it should be of interest and value to others:  the fact that it has
till now only been my experience is accidental.  What the poet or
any artist has to convey is a perception of a reality common to
all, but seen from a unique perspective, which it is his duty as
well as his pleasure to share with others.  To small truths as
well as great, St.  Augustine's words apply.

         The truth is neither mine nor his nor another!s; but belongs
         to us all whom Thou callest to partake of it: warning us
         terribly, not to account it private to ourselves, lest
         we be deprived or it

    Then the second impulse to artistic fabrication is the desire to
transcend our mortality, by making objects which, unlike ourselves,
are not subject to natural death, but can remain permanently
'on hand' in the world, long after we and our society have perished.
     Every genuine work of art, I believe, exhibits two qualities,
Nowness and Permanence.  By Nowness I mean the quality which enables
an art-historian to date a work, at least, approximately.  If,
for example, one listens to a composition by Palestrina and one by
Mozart, one knows immediately that, quite aside from their artistic
merits, Palestrina must have lived earlier than Mozart:  he could
not possibly have written as he did after Mozart.  By Permanence,
I mean that the work continues to have relevance and importance
long after its creator is dead.  In the history of Art, unlike the
history of Science, no genuine work of art is made obsolete by a
later work.  Past science is of interest only to the historian of
science, not to what scientists are doing at this moment.  Past


works of art, on the other hand, are of the utmost importance
to the contemporary practitioner.  Every artist tries to produce
something now, but in the hope that, in time, it will take its
proper place in the tradition of his art.  And he cannot produce
anything significantly original unless he knows well what has
already been done;  that is to say, he cannot 'rebel' against the
past without having a profound reverence for it.
    There are periods in history when the arts develop uninterr-
uptedly, each generation building on the achievements of the
previous generation.  There are other periods when radical breaks
seem to be necessary.  However, when they are, one will generally
find that the 'radical' artist does not disown the past, but finds
in works of a much earlier period or in those of a culture (other)
than his own, the clue as to what he should do now.  In my own
case, for example, I know how much I owe to Anglo-Saxon and
Medieval Poetry.
     When I review the contemporary artistic scene, it strikes me
how extraordinarily fortunate men like Stravinsky, Picasso, Eliot,
etc., that is, those persons we think of as the founders of
'modern' art, were in being born when they were, so that they came
to manhood before 1914.  Until the First World War, western
society was still pretty much what it had been in the nineteenth
century.  This meant that for these artists, the felt need to
create something new arose from an artistic imperative, not a
historic imperative.  No one asked himself:  "What is the proper
kind of music to compose or picture to paint or poem to write
in the year 1912?"   Secondly, their contemporary audiences
were mostly conservative, but honestly so.  Those, for instance,
who were scandalised by Le Sacre du Printemps, may seem to us now
to have been old fogies, but their reaction was genuine.  They did
not say to themselves:  "Times have changed and we must change
with them in order not to be left behind."
    Here are a few statements by Stravinsky to which the young,
whether artists or critics would do well to listen and ponder over.

    In my youth the new music grew out of, and in reaction to,
s, whereas it appears to be evolving to-day as much
    from social needs as interior artistic ones...  The status
    of new mu
sic as a category is another incomparable.  It had


     none at all in my early years, being in fact categorically
     opposed, and often with real hostility,  But the unsuccess
     of composers of my generation at least kept them from trading
     on success, and our unsuccess may have been less insidious
     than the automatic superlatives which nowadays kill the new
     by absorbing it to death.

     The use of the new hardware naturally appears to the new
     musician as "historicallv imberative ";  but music is made
     out of musical imperatives, and the awareness of historical
     processes is probably best left to future and diff
     kinds of

