An Affirming Flame

W. H. Auden wrote the poem “September 1, 1939”  during the first days of World War II. It deliberately echoes the stanza form of W. B. Yeats’ “Easter, 1916” and similarly moves from a description of failures and frustrations to the possibility of transformation. (See text.) Here it is, as read by Dylan Thomas:

Note: Since I posted this, I have read Edward Mendelson’s “The Secret Auden,” which shows that Auden was a great person as well as a great poet.

Blow, Winds

Taken literally, “Pūt vējiņi” (“Blow, winds”) could be a sentimental folk song about the defiance of a reckless rake whose beloved’s mother had broken a promise to give her daughter’s hand in marriage because he drank and raced horses. (“I drank on my own tab / And raced my own horse.  // And married my own bride / Without her parents’ knowledge.” But his longing to return home, as well as the reverend way that Latvians started to sing it made it a surrogate national anthem, sung during times of oppression, when something more provocative such as Dievs, sveti Latviju!(“God, Bless Latvia!”) would have elicited harsh reprisal from authorities. Here it is as sung at the closing concert of the 2008 Latvian song and dance festival (Dziesmusvētki):

The Art of Losing

Brett Candlish Millier: “[Elizabeth Bishop’s] ‘One Art’ is an exercise in the art of losing, a rehearsal of the things we tell ourselves in order to keep going, a speech in a brave voice that cracks once in the final version and cracked even more in the early drafts. The finished poem may be the best modern example of a villanelle and shares with its nearest competitor, Theodore Roethke‘s justly famous ‘The Waking’—’I wake to sleep and take my waking slow’—the feeling that in the course of writing or saying the poem the poet is giving herself a lesson, in waking, in losing. Bishop’s lines share her ironic tips for learning to lose and to live with loss.” (See the full text of the poem.)

Leaving Latvia

From 1944 to 1945, the approaching Soviet Army forced many Latvians to find escape routes to other countries. According to one source, about 250,000 people became refugees. Many got stuck in Courland, and some 50-60,000 were murdered by Soviet troops in Poland and Germany. After the war, approximately 6000 Latvians found refuge in Sweden, 120,00 in West Germany, 3000 in Austria and 2000 in Denmark. In later years, Latvian emigration spread to the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries. Some succumbed to forced repatriation by the Soviets; most expected to voluntarily return once Latvia was free, though that rarely occurred.