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Port with Lemon

The church in Repton, Derbyshire, in whose crypt the Anglo-Saxon Saint Wigstan (or Wystan) was buried


“I think that poetry is fundamentally frivolity. I do it because I like it."

—W. H. Auden, March 19, 1947

In Latin, frivolous means trifling, worthless, silly—

The verb’s friare, to rub away, or crumble,*

Our “frig”† and “friction,” are diction conceivably

Cognate willy-nilly, but not “fumble.”

Like HenryJames “a great and talkative man,”‡

Maitre Wystan in his Table Talk is never humble.

Asking Hannah Arendt's hand in marriage,

She begging to decline—he ponged like a clochard,**

He's overheard vengefully to grumble:

“Women should drink port with lemon”

(not liquor all alone in bars sans bossy bards).

Fending off the Noonday Demon,

Compensating hoi polloi's dearth of kind regards,

It's with frivolity poets wear stone away.

Schöngeistig†† sometimes though this master's cards,

I like them, too—and RIP has all too long a stay!


*“French frivolité, from Old French frivole “frivolous.” . . . From Latin frivolous ‘silly, empty, trifling, worthless,’ diminutive of *frivos ‘broken, crumbled,’ from friare ‘break, rub away, crumble’ . . .” (https://www.etymonline.com/word/frivolity).

†An old synonym for "fuck," from Middle English fryggen, to wriggle.

‡Auden, “At the Grave of Henry James.”

**"Ponged like a clochard" = stank like homeless drunk.

††Schöngeistig = esthetic, high-minded, affected . . . maybe now "woke"? A pet put-down of Auden's with reference to Rilke.


Epigraph—Auden to company at tea—and quotes: Alan Ansen's The Table Talk of W. H. Auden (Princeton, NJ: Ontario Review Press, 1990), 37, 39, 99.

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