Monday, July 14, 2014

Eden for Auden and Others

W.H. Auden once wrote out a description of Eden as he would wish it to be.  I've long wanted to go through his various categories of Edenic climate and culture and ask how I would like to see these things ordered.  Now, in an act undertaken to forestall the filling out of tax information forms, I've done it.  Auden's writing appears in Roman script, my own in italic beneath.


Limestone uplands like the Pennines plus a small region of igneous rocks with at least one extinct volcano. A precipitous and indented sea-coast.

Rolling hills, partially forested, with ravines carved by rivulets feeding into a large freshwater sea, across which are visible mountains.  In the uplands beyond the hills are great granite outcroppings, deciduous forests, and many smaller lakes suitable for canoeing and the landing of small pontoon aircraft.


Northern Californian.

Ethnic origin of inhabitants
Highly varied as in the United States, but with a slight nordic predominance.

I suspect this question is a bit more politicized than it was in Auden's day.  Anyway: highly mixed, more or less in the manner of San Francisco.

Of mixed origins like English, but highly inflected.

English, but everyone will speak several, so that there will be newsstands with papers in all manner of languages, dialects, and scripts fluttering in the breeze.

Weights & Measures
Irregular and complicated. No decimal system.

Metric, damn it.  I don't care what you say.  Metric for everything except for pints of beer.

Roman Catholic in an easygoing Mediterranean sort of way. Lots of local saints.

Syncretic, with public processions and statuary encouraged.  Enclaves of peaceful mystics and anchorites in the hills.

Size of Capital
Plato's ideal figure, 5040, about right.

123,900—the population of Cambridge, England.

Form of Government
Absolute monarchy, elected for life by lot.

New England style town hall meetings, which I do not have to attend but which nevertheless deliver results I find congenial.

Sources of Natural Power
Wind, water, peat, coal. No oil.

One agrees with Auden, with the codicil that solar power will substitute for coal.

Economic activities
Lead mining, coal mining, chemical factories, paper mills, sheep farming, truck farming, greenhouse horticulture.

Various sorts of non-industrialized farming, including vineyards. Fisheries, publishing, musical recording, brewing, and a disproportionate number of colleges and small universities at which are studied the liberal arts as well as engineering in the genius-boffin manner of Tesla and Buckminster Fuller.

Means of transport
Horses and horse-drawn vehicles, narrow-gauge railways, canal barges, balloons. No automobiles or airplanes.

Karmann Ghia, vintage motor-scooter, Dutch bicycle, light rail and—why not—balloon. Travel on the capital's many canals to be accomplished by punt and gondola. Travel to the world beyond to be accomplished by luxurious ocean liners of the style predominant c. 1900.

State: Baroque. Ecclesiastical: Romanesque or Byzantine. Domestic: Eighteenth-Century British or American Colonial.

State: Romanesque.  Ecclesiastical: Syncretic, with inspiration drawn from the Bahá'í tradition.  Domestic: What William Morris did.

Domestic Furniture and Equipment
Victorian except for kitchens and bathrooms which are as full of modern gadgets as possible.

Arts & Crafts; Mission; shabby genteel; 1920s bohemian.

Formal Dress
The fashions of Paris in the 1830's and '40's.

Think Wes Anderson movies.  The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom in particular.

Sources of Public Information
Gossip. Technical and learned periodicals but no newspapers.

Newspapers of many sizes on different colored paper (predominantly salmon, pale green, and oyster).  Thick quarterly journals containing long non-fiction essays.  Witty graffiti and Diego Rivera style public murals.

Public Statues
Confined to famous defunct chefs.

Many small ones, often tucked into wall niches or adorning fountains at the intersection of narrow cobblestone streets: the gods, the poets, the barroom raconteurs; the really good Facebook posters.

Public Entertainments
Religious Processions, Brass Bands, Opera, Classical Ballet. No movies, radio or television.

Religious Processions, Brass Bands, Opera, Classical Ballet, also movies, radio and television.  Movies projected outdoors, on the walls of buildings on the cathedral square will be popular.  The serial radio drama will be most popular of all, and the Foley artists of such dramas will attain celebrity status.


  1. What about cheeses? The poets have been strangely silent on cheese.

    1. Auden was, when it came to food, something of a barbarian. Perhaps all those cigarettes did in his taste buds. Surely T.S. Eliot would not have neglected the fromagistic elements of Eden.