DOGGEREL BY A SENIOR CITIZEN
~ by W. H. Auden
Our earth in 1969
Is not the planet I call mine,
The world, I mean, that gives me strength
To hold off Chaos at arm’s length.
My Eden landscapes and their climes
Are constructs from Edwardian times,
When bathrooms took up lots of space,
And, before eating, one said Grace.
The automobile, the aeroplane,
Are useful gadgets, but profane.
The enginry of which I dream
Is moved by water or by steam.
Reason requires that I approve
The light bulb which I cannot love:
To me more reverence-commanding
A fishtail burner on the landing.
My family ghosts I fought and routed,
Their values, though, I never doubted:
I thought their Protestant Work Ethic
Both practical and sympathetic.
When couples played or sang duets,
It was immoral to have debts:
I shall continue till I die
To pay in cash for what I buy.
The Book of Common Prayer we knew
Was that of 1662:
Though with-it sermons may be well,
Liturgical reforms are hell.
Sex was, of course — it always is —
The most enticing of mysteries,
But news stands did not yet supply
Then conversation was an art,
Like learning not to belch or fart:
I cannot settle which is worse,
The Anti-Novel or Free Verse.
Nor are those Ph.D’s my kith
Who dig the symbol and the myth:
I count myself a Man of Letters
Who writes, or hopes to, for his Betters.
Dare any call Permissiveness
An educational success?
Saner those classrooms which I sat in,
Compelled to study Greek and Latin.
Though I suspect the term is crap,
If there is a Generation Gap,
Who is to blame? Those, old or young,
Who will not learn their Mother Tongue.
But love, at least, is not a state
Either en vogue or out of date,
And I’ve true friends, I will allow,
To talk and eat with here and now.
Me alienated? Bosh! It’s just
As a sworn citizen who must
Skirmish with it that I feel
Most at home with what is real.
Manichean theology, in the early centuries of Christianity, was a dualistic view of the body as a source of evil and the spirit as a source of good.
A construct is a broad unproven conception, often just a working theory. As much as it appears to be an attempt at synthesizing the data of experience, it is a product of one’s cultural background and its underlying assumptions. It is an artifact of one’s society and one’s time.
The Edwardian Era was a time of unusual prosperity, peace, and leisure at the turn of the century, before the First World War, in Auden’s native England. One of the chief constructs of Edwardian times was that civilization had reached an apex of glittering style via a leisure class of country homes with servants, and it would remain always thus. All of which was shattered by the war. The servants joined the army and were slaughtered in the trenches, and the country estates were unable to prosper amid modern mass-commerce and industry. Now the great country houses are mostly museums for the public’s amusement.
The anti-novel, in the postmodern era of the 1960s and after, dispenses with linear narrative sequence and other novel-writing conventions, instead depicting some of the raw flux of life as is.
The Generation Gap of the 1960s was an opposition between the patriots of the Forties and the anti-war pacifists of the Sixties, their offspring, with all that entailed.