Sunday, June 28, 2015

Auden’s Anxiety

On page 278 of Auden, Davenport-Hines writes, “In the summer of 1952 Auden suggested marriage to an elegant and generous young American woman Thekla Pelletti, whom he had met the previous year on Ischia.  She declined the proposal, wisely given his remark that if they had a son, ‘we must call him Chester’.  (In any case his marriage to Erika Mann had never been dissolved.)  His proposal showed his wish for emotional permanence, and was a reaction from the despair which sometimes engulfed both him and Kallman during their Ischia holidays.  In proposing marriage to a woman Auden was resisting what he was drawn to.  In ‘The Age of Anxiety’ Malin had denounced ‘the noble despair of poets’ as ‘posturing’:

    We would rather be ruined than changed,
    We would rather die in our dread
    Than climb the cross of the moment
    And let our illusions die.”

Comment: During the 30s Auden, and I think some other homosexuals, married women who needed to escape fascism.  Auden married Erika Mann in 1935.  Was the proposal of marriage to Thekla Pelletti in 1952 a sincere one?  Davenport-Hines believes it was, but Auden’s wanting to name their son Chester after the man he considered himself married to for a while and in love with for years, Chester Kallman, must surely have been off-putting for Thekla.

In Auden’s The Age of Anxiety, Malin was a medical officer in the Canadian air Force personifying “Thought.”  The poem won the Pulitzer prize for poetry in 1948.  It inspired a symphony by Leonard Bernstein, The Age of Anxiety (Symphony No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra) and a 1950 ballet by Jerome Robbins based on the symphony.  Auden according to Davenport-Hines wished to overcome his own anxiety in 1952.

Auden was 45 in 1952.  When I was 45 I had been married to Susan for four years.  I was not thinking of my marriage as an escape from anxiety.  I had been anxious for awhile a few years earlier that she wouldn’t marry me but she eventually did.  Auden wrote somewhere that every one between the age of 35 and 45 has a crisis of some sort.  His, according to Davenport-Hines, had to do with a lack of emotional permanence.  At 80 I don’t know what that means, or perhaps I’ve had it all these years and take it for granted.  If so, will I miss it when Susan is gone? Did Auden miss not having it?

On the morning of September 30th 1973, Chester Kallman opened Auden’s hotel-room door to find him ‘turning icy blue’ on the hotel bed.

In my case, turning icy blue seems unlikely given the high temperatures here in San Jacinto, and the one to discover me won’t be opening a hotel door.  He will be a dog lying nearby.  I suspect he or she will mourn for several days.

The one who survived Auden, Chester Kallman died in Athens on 17 January 1975 at age 54 “of grief.”

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