Wednesday, February 14, 2007

W.H. Auden: "O Tell Me The Truth About Love"

W.H. Auden is one my favorite 20th century poets. His birth centenary is right around the corner (he was born on 21st February, 1907). On 3QD, Robin Varghese linked to an Auden poem called "O Tell Me The Truth About Love" that I quite like. This being February 14th, I decided to rip off Robin's original idea to pay my own tribute to Auden here.

O Tell Me The Truth About Love

Some say that love's a little boy,
And some say it's a bird,
Some say it makes the world go round,
And some say that's absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn't do.

Does it look like a pair of pajamas,
Or the ham in a temperance hotel?
Does it's odour remind one of llamas,
Or has it a comforting smell?
Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is,
Or soft as eiderdown fluff?
Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges?
O tell me the truth about love.

Our history books refer to it
In cryptic little notes,
It's quite a common topic on
The Transatlantic boats;
I've found the subject mentioned in
Accounts of suicides,
And even seen it scribbled on
The backs of railway-guides.

Does it howl like a hungry Alsatian,
Or boom like a military band?
Could one give a first-rate imitation
On a saw or a Steinway Grand?
Is its singing at parties a riot?
Does it only like Classical stuff?
Will it stop when one wants to be quiet?
O tell me the truth about love.

I looked inside the summer-house;
it wasn't ever there:
I tried the Thames at Maidenhead,
And Brighton's bracing air.
I don't know what the blackbird sang,
Or what the tulip said;
But it wasn't in the chicken-run,
Or underneath the bed.

Can it pull extraordinary faces?
Is it usually sick on a swing?
Does it spend all it's time at the races,
Or fiddling with pieces of string?
Has it views of it's own about money?
Does it think Patriotism enough?
Are its stories vulgar but funny?
O tell me the truth about love.

When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I'm picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my shoes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Inhuman Enemy

Yesterday I read Ian Buruma's excellent review of Clint Eastwood's new film "Letters from Iwo Jima" in the New York Review of Books. This film, in the Japanese language, has been widely praised by critics, winning the Golden Globe for "Best Foreign Language Film". The passage below in Buruma's review really caught my eye:
"Most war movies have been about heroes, our heroes, and individual differences among the enemies were irrelevant, since their villainy could be taken for granted. In fact, showing individual character, or indeed any recognizable human qualities, would be a hindrance, since it would inject the murderousness of our heroes with a moral ambiguity that we would not wish to see. The whole point of feel-good propaganda is that the enemy has no personality; he is monolithic and thus inhuman."

This reminded me of a recent e-mail I had received with a link to an old song by Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam nowadays) called "Peacetrain". The song is in the background as images of modern day Tehran flash on the screen. These images of everyday life paint a portrait of a people not unlike 'us' as opposed to pictures of an implacably ugly and hostile enemy conjured up by political propaganda. How many people visualize Tehran and its people in this way when they speak of bombings and military action? The message is powerful and surprisingly effective in its simplicity because it subverts the very essence of propaganda, the inhumanity of the 'other'.