Thursday, September 10, 2009

the silver bullet

Rosie Schapp goes in search of the Auden martini.

Just as it's tricky to untangle this Auden of legend—dissolute, disheveled, living in squalor that some accounts suggest could rival that of the Collyer brothers—from Auden the masterful poet (and librettist, playwright, and teacher), it's tricky to confirm exactly what Auden's martini preferences were. We know that the martini was sufficiently present in Auden's consciousness to inspire him to write, in taut haiku, this passage of his poem “Symmetries and Asymmetries”:

Could any tiger

Drink martinis, smoke cigars,

And last as we do?

Never mind war, disease, poverty, or the passion that could reduce Auden himself to despair. Here, the measures of our toughness and endurance as a species are the cigar and the martini. Our ability to partake of these pleasures “as we do”—which I take to mean: a great deal—and live longer than so many of our fellow creatures, seems, at least to the speaker of the poem, a miracle.