Who are these pained creatures?
The oracle "throws up strange shapes, broad curves / And parallels clean like the steel of guns" (Poems, XXVI). Everybody feels empowered by the need to remember maps, addresses, time any more. Electronic designs are "More beautiful and soft than any moth / With burring furred antennae feeling its huge path" (Poems, XXVII). So it’s not just England naked and the world where "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes" as Saint Stephen would have said. He could have written a book like Psalms, "I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint…I may count all my bones." (Psalm 22.14). But the Weimar does not believe the porcelain words of "Slanting iron hair pattern no stigmata" (Poems, XXXI). "That program of the antique Satan / Bristling with guns on the indented page" (Poems, XXXIII). The machine of war in the war of three worlds, apocalypse of heaven, earth and hell. Choose at least one. That’s what you get when their knees are tight on your arms and they hold you down, for while Chomsky thinks its Hitler from the right, the forces keep marching, left, right, left, right. Except they have phones. It's not Hitler coming, or Weimar just back from the Danube with Marlene Dietrich singing, hyperinflation or Balkanization. It's four angels loosed from the Euphrates.
England is America without the water to cross. England echoes America and America China, India, Ukraine, Egypt, Japan. Fast forward: the Colorado late at night, edge of a lunar eclipse, Halloween with fires, rooftop calls on civilization to surrender to what it does not believe, bizarre Earth burrowers, mole prophets. Time brings Weimar out of the smoke of its own recurrence, Weimar becomes America, then the Nazi, the wheel within the wheel of the recurrence of the days of Noah. Who can understand analogies that seventy five postwar German years make American peace? like Americans, "unhappy, pained, gentle creatures who represent the heart of another Germany, and do not understand what is happening to them… peculiar whiteness and stillness of their eyes which seem to have been drained of pigment…How closely I press upon a secret! Why am I always attracted by these desolate spirits?" (Stephen Spender, Journals, 1939-1983, 30).
Electrosmog smoke, out of order, out of time, a poem moved by dilemmas for its own sake, it's no easy kinship with the desolate sweep. I get out Spender’s Poems of 1933 as an oracle, inscribed "For Horst Keller as a souvenir of Oxford London Berlin from Stephen Spender / March 11, 1933." Spender later reveals in his Journal "I met [Horst] on the Hook of Holland boat once, shortly before Hitler’s rise to power," twelve days after the Reichstag fire (27 Feb 1933). Hitler's "rise" ended in March 1933 after the Reichstag adopted the Enabling Act of 1933. President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor on 30 January 1933 after elections and intrigues. Then Hitler used The Enabling Act to constitutionally exercise dictatorial power without legal objection. Spender says, "Horst was the son of a general. And now at least four names crowd on to me I remember. Many are aristocrats and often close to the higher ranks of the army. This boy was called Horst. He had a round face with very well-formed features, delicate lips, light blue eye, and brown hair of an almost feathery lightness. He was very quiet and polite and he had some small, out-of-the-way interest – playing the flute or making musical instruments or something. There’s really nothing much more to it than that. He had a scholarship at Oxford and I used to call on him there; we went for walks and I introduced him to Isaiah Berlin. But he never in the least became part of the life at Oxford...one of those unhappy, pained, gentle creatures who represent the heart of another Germany, and do not understand what is happening to them. I have touched a deeper chord than I knew here, for Have I not met two or three? Didn't I know very well the peculiar whiteness and stillness of their eyes which seem to have been drained of pigment? These poor ghosts are really beautiful in a sexless way, because, if one is a young man of another country, an exile in one's own, one cannot expect to be virile. How closely I press upon a secret! Way am I always attracted by these desolate spirits? There was one I met on the Hook of Holland boat once...(Journal. 1985, 30).
Keller is dismissed as "always just as gentle, just as isolated [with] a restlessness that never ceased..." but the poor ghosts, as he puts it, for the oracle stand for American hearts, "peculiar whiteness, drained of pigment:" "Most of these poets and writers...delivered their sad advice on the literary life which I was now just about to enter, like ghosts in purgatory, conscious of the relative failure of their illusions" (World On Worlds, 89). As if appointing a board of directors Auden had assigned Spender to be the poet at Oxford as Isherwood got to be the novelist, but they were grasping at illusion not compulsion. Escape from the Weimar sensorium fell to Dylan Thomas, who was drunk all the time, or Faulkner, or Edith Sitwell in some depth psychology of esoteric Jung. The lords of lit dismiss its past and its victims as Americans dismiss the present, as Spender does "the sustained gentle sense of unhappiness" (31).
So much signifying Horst Keller naked. On one hand dismissed for lack of philosophic depth, like all poets and critics scourge one another, and on the other hand the counterpart of the bullying Spender himself received, "My parents kept me from children who were rough…their knees tight on my arms. / I feared the salt coarse pointing of those boys" (Poems XII). So Pound dared to call Yeats The Tower putrid as Hemingway called Spender squeamish, and why not, for he was as cloistered. Spender and Keller prophesy how we live in our Weimar before the fall, "coracles with faces painted on" (Spender, Poems, III). Even if the Reich-stag burns in the Twin Towers morphed to a propaganda tool, these are just mirages of the digital, like a new species of digitalis that poisoned Van Gogh's brain when he was given it for seizures. His brain saw a color shift which produced the yellow period, haloes around lights. Xanthopsia fools like propaganda. Our seizures, after creation of the group mind, when the news is offered by Yahoo headlines, have no word for who will destroy the world. This is Weimar's Childhood’s End, catalyzed by the beast that comes from its ship in 50 years!
Poems. Stephen Spender (Faber, 1933).