     In times, like our own, of rapid social change and political
crisis, there is always a danger of confusing the principles
governing political action and those governing artistic fabrication.
The most important of such confusions are three.
    Firstly, one may come to think of artistic fabrication as a
form of political action.  Every citizen, poets included, has a
duty to be politically 'engagé', that is, to play a responsible
part in seeing that the society of which he is a member shall
function properly and improve.  But the poet, qua poet, has only
one political function.  Since language is his medium, it is his
duty, by his own example, to defend his mother-tongue against
corruption by demagogues, journalists, the mass-media etc.  As
Karl Kraus said:  "Die Sprache ist die Mutter, nicht das Magd,
des Gedankens", and when language loses its meaning,
its place is taken by violence.  Of course, the poet may use
political and social events as subject-matter for poems - they
are as much a part of human experience as love or nature - but
he must never imagine that his poems have the power to affect
the course of history.  The political and social history of
Europe would be what it has been if Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe,
Michael Angelo, Titian, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. had never existed.
     Where political and social evils are concerned, only two
things are effective:  political action and straightforward,
truthful, detailed journalistic rapportage of the facts.  The Arts
are powerless.
    The second confusion, of which Plato is the most famous example,
is to take artistic fabrication as the model for a good society.


Such a model, if put into practice, is bound to produce a tyranny.
The aim of the artist is to produce an object which is complete
and will endure without change.  In the 'city' of a poem, there
are always the same inhabitants doing exactly the same jobs for
ever.  A society which was really like a good poem, embodying the
aesthetic virtues of order, economy and subordination of the
detail to the whole, would be a nightmare of horror for, given the
historical reality of actual men, such a society could only come
into being through selective breeding, extermination of the
physically and mentally unfit, absolute obedience to its Director,
a large slave class kept out of sight in cellars and the strictest
censureship (sic) of the Arts, forbidding anything to be said
which is out of keeping with the official 'line'.
    The third confusion, typical of our western 'free' societies
at this time, is the opposite of Plato's, namely to take political
action as the model for artistic fabrication.  Political action
is a necessity, that is to say, at (e)very moment something has
to be done, and it is momentary - action at this moment is
immediately followed by another action at the next.  Artistic
fabrication, on the other hand, is voluntary - the alternative
to one work of art can be no work of art - and the artistic
object is permanent, that is to say, immune to historical change.
The attempt to model artistic fabrication on political action can
therefore, only reduce it to momentary and arbitrary 'happenings',
a conformism with the tyranny of the immediate moment which is
far more enslaving and destructive of integrity than any conformism
with past tradition.
    At this point, a little digression on the subject of 'free'
verse, which seems now to be almost universal among young poets.
Though excellent examples, the poems of D.H. Lawrence, for example,
exist, they are, in my opinion, the exception, not the rule.
The great virtue of formal metrical rules is that they forbid
automatic responses and, by forcing the poet to have second
thoughts, free him from the fetters of self.  All too often, the
result of not having a fixed form to be true to, is a self-
indulgence which in the detached reader can only cause boredom.
Further, in my experience, contrary to what one might expect, the
free-verse poets sound much more like each other than those who
write in fixed forms.  Whatever freedom may do, it does not, it
would seem, make for originality.

                          31. a

     What, then, can the Arts do for us?  In my opinion, they can
do two things.  They can, as Dr. Johnson said, 'enable us a little
better to enjoy life or a little better to endure it.'  And,
because they are objects permanently on hand in the world, they
are the chief means by which the living are able to break bread
with the dead, and, without a communication with the dead, I do
not believe that a fully human civilised life is possible.
     Perhaps, too, in our age, the mere making of a work of art
is itself a political act.  So long as artists exist, making
what they please or think they ought to make, even if their works
are not terribly good, they remind the Management of something
managers need to be reminded of, namely, that the managed are
people with faces, not anonymous numbers, that Homo Laborans
is also Homo Ludens.
     And now, I hope those of you who know no English will
forgive me if I conclude these remarks with a light poem of my
own, entitled Doggerel by a Senior Citizen."

     To what extent parts of this lecture had been said or written
before is immaterial, it is still surprising that Auden chose to
repeat it in Neulengbach.  If here and there, he

