Nox Oculis


Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973)

Poète, dramaturge et critique littéraire américain d'origine britannique, souvent considéré comme le poète de langue anglaise le plus influent depuis T. S. Eliot.

Né à York, fils de médecin, Auden suit des études scientifiques, avant de se tourner vers la poésie. Admis en 1925 au Christ Church College d'Oxford, il réunit autour de lui un groupe d'intellectuels et d'écrivains talentueux (politiquement très engagés à gauche), qui compte dans ses rangs Stephen Spender, Christopher Isherwood, Cecil Day Lewis et Louis MacNeice. Diplômé en 1928, Auden enseigne pendant cinq ans, en Écosse et en Angleterre.

Ses premiers recueils poétiques, Poèmes (Poems, 1930) et les Orateurs (The Orators, 1932), ainsi que sa pièce la Danse de la mort (The Dance of Death, 1933), qui le font connaître, traitent de l'effondrement des valeurs bourgeoises de la société anglaise, multipliant les références croisées à Freud et Marx. Il écrit par la suite trois pièces en vers, en collaboration avec Christopher Isherwood : le Chien sous la peau (The Dog beneath the skin, 1935), l'Ascension de F 6 (The Ascent of F 6, 1936) et Sur la frontière (On the Frontier, 1938). En 1935, il épouse Erika Mann, sœur de Klaus Mann, afin d'échapper à l'Allemagne nazie ; mais son véritable compagnon est Chester Kallman, qu'il a rencontré aux États-Unis. En 1937, il prend part à la guerre civile espagnole comme ambulancier aux côtés des républicains. La même année, il se voit décerner la médaille d'or du roi pour sa poésie. Ses voyages en Islande, avec MacNeice, et en Chine, avec Isherwood, donnent lieu à deux ouvrages à quatre mains, Lettre d'Islande (Letter from Iceland, 1937) et Journey to a War (1939).

En 1939, Auden s'installe aux États-Unis, dont il devient citoyen. Il se consacre à ses activités de poète, de critique, de professeur et de rédacteur en chef. Ses deux ouvrages, Double Man (1941) et Pour l'instant (For the Time being, 1944), font ressortir son intérêt croissant pour la question religieuse, qui aboutit à sa conversion au catholicisme sans que pour autant soit éteinte sa veine satirique. L'Âge de l'angoisse (The Age of Anxiety, 1947), long poème dramatique, lui vaut le prix Pulitzer 1948 pour la poésie. Au nombre de ses œuvres figurent aussi des Collected Poetry (1945), le Bouclier d'Achille (1955), Hommage à Clio, des Collected Longer Poems (1969) et plusieurs livrets d'opéra écrits en collaboration avec Kallman, dont le fameux The Rake's Progress (le Libertin, 1951), inspiré de Willliam Hogarth et mis en musique par Stravinski. De 1956 à 1961, il enseigne la poésie à Oxford, et, en 1972, revient à Christ Church.

En lisant Auden, on ne peut s'empêcher de penser à T. S. Eliot. Comme lui, Auden possède un esprit à la fois distant et ironique, qui s'harmonise sans mal au sentiment religieux. Son intérêt beaucoup plus marqué pour les problèmes sociaux le démarque néanmoins d'Eliot. Doué d'un sens aigu de l'analyse psychologique, et d'un extraordinaire talent lyrique, Auden aura une influence décisive sur les poètes de la génération suivante. Sa maîtrise de la versification, sa rigueur intellectuelle et sa conscience sociale, conjuguées à la fluidité, la diversité et la virtuosité de son style, en font l'une des personnalités emblématiques de la poésie contemporaine.

Avant de se tourner vers la poésie, Auden, fils de médeçin, fut d'abord attiré par la science. On retrouve d'ailleurs dans plusieurs poèmes cet intérêt envers la science et les questions éthiques qui en découlent.


After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics

    If all a top physicist knows
    About the Truth be true,
    Then, for all the so-and-so's,
    Futility and grime,
    Our common world contains,
    We have a better time
    Than the Greater Nebulae do,
    Or the atoms in our brains.

    Marriage is rarely bliss
    But, surely it would be worse
    As particles to pelt
    At thousands of miles per sec
    About a universe
    Wherein a lover's kiss
    Would either not be felt
    Or break the loved one's neck.

    Though the face at which I stare
    While shaving it be cruel
    For, year after year, it repels
    An ageing suitor, it has,
    Thank God, sufficient mass
    To be altogether there,
    Not an indeterminate gruel
    Which is partly somewhere else.

    Our eyes prefer to suppose
    That a habitable place
    Has a geocentric view,
    That architects enclose
    A quiet Euclidian space :
    Exploded myths -- but who
    Could feel at home astraddle
    An ever expanding saddle ?

    This passion of our kind
    For the process of finding out
    Is a fact one can hardly doubt,
    But I would rejoice in it more
    If I knew more clearly what
    We wanted the knowledge for,
    Felt certain still that the mind
    Is free to know or not.

    It has chosen once, it seems,
    And whether our concern
    For magnitude's extremes
    Really become a creature
    Who comes in a median size,
    Or politicizing Nature
    Be altogether wise,
    Is something we shall learn.

    W. H. Auden, 1968


The More Loving One

    Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
    That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
    But on earth indifference is the least
    We have to dread from man or beast.

    How should we like it were stars to burn
    With a passion for us we could not return?
    If equal affection cannot be,
    Let the more loving one be me.

