Thursday 29 October 2009

Accidental Acrostics

In Auden's poem "It was Easter as I walked in the public gardens" there's a five line section that goes like this:

Fading in silence, leaving them in tears.
And recent particulars come to mind;
The death by cancer of a once hated master,
A friend's analysis of his own failure,
Listened to at intervals throughout the winter

I have never been utterly certain whether the word FATAL, spelled out in the first letter of each line, was intentional. The poem is nearly a hundred lines long and there are no other acrostics. It could be a case of infinite monkeys and typewriters. Yet having flicked, unscientifically, through the rest of the book I can't spot any other candidates, except for "OW".

To my knowledge, Auden's only other reference to acrostics came in "A Happy New Year" where he wrote "I warned them of spies in acrostic odes", so perhaps FATAL was intentional and Auden not simply an infinite monkey.

I was reminded of all this by a letter from Arnold Schwarzenneger to the California state legislature that has been kicking around the internet for the last few days.

At first blush (whatever that is) Mr Schwarzenegger's effort seemed much more impressive than Auden's. Auden had had control over his own line-breaks whereas the great actor had managed it in prose, and hadn't even needed to cheat by using courier. Moreover, he had filled it out with such blissfully trite politicisms - "major issues are overlooked", "brought to the table" - that I was quite ready to throw my Complete Auden out of the window and devote myself to il miglior fabbro. But just before I did so Schwarzenegger's press office released a statement (lovely phrase - I imagine them opening a lorry on the African savannah. The statement blinks at first in the sunlight. It sniffs cautiously, creeps forward and then, breathing the clear air of freedom, the statement is gone! Bounding into the long grass while the PR people who have raised it since it was a mewling pup watch with a tear in each eye: one for joy, one for sadness) the gubernatorial press office has, as I say, released a statement saying that the acrostic was simply a "strange coincidence". So perhaps I was wrong about Auden.

A busy day in the gubernatorial press office

1 comment:

  1. I did something similar with my OU essays. All you need to know is a close approximation of how many characters you get to a line and then include a long word that will certainly take you on to the next line. AS used long words three times in the above missive.

    As an aside, which eye is for joy and which eye is for sadness? Just wondering.