           Adopted what I would disown            The preacher's loose immodest tone

in the main, such a closely argued statement must surely have
floated past the ear of most of his listeners.  This would not,
I think, have been because of an innate lack of intelligence
on their part but because the Austrian and the German academic
mind tends towards compartmentalised thought more than is the
case among well educated Americans, British and French people who
may have acquired the ability to survey one discipline in terms
of another.  This exceedingly demanding speech tells one something
else about Auden:  he never talked down to people.  They would
absorb as much as they were able to, as much as they were ready
for;  and someone would have understood a great deal.  Auden's
attitude towards language as a means towards "artistic fabrication"
is I think in the exact sense of the word sacramental. Holding
the insights that he did into the nature of the poet's struggle
with the primary world, it is hardly surprising that he should
have held strong views on modern translations of the Bible - a
subject he often came back to in conversation - and revised


liturgies.  The new banality offended his acute sense of the
power contained in words and phrases which have brought mankind
into mystical contact with the primary world:  Darkness, Silence,
Nothing, Death, and all those things which are held sacred by any
particular cultural group.  It is consistent that Auden was
suspicious of Eng.Lit. textual analysis;  that he felt the importance
that - gross misunderstanding apart - the reader should receive
something from a poem;  it is consistent that he should have laughed
when he told me that some earnest person wanted to know just what he
had meant by a word written thirty years ago.  "Ridiculous!  How
should I know?"
     It always seemed that as the years passed Auden became more
and more English;  this natural process of reverting to type annoyed
Chester who would expostulate at signs of it.  He liked to listen
to the cool, rounded tones of the British county gentry, he intensely
admired "Akenfield", he loved the Lucia novels by E.F. Benson, he
happily read and reviewed "The History of the British Nannie" and
he was addicted to English detective novels - his collection is now
at Fridau.  I dropped in one early afternoon on my way to Vienna,
just to leave something for him, I forgot what.  Auden came pounding
down the rickety outside staircase, greeted me with his usual warmth,
urged me to come in, to stay ... No no, I said, we're both busy,
I must get on.  "Oh!" he exclaimed, and it was as though he were
begging me not to infringe the most basic rule of British hospitality:
"But you can't go without having a cup of tea!"
     That study of his is so bare now:  it is "The Cave of Making"
which he wished he could have shown to Louis MacNeice, and the house
and garden.

                                      ... Devoid of        flowers and family photographs, all is subordinate           here to a function, designed to        discourage daydreams - hence windows averted from plausible           videnda but admitting a light one        could mend a watch by - and to sharpen hearing:  reached                                                        by an

          outside staircase, domestic        noises and odours, the vast background of natural           life are shut off.  Here silence        is turned into objects.

     To write to Auden unnecessarily would have been to encroach on
his time.  But Chester spent the whole of one winter in Vienna and
I could hardly resist describing a party in Chester's flat.


Afterwards, I had given a lift home to a carload of people
including one whose pockets, had I but known it, were stuffed
with Chester's money - lifted from a jacket hanging on the
bedroom door.  The party itself had been all but wrecked by a
loudly argumentative individual who succeeded in clearing the
sittingroom altogether as the guests gradually slunk off to the
kitchen, refugees from his abrasive but tedious presence.
Auden's reply was:
    "So!  You encountered the one-whose-name-we-never-mention.
Why Chester should have been so foolish as to invite him to a
party I cannot imagine.  If he is to be seen at all he is to
be seen alone."
     My next sighting of this cloven-hooved adjunct to the
Viennese literary scene was at Auden's funeral, where I watched
him work his way up the procession to the church until he found
the place he sought:  immediately behind the coffin among the
chief mourners.  Wondering at this, and remembering Wystan's
sinister euphemism, I subsequently asked Chester whether Auden
had ever liked the man.  "LIKED him?" shrieked Chester.  "Why,
he crossed himself whenever his name was mentioned."
     In that same letter to New Work I mentioned that a friend
of his had quoted him as using the term - as a definition of
humour - "Serious insistence on unseriousness."  His response
was as follows:  "X has a genius for subtle misrepresentation.
'Serious insistence on unseriousness' telescopes two distinct
convictions of mine, falsifying both.
One.  I believe it to be a serious moral error when an artist
overestimates the importance of art and, by implication, of
himself.  One must admit that the political history of Europe,
with the same horrors, would be what it has been, if Dante,
Shakespeare, Goethe, Titian, Mozart, et al, had never existed.
Two.  I believe that the only way in which, to-day at any rate,
one can speak seriously about serious matters (the alternative
is silence) is comically....  I have enormously admired - and
been influenced by - the tradition of Jewish humor.  More than
any other people, surely, they have seen in serious matters,
that is to say, human suffering, the contradictions of human
existence, and the relation between man and God, occasions for
humorous expression.  e.g. 'If the rich could hire other people
to die for them, the poor could make a wonderful living', or,


