RE: [xmca] A bit of Auden

From: Cunningham, Donald J. (
Date: Thu Aug 04 2005 - 16:03:19 PDT

Thank you David! I had not seen that piece. It reminded me of an
insidious syndrome that strikes most academics, labeled "agonism" by
Walter Ong. It is described in this article by Deborah Tannen in the
Chronicle of Higher Education:


This article, "Agonism in the Academy: Surviving Higher

Learning's Argument Culture," is available online at this



This article will be available to non-subscribers of The

Chronicle for up to five days after it is e-mailed.


The article is always available to Chronicle subscribers at this




Don Cunningham

Indiana University


From: []
On Behalf Of David Preiss
Sent: Thursday, August 04, 2005 3:02 PM
Subject: [xmca] A bit of Auden


As we went into the literary, i thought a bit of Auden would do no harm

A Reactionary Tract for the Times
 Ares at last has quit the field,
 The bloodstains on the bushes yield
      To seeping showers,
 And in their convalescent state
 The fractured towns associate
      With summer flowers.
 Encamped upon the college plain
 Raw veterans already train
      As freshman forces;
 Instructors with sarcastic tongue
 Shepherd the battle-weary young
      Through basic courses.
 Among bewildering appliances
 For mastering the arts and sciences
      They stroll or run,
 And nerves that steeled themselves to slaughter
 Are shot to pieces by the shorter
      Poems of Donne.
 Professors back from secret missions
 Resume their proper eruditions,
      Though some regret it;
 They liked their dictaphones a lot,
 T hey met some big wheels, and do not
      Let you forget it.
 But Zeus' inscrutable decree
 Permits the will-to-disagree
      To be pandemic,
 Ordains that vaudeville shall preach
 And every commencement speech
      Be a polemic.
 Let Ares doze, that other war
 Is instantly declared once more
 'Twixt those who follow
 Precocious Hermes all the way
 And those who without qualms obey
 Pompous Apollo.
 Brutal like all Olympic games,
 Though fought with smiles and Christian names
      And less dramatic,
 This dialectic strife between
 The civil gods is just as mean,
      And more fanatic.
 What high immortals do in mirth
 Is life and death on Middle Earth;
      Their a-historic
 Antipathy forever gripes
 All ages and somatic types,
      The sophomoric
 Who face the future's darkest hints
 With giggles or with prairie squints
      As stout as Cortez,
 And those who like myself turn pale
 As we approach with ragged sail
      The fattening forties.
 The sons of Hermes love to play
 And only do their best when they
      Are told they oughtn't;
 Apollo's children never shrink
 From boring jobs but have to think
      Their work important.
 Related by antithesis,
 A compromise between us is
 Respect perhaps but friendship never:
 Falstaff the fool confronts forever
       The prig Prince Hal.
 If he would leave the self alone,
 Apollo's welcome to the throne,
      Fasces and falcons;
 He loves to rule, has always done it;
 The earth would soon, did Hermes run it,
      Be like the Balkans.
 But jealous of our god of dreams,
 His common-sense in secret schemes
       To rule the heart;
 Unable to invent the lyre,
 Creates with simulated fire
      Official art.
 And when he occupies a college,
 Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge;
      He pays particular
 Attention to Commercial Thought,
 Public Relations, Hygiene, Sport,
      In his curricula.
 Athletic, extrovert and crude,
 For him, to work in solitude
      Is the offence,
 The goal a populous Nirvana:
 His shield bears this device: Mens sana
      Qui mal y pense.
 Today his arms, we must confess,
 From Right to Left have met success,
      His banners wave
 From Yale to Princeton, and the news
 From Broadway to the Book Reviews
      Is very grave.
 His radio Homers all day long
 In over-Whitmanated song
      That does not scan,
 With adjectives laid end to end,
 Extol the doughnut and commend
      The Common Man.
 His, too, each homely lyric thing
 On sport or spousal love or spring
      Or dogs or dusters,
 Invented by some court-house bard
 For recitation by the yard
      In filibusters.
 To him ascend the prize orations
 And sets of fugal variations
      On some folk-ballad,
 While dietitians sacrifice
 A glass of prune-juice or a nice
      Marsh-mallow salad.
 Charged with his compound of sensational
 Sex plus some undenominational
      Religious matter,
 Enormous novels by co-eds
 Rain down on our defenceless heads
      Till our teeth chatter.
 In fake Hermetic uniforms
 Behind our battle-line, in swarms
     That keep alighting,
 His existentialists declare
 That they are in complete despair,
     Yet go on writing.
 No matter; He shall be defied;
 White Aphrodite is on our side:
     What though his threat
 To organize us grow more critical?
 Zeus willing, we, the unpolitical,
     Shall beat him yet.
 Lone scholars, sniping from the walls
 Of learned periodicals,
     Our facts defend,
 Our intellectual marines,
 Landing in little magazines
     Capture a trend.
 By night our student Underground
 At cocktail parties whisper round
     From ear to ear;
 Fat figures in the public eye
 Collapse next morning, ambushed by
     Some witty sneer.
 In our morale must lie our strength:
 So, that we may behold at length
     Routed Apollo's
 Battalions melt away like fog,
 Keep well the Hermetic Decalogue,
     Which runs as follows:-
 Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
 Thou shalt not write thy doctor's thesis
     On education,
 Thou shalt not worship projects nor
 Shalt thou or thine bow down before
 Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
 Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
     Nor with compliance
 Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
 With statisticians nor commit
     A social science.
 Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
 With guys in advertising firms,
     Nor speak with such
 As read the Bible for its prose,
 Nor, above all, make love to those
     Who wash too much.
 Thou shalt not live within thy means
 Nor on plain water and raw greens.
     If thou must choose
 Between the chances, choose the odd;
 Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
     And take short views.
      -- W. H. Auden



David Preiss


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