The sucking backwash of his reputation was still gurgling down the beach as I grew up. He wasn’t quite dead then, though so drunk that he might as well have been; but he was the poet who had been inescapably important during the adolescence of people thirty or forty years older, so he was quite inaccessible to me. The short, famous and wonderful poems seemed like folk songs. They had always been there; they could never once have been original.

This evening I pulled down a copy of his selected shorter poems to read to Rosie. It was wonderful. The words came out new-minted, full of solid worth, as if I’d found some treasure from which the earth had removed all decay and corruption.

then I looked around the room, when I came up here towrite,and on the wall was a fragment of Auden’s about journalism, or at least about critics, that I stuck up years ago to keep me a little honest, and haven’t read for years:

Those public men who seem so to enjoy their dominion
With their ruined voices, and their faces treble with hate,
Are no less martyrs because unaware of their fetters:
What would you be like, were you never allowed to create
or reflect, but compelled to give an immediate opinion,
Condemned to destroy or distribute the works of your betters?

I’m sorry I ever took seriously Robert Graves’ poisonous remarks about Auden in his lectures as Oxford professor of poetry.

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4 Responses to auden

  1. Louise says:

    Shield of Achilles is my favourite but September 1, 1939 is always apposite.

    I and the public know
    What all schoolchildren learn,
    Those to whom evil is done
    Do Evil in return.

    Might make a nice little motto for George Bush to learn.

    I like these stanzas from ‘The Fall of Rome’ though –

    Private rites of magic send
    The temple prostitutes to sleep;
    All the literati keep
    An imaginary friend.

    Caesar’s double-bed is warm
    As an unimportant clerk
    On a pink official form.


  2. Andrew says:

    Yes. I nearly did quote that one, having read it out to Rosie. But I can’t find the 1939 one in this book, and I walked all up and down 52nd street last time I was in New York, looking for some low dive. I couldn’t find it.

    Time to get CNT to send me to Santa Cruz

  3. REHAN says:

    September 1, 1939 is freely available online & is arguably Auden’s most famous poem!

  4. Andrew says:

    Thanks. But I could hardly drag children into the ofice for a bedtime story 🙂

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