'Truth rests with God alone, and a little bit with me', or 'God
will provide - ah, if only he would till He does so.'"  After a
brief domestic chronicle he adds that a friend of his who teaches
schyzophrenics had a seventeen year old girl who was interested
in poetry.  Asked what poets she liked, she mentioned Auden.
'I happen to know him quite well'said the friend.  To which the
girl in astonishment:  'You mean to say, he's still alive?'
(Auden was about 58 at the time).
     That deeply scored face which struck awe into so many people
who saw him, that battlefield so mercilessly displayed above dozens
upon dozens of newspaper articles:  when I look at my own photographs
of him I am appalled at the speed of the development.  It was a
head straight out of the icelandic sagas, or a prehistoric head
from the bogs of Jutland.  Auden should have been carved, much
larger than life, by Henry Moore and placed in effigy on a high hill.
     Abruptly, the way most statements emerged from Auden, he said
one day at lunch:  "Kokoschka wants to paint me."  It appears that
Oskar Kokoschka had written and asked him to come to Switzerland.
But Auden felt it was too much of an effort, and evidently the much
older man felt the same way, so that nothing came of it.  It is a
great pity, because for one thing they would have enjoyed each
other's company, and the sight of these physically so oddly similar
men sitting together must have fired some onlooker if only to the
extent of taking a historic snapshot.  Nor does Auden's closing
remark on the subject provide much compensation for the lack of the
portrait, though the thought satisfied him.  "After all", he said,
as he reached for his wine glass and narrowed his eyes to slits
against the sunlight seeping in from the garden, "After all, I AM
a Kokoschka painting."
    But the causes:  the question needs to be answered.  Why was
Auden, in his sixties and indeed much earlier, a prematurely aged
man?  "Ein alter Mann", one or two German obituarists were to write,
but without surprise, or:  "the aged poet" - when he was 68!
    Surely not.  There is one explanation which I place on record
only after much hesitation.  Some time after Auden's death Chester
Kallman gave me his explanation for the evidence that Wystan had
become older than his years warranted:  he put the phenomenon down
to Benzedrine.  "For how long?"  Oh, said Chester, he began right
back in his early years in the States.  And he had carried on right
through, only dropping the habit when he came to spend his summers


in Austria.  Most people now have forgotten about Benzedrene;
other things  have taken its place.  Chester reminded me that it
was the stimulant with the help of which airmen in wartime,
examinees, doctors and so on, could keep themselves going in a
state of complete wakefulness, to carry them through a period
of temporary stress.  Taken for a restricted purpose, perhaps by
a surgeon faced with operations round the clock after a major
disaster, it was a blessing.  Physical reserves would be replaced
later when the emergency was over.  But to take Benzedrine over a
long period meant - I am quoting Kallman and subject to correction -
using up ones body at an accelerated rate with the obvious
consequence that it would become prematurely aged.
    It would be difficult to think of any reason why Chester should
say this if it were not substantially true.   As to why Auden
should have felt he needed such a powerful stimulant, over and
above those which modern man indulges in as a matter of course -
coffee, tea, alcohol and cigarettes - his friends of those
years can answer.   Perhaps an extract from Edmund Wilson's
"W.H. Auden in America" is helpful:  it is one of a collection of
critical essays edited by Monroe Spears and published in 1964:
the operative phrase lies buried in the quotation.

     "Since becoming an American citizen, the poet has not
    ceased to explore, to roam - he has covered more ground in
    this country than most Americans do, and he now spends every
    summer in Italy. This spring he returns to England to be
    lecturer on poetry at Oxford.  It is a part of his role to go
    everywhere, be accessible to all sorts of people, serve
    interestedly and conscientiously in innumerable varied
    capacities:  on the staff of a Middle Western college;  at a
    cultural congress in India;  on a grand jury in New York City,
    deciding the fate of gangsters;  on a committee of the
    American Academy, making handouts to needy writers.  He has
    above all withstood the ordeal of America through a habitation
    of seventeen years;  he has even 'succeeded' here." And he
    has made all these exploits contribute to the work of a great
    English poet who is also - in the not mondain sense - one
    of the great English men of the world."


