I got back from England last week. While I was there it surprised me to see on at least two occasions a cold mound of badger flesh, large as a black plastic rubbish sack, one dead paw raised as if to ask a question in class, lying at the side of a rural road. I don't remember that sight from the days when I grew up in the country.
"Family connexions are part of the poetry of history," Noel Annan asserted in "The Intellectual Aristocracy", one of the most famous essays ever written on British culture. Fortunately or unfortunately, it would be fair to embellish Annan's point by adding that sometimes "family connexions are part of the history of poetry." That, at least, is what this post seeks to demonstrate.
The ancestral line of Henry Straith Venn (1869-1908) was a weighty, chronicled one stocked almost entirely on the male side by distinguished, formidable, moralistic churchmen. Henry's great-uncle, John Venn, was the logician who introduced the 'Venn diagram', that pleasingly bulbous, promiscuous mathematical diagram.
Auden's 1939 string of elegies and farewellings – 'In Memory of W. B. Yeats', 'In Memory of Ernst Toller', 'September 1, 1939', and 'In Memory of Sigmund Freud' – contain some curiously discordant notes, as if there were some anarchic or nihilistic principle in them struggling against the ostensible protocol of solemnity.
'There is no element more conspicuously absent from contemporary poetry than nobility', Stevens wrote. Perhaps in a very literal way we should restore 'nobility' to the history of contemporary poetry, if for no other reason than because it seems foreign to the field?