A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

In Praise Of Limestone

Talking of limestone brings to mind W. H. Auden's poem In Praise Of Limestone. He writes of ...rounded slopes/With their surface fragrance of thyme and, beneath,/A secret system of caves and conduits... and ...the springs/That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle,/Each filling a private pool for its fish and carving/Its own little ravine whose cliffs entertain/The butterfly and the lizard...

Auden (1907-1973) wrote the poem in May 1948 on the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples. In it he celebrates the limestone landscape of the Mediterranean - which also recalls for him the karst topography of the Yorkshire Dales near his native English birthplace.

But this poem is not for the faint-hearted. Though memorable, its difficulty is challenging to say the least. Critics have given it many different interpretations - political, psychological, sexual, allegorical.

Auden seems to argue that Mediterranean civilization has, over time, built up layer upon layer like sedimentary beds of limestone; that Mediterranean culture is more sensual and hedonistic, yet also more religious and artistic, than the rationalist, Gothic, northern world; that the physical life of the body is just as important as the life of the spirit.

The English poet Stephen Spender (1909-1995) considered this poem one of the greatest poems of the 20th century.

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