+ + +

     During the uprising in Czechoslovakia in the early autumn
of 1968 Vienna was filled with people who had come across the
border bent on emigration, or simply to snuff the air outside
their own country and explore the possibilities.  Many people
had strangers in their houses and Auden wanted to do his bit.
As he was just leaving Kirchstetten he left it to me to choose
a suitable family, and having done so I wrote to him c/o Heyworth,
32 Bryanston Square, London W.1.  A reply is dated 15 October 1968:

     "Got back from Oxford yesterday and found your letter waiting.
     1) I think I ought to take the couple in, but I must leave
     it to you to decide whether they are O.K. If they are, all
     rooms, including my study (which can't be heated) are open
     to them.
     2) How much money will they need to keep going?  And how
     shall I make the arrangements for payment.
     3) Will they be able to find work or emigrate before I
     return in April, when I'm afraid there will not be room
     for them?
     4) I'm worried about how they will get gas cylinders for
     cooking from Neulengbach, since, presumably, they have no car.
     I expect someone in the village will help.
     5) If and when they come, I must know in advance so that
     I can write a note to the Burgomeister..."

     The couple found somewhere else to live in a less remote
place, the emergency was soon over and Auden did not disguise
his relief:

                                   "77 St. Mark's Place, N.Y.C.
     Many thanks for your letter.  Of course, selfishly, I'm
     rather relieved.  How horrid one is!
     The U.S. is grim."

     Auden was an extraordinarily generous person.  An evening
at the Opern-Café comes to mind.  Wystan and Chester had been to
a performance over the road and had asked me to join them afterwards
It was hoped that Balanchine would join us, but to my disappointment
he never turned up.  Conversation was lively, and the more so, the


greater the contrast with the enforced silence of a young
Austrian whose identity was never fully revealed, though
Chester muttered to me:  "Wystan is helping with his studies
at the College of Technology."  When the party broke up it
turned out that the young man lived in my direction, so I took
him home, and in my car he opened his mouth and spoke, and
what he said became engraved on my mind.  "Who is Professor
Auden?" he asked.  "Tell me about him.  Is he an important man?"
     This is the cue for a story which, though with names
omitted, should be placed on record.  It must have been in
about 1949 or 1950 that an American woman was travelling by
train in Austria.  In the carriage were two Austrian boys
in their early teens.  The three got into conversation, the woman
asked a number of questions and heard the boys' story.  Their
father was an artist, they lived in a village on a lakeside and
went to the local high school.  Yes, they would be leaving school
at fifteen, one of them would go as an apprentice to the local
printer's.  No, there was no money for further education, there
was no grammar school nearby, the family couldn't afford boarding
school fees, nor lodgings.  Not long after this chance encounter
the family heard that Auden would like to pay for the boys'
education.  They went through grammar school in Innsbruck and
never looked back;  both made swift careers in industry.  I have
the impression that Auden did meet the family in later years;
nothing was ever further from my mind than to bring up the story
with Auden.  It was disinterested generosity of a rare order.
In the light of this kindness to Austrian citizens, it is
sad, and ironical too, that his final years in Austria
should have brought him into conflict with the tax authorities.
He had felt at peace in Kirchstetten:

           Here, though, I feel as at home            as you did:  the same            short-lived creatures re-utter            the same care-free songs,            orchards cling to the regime            they know, from April's            rapid augment of colour            till boisterous Fall,            when at each stammering gust            apples thump the ground.


A nd in his Prologue at Sixty:

          Though the absence of hedge-rows is odd to me           (no Whig landlord, the landscape vaunts,           ever empired on Austrian ground),           this unenglish tract after ten years           into my love has looked itself...

