The causes of Auden’s move to the States have been debated ad nauseam, but here’s a minor side effect I’ve not seen anyone comment on:
Caesar’s double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK
On a pink official form.
‘The Fall of Rome’
Surely that’s an American accent in the second line? A Briton would rhyme ‘clerk’ with ‘park’, not ‘work’, as the Americans do. And every other rhyme in the poem is full, so I don’t think this is a case of half rhyme.
I know Auden ended up with a weird transatlantic accent, but I can’t recall hearing a recording of him reading this poem — can anyone confirm the accent on ‘clerk’?
Phonetic shift aside, this is one of my favourite stanzas in Auden — he compresses an extraordinary amount of politics, culture and history into four short lines, and manages to be very funny at the same time. Between the double bed and pink form lies an enormous gulf of class, privilege, money and power. And there’s a typical Audenesque knowing naivete about the writing. ‘I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK’ is so blunt it would be clumsy, if we didn’t know it was by Auden and therefore deliberate. A bit like the wonderfully anachronistic pink official form itself.
PS — He uses the same rhyme at the end of ‘At the Grave of Henry James’, just two years after moving to the States, so he either picked up the accent early or spoke like that before he went:
All will be judged. Master of nuance and scruple,
Pray for me and for all writers, living or dead:
Because there are many whose works
Are in better taste than their lives, because there is no end
To the vanity of our calling, make intercession
For the treason of all clerks.
EDIT: I was right! Many thanks to Bill for leaving a comment below with a link to a recording of Auden reading ‘The Fall of Rome’, complete with American accent!