Auden’s “Victor”

Concluding our serialization of Allen-on-the-ballad form (from his 1980 Naropa class) with a poem, “Victor”,  by W.H. Auden 

AG: And then, there’s this one –  (W.H.) Auden – (We) might as well finish with Auden. Anybody ever heard of Auden’s ballads? See, Auden was a friend of Bertolt Brecht, who’s also, a German balladeer, popular-song singer, and Auden was influenced by (Sigmund) Freud

So this is a little Freudian ballad by Auden: 

“Victor was a little baby/ Into this world he came;/His father took him on his knee and said:”Don’t dishonour the family name.”/
Victor looked up to his father/Looked up with big round eyes;/His father said, “Victor, my only son,/Don’t you ever ever tell lies.”/ 
Victor and his father went riding/Out in a little dog-cart;/His father took a Bible from his pocket and read/”Blessed are the pure in heart”./
It was a frosty December/It wasn’t the season for fruits/His father fell dead of a heart disease/While lacing up his boots./
 It was a frosty December/When into his grave he sank/His uncle found Victor a post as cashier/In the Midland county bank./ 
It was a frosty December/Victor was only eighteen,/But his figures were neat and his margins were straight/And his cuffs were always clean.
/He took a room at the Peveril,/A respectable boarding-house;/And Time watched Victor day after day/As a cat will watch a mouse./ 
The clerks slapped Victor on the shoulder;/”Have you ever had a woman?” they said,/”Come down with us on Saturday night./Victor smiled and shook his head./
The manager sat in his office,/Smoked a Corona cigar/ Said, “Victor’s a decent fellow but/He’s too mousy to go far”./ 
Victor went up to his bedroom,/Set the alarum bell; Climbed into bed, took his Bible and read/Of what happened to Jezebel./ 
It was the First of April/Anna to the Peveril came;/Her eyes, her lips, her breasts, her  hips/And her smile set men aflame./ 
She looked as pure as a schoolgirl/On her First Communion day./But her kisses were like the best champagne/When she gave herself away./
It was the Second of April./She was wearing a coat of fur;/Victor met her upon the stair/And he fell in love with  her./
The first time he made his proposal,/She laughed, said, “I’ll never wed”,/The second time there was a pause;/Then she smiled and shook her head./
Anna looked into her mirror,/Pouted and gave a frown;/Said, “Victor’s as dull as a wet afternoon/But I’ve got to settle down.”/ 
The third time he made his proposal/As they walked by the Reservoir:/She gave him a kiss like a blow on the head,/Said, “You are my heart’s desire.”/ 
They were married early in August,/She said, “Kiss me, you funny boy”,/ Victor took her in his arms and said,/ “O my Helen of Troy.”/
It was the middle of September,/Victor came to the office one day;/He was wearing a flower in his buttonhole,/He was late but he was gay./ 
The clerks were talking of Anna,/The door was just ajar;/One said, “Poor old Victor, but where ignorance/Is bliss, et cetera.”/ 
Victor stood still as a statue,/The door was just ajar:/ One said, “God, what fun I had with her/In that Baby Austin car.”/
Victor walked out into the High Street,/He walked to the edge of town;/ He came to the allotments and the rubbish heap/And his tears came tumbling down./ 
Victor looked up at the sunset/As he stood there all alone./Cried, “Are you in Heaven, Father?”/But the sky said “Address not known”. /
Victor looked at the mountains/The mountains all covered in snow/Cried;”Are you pleased with me, Father?”/And the answer came back, No./ 
Victor came to the forest,/Cried; “Father, will she ever be true?”/And the oaks and the beeches shook their heads/And they answered; “Not to you.”/ 
Victor came to the meadow/Where the wind went sweepping by;/Cried; “O Father, I love her so”./But the wind said, “She must die”./
Victor came to the river/Running so deep and so still,/ Crying; “O Father, what shall I do?”/And the river answered, “Kill”/ 
Anna was sitting at table/Drawing cards from a pack/Anna was sitting at table/Waiting for her husband to come back./ 
It wasn’t the Jack of Diamonds/Nor the Joker she drew first;/It wasn’t the King or the Queen of Hearts/But the Ace of Spades reversed./ 
Victor stood in the doorway/ He didn’t utter a word:/She said, “What’s the matter, darling?”/He behaved as if he hadn’t heard./ 
There was a voice in his left ear,/There was a voice in his right/There was a voice at the base of his skull/Saying, “She must die tonight.”/ 
Victor picked up a carving knife/His features were set and drawn/Said, “Anna it would have been better for you/If you had not been born/ 
Anna jumped up from the table/Anna started to scream,/But Victor came slowly after her/Like a horror in a dream”/ 
She dodged behind the sofa,/She tore down a curtain rod/But Victor came slowly after her/Said, “Prepare to meet thy God”/ 
She managed to wrench the door open,/She ran and she didn’t stop,/But Victor followed her up the stairs/And he caught her at the top./ 
He stood there above the body/He stood there holding the knife,/ And the blood ran down the stairs and sang, “I’m the Resurrection and the Life.”/ 
They tapped Victor on the shoulder/They took him away in a van;/He sat as quiet as a lump of moss/ Saying, “I am the Son of Man.”/ 
Victor sat in a corner/Making a woman of clay;/Saying: “I am Alpha and Omega, I shall come/To judge the earth some day.”‘

That’s pretty good – W.H.Auden – he’s got a lot of good ballads in his early poetry.

[Audio for the above can be heard –  here – beginning at approximately seventy-five-and-a-quarter minutes in and comcluding at the end of the tape]

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