     But then worry invaded it.  While all the time believing
himself not to be liable for income tax, debts to the fiscus were
in fact running up to such an extent that a mortgage was placed
on the property in Kirchstetten.  The final amount was A.S.
930,000.  What this meant to Auden was that instead of being able
to take things a bit more easily, he had to pay out pretty well
all that he had put on one side, and return to the lecture circuit
in the States, a prospect which he viewed with dread.
     "Do you know" he said to me, "they're accusing me of having
been inspired by the Austrian landscape!  The Weinheber poem and
all that."  I said:  "You wrote the poem in Berlin" and he
shrugged.  At that time I had no idea how serious the whole thing
was.  As the result of an appeal in high quarters the sum was
reduced by about half, and was fully paid up.  At some point, the
document is undated, Auden composed a statement, consisting of
three pages of typescript, giving his point of view in this
extraordinary affair.  One day, if the whole official correspondence
is published, this document with the rest will be numbered among
the curiosities of literary history.§
     Having disposed of the "accusations" that he had a "material
interest" in Austria, that he had been awarded the state prize for
literature and that a road in Kirchstetten had been named after
him (he requested the local authorities, by the way, not to do so
until after his death, but they disregarded his wish) he continued:
     "You go on to say, correctly, that I have written a few
poems on Austrian themes.  To this I should like to make three
1.   I have never received so much as a penny for my poetry in
Austria.  A few of them were translated into German, but in this
case the translators received the money, not I.

§ The statement is in German translation, what follows is my own
  re-translation back into English and not the original.


2.  I believe you are not aware how it is that poems are
written.  What is generally taken to be the subject is only
a point of view, an occasion, in order to give expression to
certain thoughts about nature, about God, history, mankind etc.
which the poet may have had in his head for
a very long time.  I wrote a poem, for instance, for the 20th
anniversary of the death of Josef Weinheber.  But basically,
the poem has to do with other things:  firstly with the love
which every good poet, of whatever nationality he may be, has
for his mother tongue, and secondly with what has happened
since the war in the countries that lost it, that is to say,
not only Austria, but also Germany and Italy.
     Then again:  in 1964 I wrote a poem with the title
'Whitsunday in Kirchstetten' because I happened to be there
at the time.  But the place is unimportant.  What this poem is
actually about is the question:  'What is the significance
for a Christian of the Feast of Pentecost?'  And this applies
to all countries alike.
3.  I believe that you fail to understand the financial situation
of a poet.  A novelist can, if he is successful, earn a good
deal of money with his books.  A poet cannot do that, even if he
is very well known, because poems are only read by a minority.
Far and away the greater part of my income derives, therefore,
not from the sale of my volumes of verse, but from book reviews,
translations, lectures etc., activities which have nothing to do
with Austria.  And while on the subject of translations:  you
say correctly, that I have a great interest in German and Austrian
literature - I might add, also in its music, but I have no need
to come to Austria to read or to hear them."
     Auden goes on to the length of time spent annually in
Austria, and concludes:
     "One last word.  If this in my view utterly unjustified
nonsense does not cease, I shall leave Austria never to return,
which both for me and perhaps too for the shopkeepers of
Kirchstetten would be very sad.  But one thing I cannot conceal
from you, gentlemen:  if this should come about, the consequence
might be a scandal of world-wide dimensions."

+ + +


     The news reached me over the car radio on the motorway near
Linz, and I headed straight for Kirchstetten on the off-chance
that Chester might already have come home.  Wystan had died in
the night of 28/29 September, and the fact blotted out all else.
Why had I gone to Linz and missed his last reading at the
Society for Literature?  I had talked it over with him a few
days earlier, saying that I was exasperated at finding myself
committed to a meeting in Linz which I yearned to cut;
particularly as I should like him to make use of my flat and
perhaps spend the night there.  I was glum, and he cheered me
up, saying that I'd heard it all before, and I must come over
afterwards and he'd tell me how it had gone off.
     There was all too much time on the motorway to react, and I
fought against what seemed to be unreasonable waves of emotion.
Don't exaggerate, I told myself, don't flatter yourself that
you have the right to mourn.  Think of Chester.  I am thinking
of Chester;  I hardly dare think of him.  How will he live?
Will he live?  The car radio was still muttering quietly.  As
a distraction, I turned it up and the familar voice of Friedrich
Heer reviewing a book was something consoling to hold on to.
     The green shutters on the door at Kirchstetten were closed,
and there was no one there.  I wrote a note and stuck it in the
centre gap, watched by the Strobls' eternally suspicious mongrel,
and drove to Fridau.  An answer to the note came by telephone:
Chester would like me to come over in the afternoon - by now it
was Sunday.
     The room was full of people.  On the seat behind the coffee
table sat the pathetic figure whom one instinctively acknowledged
as the widow.  Mrs. Clark and her daughter had come up from
Florence, the mayor of Kirchstetten was there, the headmistress
of the high school, Frau Seitz, a writer friend of Chester's
called Adolf Opel, and an assortment of unidentified young people.
The expressions on the faces of the chief protagonists in what was
clearly a heated discussion were not quite what one would expect
at a gathering of mourners and local worthies who had come to
offer their condolences.  The mayor was looking stubborn,
Frau Seitz looked worried, the Clarks puzzled.  Chester was hardly
coherent;  the rest conversed in whispers.


