On this Veterans’ Day I salute military persons past and present who have honored their country, including my son, a Navy man currently serving on a far shore.
I’ve undertaken my periodic re-memorization of W.H. Auden’s epoch-spanning poem “September 1, 1939.” In the diurnal crossing of the DMZ between sleep and reality, where horror and dread do their morning jog, it comforts me to meditate on images from the poem before I open my eyes.
… Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
What huge imago
Made a psychopathic god:
In our debased twitterverse of facebookery and tomfoolery the appeal to scholarship of any stripe, accurate or not, rings sweet and quaint, like the mantra “Pray for peace” chanted in a bygone time during another of our lost wars.
However, it’s the “imago” that arrests attention. A wiki-dip of quasi-scholarship yields two meanings for the term:
(Entomology) The final and fully developed adult stage of an insect, typically winged.
(Psychoanalysis) An unconscious idealized mental image of someone, especially a parent, which influences a person’s behavior.
A full-blown insect doesn’t spawn something else. Auden guides us, of course, to sense 2 with his mention of a “psychopathic god.” It nudges us, in contemplation, to the driven psyche of a child-god’s pathological parent-worship, or something along those lines.
This single image goes a good way towards explaining the scriptural weight in 2019 of Auden’s 99 lines from 1940.
(c) 2019 JMN