First Lines

"He will watch the hawk with an indifferent eye / Or pitifully;"
(Stephen Spender, Poems, 1933)

The group of German officers who planned to assassinate Hitler in 1943 and 1944 can now be understood as relatively reasonable men, who saw the dangerous epic aspirations of the Nazi regime. They would have perceived the clear warning signs from within, though not being exempt from guilt of their own. Jorge Volpi writes about this plot during several great chapters in his novel En busca de Klingsor.

The opening lines of Stephen Spender's first book evoke an entire decade and its effect on the poet, years before the actual horrors began to consolidate. Part of the reason so many of his early poems were untitled is because they were purposely anonymous, invoking Auden's admiration for machinery, the efficient endurance of the poet's lines. Auden and Spender's untitled poems were meant to be read as widely and anonymously as a newspaper.

I share a certain amount of guilt in having once considered the Cuban revolution a "progressive" movement. During the elections in Venezuela in 1998 I remained relatively indifferent to the rise of Chavismo, living as I do in the US, far from the material consequences of such a heretofore unseen version of fascism. I heard family, friends and acquaintances warn of the impending dangers. And I also had family and friends who voted for what now exists in Venezuela.

What does fascism have to do with the poem? How do epic aspirations degenerate into arrogance and delusion? How does one write the lines to counteract tyranny?

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