    Admirer as I think I am
    Of stars that do not give a damn,
    I cannot, now I see them, say
    I missed one terribly all day.

    Were all stars to disappear or die,
    I should learn to look at an empty sky
    And feel its total darkness sublime,
    Though this might take me a little time.

    W. H. Auden, 1957, tiré de From Homage to Clio (1960)


Nocturne

    Now through night's caressing grip
    Earth and all her oceans slip,
    Capes of China slide away
    From her fingers into day
    And the Americas incline
    Coasts towards her shadow line.

    Now the ragged vagrants creep
    Into crooked holes to sleep :
    Just and unjust, worst and best,
    Change their places as they rest :
    Awkward lovers lie in fields
    Where disdainful beauty yields :

    While the splendid and the proud
    Naked stand before the crowd
    And the losing gambler gains
    And the beggar entertains :
    May sleep's healing power extend
    Through these hours to our friend.
    Unpursued by hostile force,
    Traction engine, bull or horse
    Or revolting succubus ;
    Calmly till the morning break
    Let him lie, then gently wake.

    W. H. Auden, tiré de The Dog Beneath The Skin (1935)


This Lunar Beauty

    This lunar beauty
    Has no history
    Is complete and early ;
    If beauty later
    Bear any feature
    It had a lover
    And is another.

    This like a dream
    Keeps other time,
    And daytime is
    The loss of this ;
    For time is inches
    And the heart's changes
    Where ghost has haunted,
    Lost and wanted.

    But this was never
    A ghost's endeavour
    Nor, finished this,
    Was ghost at ease ;
    And till it pass
    Love shall not near
    The sweetness here
    Nor sorrow take
    His endless look.

    W. H. Auden


A Summer Night

    Out on the lawn I lie in bed,
    Vega conspicuous overhead
    In the windless nights of June ;
    Forest of green have done complete
    The day's activity ; my feet
    Point to the rising moon.

    Lucky, this point in time and space
    Is chosen as my working place ;
    Where the sexy air of summer,
    The bathing hours and the bare arms,
    The leisured drives through a land of farms,
    Are good to the newcomer.

    Equal with colleagues in a ring
    I sit on each calm evening,
    Enchanted as the flowers
    The opening light draws out of hiding
    From leaves with all its dove-like pleading
    Its logic and its powers.

    That later we, though parted then,
    May still recall these evenings when
    Fear gave his watch no look ;
    The lion griefs loped form the shade
    And on our knees their muzzles laid,
    And Death put down his book.

    Now north and south and east and west
    Those I love lie down to rest ;
    The moon looks on them all,
    the healers and the brilliant talkers,
    The eccentrics and silent walkers,
    The dumpy and the tall.

    She climbs the European sky,
    Churches and power-stations lie
    Alike among earth"s fixtures :
    Into the galleries she peers
    And blankly as a butcher stares
    Upon the marvellous pictures.

    To gravity attentive, she
    Can notice nothing here, though we
    Whom hunger does not move,
    From gardens where we feel secure
    Look up and with a sigh endure
    The tyrannies of love :

    And, gentle, do not care to know,
    Where Poland draws her eastern bow,
    What violence is done,
    Nor ask what doubtful act allows
    Our freedom in this English house,
    Our picnics in the sun.

    Soon, soon, through dykes of our content
    The crumpling flood will force a rent
    And, taller than a tree,
    Hold sudden death before our eyes
    Whose river dreams long hid the size
    And vigours of the sea.

    But when the waters make retreat
    And through the black mud first the wheat
    In shy green stalks appears,
    When stranded monsters gasping lie,
    And sounds of riveting terrify
    Their whorled unsubtle ears,

    May these delights we dread to lose,
    This privacy, need no excuse
    But to that strength belong,
    As through a child"s rash happy cries
    The drowned parental voices rise
    In unlamenting song.

    After discharges of alarm
    All unpredicted let them calm
    The pulse of nervous nations,
    Forgive the murderer in his glass,
    Tough in their patience to surpass
    The tigress her swift motion.

    W. H. Auden, juin 1933, Selected Poems (1990)


A Walk After Dark

    A cloudless night like this
    Can set the spirit soaring :
    After a tiring day
    The clockwork spectacle is
    Impressive in a slightly boring
    Eighteenth-century way.

    It soothed adolescence a lot
    To meet so shameless a stare ;
    The things I did could not
    Be so shocking as they said
    If that would still be there
    After the shocked were dead

    Now, unready to die
    Bur already at the stage
    When one starts to resent the young,
    I am glad those points in the sky
    May also be counted among
    The creatures of middle-age.

    It's cosier thinking of night
    As more an Old People's Home
    Than a shed for a faultless machine,
    That the red pre-Cambrian light
    Is gone like Imperial Rome
    Or myself at seventeen.

    Yet however much we may like
    The stoic manner in which
    The classical authors wrote,
    Only the young and rich
    Have the nerve or the figure to strike
    The lacrimae rerum note.

    For the present stalks abroad
    Like the past and its wronged again
    Whimper and are ignored,
    And the truth cannot be hid ;
    Somebody chose their pain,
    What needn't have happened did.

    Occuring this very night
    By no established rule,
    Some event may already have hurled
    Its first little No at the right
    Of the laws we accept to school
    Our post-diluvian world :

    But the stars burn on overhead,
    Unconscious of final ends,
    As I walk home to bed,
    Asking what judgment waits
    My person, all my friends,
    And these United States.

    W. H. Auden


Références :


Bibliographie :


Oeuvres poétiques :


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