[lit-ideas] Re: The Ostnia/Westland Room

  • From: "Mike Geary" <atlas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2007 21:58:49 -0600

Many thanks to JL for his attempts to identify my Auden poem: thanks, but no 
cigar.  I found it just a moment ago though I've looked for 2 or 3 years at 
least.  It is section XV of "Sonnets From China".  My memory had mutated it a 


As evening fell the day's oppression lifted;
Tall peaks came into focus; it had rained:
Across wide lawns and cultured flowers drifted
The conversation of the highly trained.

Their gardeners watched them pass and priced their shoes;
A chauffeur waited, reading in the drive,
For them to finish their exchange of views;
It looked a picture of the way to live.

Far off, no matter what good they intended,
Two armies waited for a verbal error
With well-made implements for causing pain,

And on the issue of their charm depended
A land laid waste with all its young men slain,
Its women weeping, and its towns in terror.

                                 W. H. Auden (1938)

Every time I listen to our "leaders" talking about war, I'm reminded of this 
poem -- and though I scrabbled and scumbled the imagery badly, still the 
meaning and sentiment is there.  I shan't elaborate, if it doesn't kick you in 
the gut, nothing I can say will. 

Mike Geary

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx 
  To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx 
  Sent: Wednesday, November 14, 2007 7:29 PM
  Subject: [lit-ideas] The Ostnia/Westland Room


  "Does anyone know the name of a W. H. Auden poem about leaders meeting in a 
villa retreat and making decisions in that safe and privileged atmosphere that 
will rain death down on cities? I've looked through many of Auden's collected 
works, but can't find it. I can't remember more than what I've just told 
unfortunately. I'm 98% positive it exists out there in the world of print. If 
it rings a bell, please let me know."

  Well, this is one takes place in the office of a dictator. But not precisely 
your scenario.  

  On the Frontier: A Melodrama in Two Acts, by W. H. Auden and Christopher 
Isherwood, first published in 1938. 

  The play tells the story of the outbreak of war between the fictional 
European countries of Ostnia and Westland. Some of the action takes place in 
the "Ostnia-Westland Room", an imaginary setting in which two rooms, one in an 
Ostnian household, one in Westland household, each occupy half the stage, and 
the family in one house are unaware of the family in the other - although the 
son and daughter of the two families sense each other's existence. Other scenes 
take place in the office of the Westland dictator. The play ends in a visionary 
scene between the two lovers who have never met in real life. The play was 
produced in October 1938 at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge, in a production by the 
Group Theatre (London). The music for the play was composed by Benjamin Britten.

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