     Chester tried to explain, and gradually his wishes became
clear.  He hated everything in the shape of pompes funèbres.
He wanted Wystan buried quietly and at once, if possible on
Tuesday, telegrams had been sent to John Auden, to Stephen
Spender and others telling them to come on Tuesday morning or
earlier.   The mayor, Chester said, wanted a big funeral at the
following weekend, with the town band out, a hearse coming to
the door, representatives of the Ministry of Education, the Land
and all the rest of it.  He, Chester, couldn't bear it and
wouldn't have it.  Knowing Austrian burial customs it was evident
that we were faced with a cultural clash of no mean proportions.
A hurried private funeral of the kind envisaged by Chester might
seem normal in western intellectual circles.  In Austria it
was an affront to the decencies and carried a whiff of pauperism,
suicide or both.  Now the mayor had his say.  "First of all" he
said, "the body has not yet been released.  As in all cases of
sudden death in a hotel, where the circumstances are not wholly
clear, there has had to be an inquest, and even with intervention,
these things take time."  And then:  "Imagine not even informing
the ministry, the department of culture of the Land government -
it would be more than my job is worth."  Frau Seitz now gave it as
her view that Kirchstetten would hardly bury a dog in the way
intended by Herr Kallman, let alone a major poet, a man moreover
whom they had all known and loved.
     The discussion continued, the young people drifted like
autumn leaves hither and thither, whispering and bearing bottles.
Frau Strobl made frequent dramatic entrances for reasons which
were never quite clear.   It was not, it occurred to us, only a
question of when and how much, but:  what kind of a funeral service
should it be?  Auden was a practising member of the Church of
England§- or of the Episcopalian Church in the States - but he
had regularly attended Mass in the Catholic Church of Kirchstetten
and had wished to be buried there.  Should not the Anglican
chaplain in Vienna be asked to participate?   []No one seemed to
have any ideas, but it was finally agreed that an ecumenical
service would be appropriate, the texts to be spoken being left to
John Auden to decide in conjunction with the clergy.

§ Few people would question this, but in view of two or three
statements in the press that he became R.C., the fact perhaps
needs emphasising.


     The room was stifling.  It seemed that Chester needed to
have fewer people around him and that the party needed to be
broken up.  The chance came when Chester agreed to have the
funeral postponed.  If my memory of events is correct, agreement
was first reached only over the vital point that Tuesday was
impossible and that people in  In England should be notified at once,
leaving the final date over for the moment.  This decision
conveniently created a natural pause, and now the Clarks undertook
to send the telegrams and were driven to the post office by Frau
Strobl.  We all stood up, Chester came over and asked me to
carry on discussions for the funeral arrangements with the mayor
and Frau Seitz.  It was all, he said, more than he could bear,
I must just try to hold the others in check but he would agree
to anything I said.  He was all right really, he was
full to the brim with tranquillisers and only needed a bit of peace.
We hugged each other warmly and, together with the mayor, I left
in Frau Seitz's car and we drove to her house at the other end of
the village.
     This was not the sort of talk in which one can whip through
the agenda, and we took our time.  If only Chester had realised
it, compared with the style in which an Austrian village carries
its senior citizens to the grave, what he was being asked to
consent to was not a tall order.  There would be no voluntary
fire brigade, no gamekeepers with their ancient ritual and their
wishes for good hunting in the fields of Elysium bellowed into the
open grave, no linesmen from the local railway, no representatives
of the local football club, marksmen's association et al.
And since none of them would be there, they would not have to be
fed afterwards.  All the mayor wanted was the brass band;  I felt
that Wystan would have been amused, and might, if he were watching,
even enjoy it, and I agreed.  Thursday was chosen to keep down
the number of idle onlookers, a great concession for which I was
grateful.  Chester had told me that he had a phobia about hearses
being brought to the door.  What he wanted was for the coffin to
be carried to the bottom of the hill, if not further, and only then
placed in the hearse.  But the thought of the weighty coffin
being carried down a narrow lane, pitted with ruts and potholes
and strewn with loose stones, made my hair stand on end.  The
mayor and Frau Seitz felt the same way, and here too, Chester
later agreed to our compromise.  Subsequently, I was to blame
myself very much for not raising the question of who was to


