Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Famous Poet

I’m reading “The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes,” edited by Donald Hall.

Dorothy Day, of the left-wing Catholic Worker, was fined $250 because her apartment house for derelicts was not up to code. As she walked to court the next day, past a gathering of bums looking for handouts, a shabbily dressed man came up and pressed a piece of paper into her hand. ‘I just read about your trouble,’ he said. ‘I want to help out a little bit toward the fine. Here’s two-fifty.”
Miss Day, pleased with receiving $2.50 from a derelict, thanked the man.
In the subway going to court, she looked at the check.
It was for $250.
The check was signed by W.H. Auden.
Later, apologetic, Miss Day said, “Poets do look a bit unpressed, don’t they?”

In 1962, traveling from New York to New Haven to lecture at Yale, Auden sat in a club car and was watched by two Yale students. Finally they sent a note to him. “We can’t stand it a minute longer: Are you Carl Sandburg?”

Christopher Isherwood, the playwright, was living in Amsterdam, where he met Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas Mann. She had been threatened with the loss of her German citizenship as an enemy of the Third Reich, and wanted to marry an Englishman so she could become a British subject. She asked Isherwood to marry her; he declined. He suggested Auden. She wrote to Auden. He wired back: “Delighted….” They were married.
Auden tried to arrange other marriages f convenience. He said to E.M. Forster, “After all, what are buggers for?”

He lectured at Harvard in 1947 on Don Quixote. He had been drinking heavily. He began his talk b apologizing for his new dentures, then apologized that he had never finished reading Don Quixote. He added that he doubted whether anyone in the audience had, either.

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