Auden

Limestonegetty

Here’s a good essay by James Fenton in the Guardian on a great poet. A reader comments:

Always my personal favorite poet by a country mile – from my early teenage years on – and I’m not that big a poetry fan.  His early poetry (despite the one puzzling reference in this essay to his "obscurity") managed to avoid the enormous 20th century trap of what may be called Decoder Ring Poetry (see, for instance, early Eliot, Pound, Wallace Stevens, Robert Lowell, and – as I’ve most recently discovered, to my disappointment – Yeats), while also avoiding the lesser but real trap of excessive simple-mindedness. That is, it’s intelligent and complex, but by God you can nevertheless understand all of it.

Starting in the 1940s, unfortunately his poetry did slide too far toward Offensive Transparency – some of his late stuff looks like Winnie the Pooh – but to the end of his days he remained an absolutely delightful, incredibly readable reviewer and analyst. If I had to name a single book to give to any high-school student (not just the gifted ones) to get him interested in literature, I would unhesitatingly pick Auden’s 1973 anthology "Forewords And Afterwords".

Larkin has him beat, I’d say, especially on the grounds of readability. But re-reading Auden always reveals some new detail or meaning or nuance. In some of his greatest poems, he also manages to make almost philosophical arguments about the world in ways that only poetry can. My own understanding of homosexuality, for example, was altered deeply by his poem, "In Praise of Limestone." The poem was a lodestar for the second essay in "Love Undetectable," called "Virtually Abnormal."

By the way, I’m considering adding occasional short verse to the blog. Once a week, maybe just on the weekends. Any objections?

(Photo: Limestone formations along the Wujiang River are seen on November 29, 2006 in Gongtan Township of Youyang County, Chongqing Municipality, China. By China Photos/Getty Images.)