pay for the band.  As Chester was being compelled to comply with
local customs, and the district council in the person of its mayor
wished to honour a citizen who had brought it great fame, it never
occurred to me that it was not free of charge.  Nor did it occur
to Chester, whose anger at being sent in a bill precipitated a chain
of events which badly hampered the efforts of the Society for
Literature to preserve the house as a place of memorial for W.H. Auden.
At the time, however, we thought we had troubles enough, and the
misunderstanding was born.
     Meanwhile the mayor was worrying about something else altogether:
the safety of Auden's manuscripts and papers in the attic room.
Altogether, he took a distrustful view of the fate of the house and
everything in it once Chester went back to Athens.  He was afraid
that in his state of despair and nervous exhaustion Chester might
agree to almost anything that was suggested to him with sufficient
force or calculation.  But to pursue this subject further would be to
reach out too far beyond the death of Auden.
     When I got back to the house it was to find Chester in a calmer
frame of mind and body and able to talk in that gentle and
affectionate way, with occasional burst of sardonic humour, which
his friends will remember, overlooking all else.
     In attempting a memoir of Auden in his latter years it would be
unreasonable to leave Chester Kallman to play a purely walking on
part, the more so as in articles by visitors to Kirchstetten
Chester was invariably the fall-guy.  It would be very difficult
fully to understand the relationship between Auden and Kallman, and
it never seemed to me that it was any business of mine to try to do so.
But I saw something of Chester without Wystan:  during the winter
that he spent alone in Vienna in a flat in the Esslarngasse not far
from my own, and when he was in hospital in St.Pölten for treatment.
He was a person full of contrasts where vulgarity and second-rate
humour and tastes lived side by side with a remarkable personal
sensitivity and with talent and discrimination in the spheres of
literature and music.  It seems clear from their writings alone,
that when both men went their own ways in sexual matters, Auden's
heart was not involved, whereas Kallman's relationship with Jean
Boras was both passionate and emotionally degrading.  Both men
needed each other and perhaps it would have been better if Chester


had never left New York for Athens.  Apart, both lapsed into
squalor;  together, they kept the pot boiling and the stove
crackling.  The daily routine was maintained, drink disciplined
and loneliness banished.  When Boras died, Auden wondered how
Kallman would get through the Austrian summer.  When Auden died,
Kallman pined away.
     The gathering in the livingroom on the eve of the funeral
prompted that banal, well-known reflection about how much the
deceased would have enjoyed it.  There was the comforting presence
of John Auden, Stephen Spender was there, David Luke, the Clarks,
Sonia Orwell.  There were no more conflicts of interest, no more
cultural confrontations, merely a group of people bent on
mutual consolation.
     Then Auden came home to Kirchstetten, that un-English tract.
He had celebrated Kirchstetten village, the church where he sang
so flat and now lies buried, and the house he lived.  He had
celebrated Josef Weinheber, Franz Jägerstätter, Emma Eiermann
and the cats.  He had celebrated the whole quiet, unexciting
landscape and its war-torn past and even the autobahn which lies
between the church and his home, bisecting the invisible line
joining one to the other.  Though as we know from his statement
for the taxation people, he would not want us to take him too
literally.  "What is taken to be the subject of a poem is only a
point of view, an occasion, in order to give expression to certain
thoughts about nature, about God..."  In other words:

          To speak is human because human to listen,           beyond hope, for an Eighth Day,           when the creature's Image shall become the Likeness:           Giver-of-Life, translate for me           till I accomplish my corpse at last.