“Art may spill over from creating a world of language into the dangerous and forbidden task of trying to create a human being.”

Isherwood and Auden by Louise Dahl-Wolfe


There’s a passage in one of your books in which you and Auden are on a train, and you’re savagely attacking religion, and he says: “Be careful, my dear, if you carry on like that, one day you’ll have such a conversion.” Do you think of it in those terms, as a conversion?


Yes. I rather think so. I went through all sorts of attitudes to it. There was a period when I thought I might become a monk myself.


English born Poets, Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) (left) and W H Auden (1907-1973) smiling from the window of their train carriage as they depart from Victoria Station, London on the first leg of their journey to China, January 19th 1938. (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

“If I Could Tell You”

(Collected Shorter Poems 1927–1957: W. H. Auden)

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so. . . .

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so. . . .

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.


Isherwood and Auden came to the United States in 1939 and both became American citizens. Auden settling in NY, Isherwood in LA.

Isherwood preferred the city on the edge of the wilderness. Auden was a denizen of all things urban. Both were profoundly concerned with the human condition and the life of the spirit. While Isherwood was more vocal on this score, Auden quietly served others in startling, profound, and largely silent ways.

I started this post with a quote by Auden about the fuzzy border between writing and the perception of reality, about the relationship between creation and observation, and in a certain way about love. Have any of you seen “Lady Bird,” a movie directed and written by Greta Gerwig? I recommend it highly, and it contains this:
For an acutely (and lovingly) executed look at coming of age see the movie. And, if you want to see screenwriting at its best, read the script posted online by clicking right…


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  1. February 26, 2018

    The last line of the script, about loving and paying attention, made me cry.

    • February 26, 2018

      It’s one of my favorite movies of the year, and it captures growing up in a way both funny and heart breaking. Greta G. … fabulous! And I read somewhere online that she is involved with the latest movie version of “Little Women” — a novel that never really translated perfectly to the screen, but now I have hope that it will. I owe you an email, xox!

  2. February 27, 2018

    Not seen Lady Bird yet, it’s on my list now though 🙂

    • February 27, 2018

      I just saw it recently myself, and it was kind of like reading a great novel. I hope you enjoy it!

  3. March 3, 2018

    I love that question, about love and attention being the same thing. Profound, really

  4. March 6, 2018

    what a deeply glorious photograph of them both.

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