I have decided that I admire the work of 20th-century British poet W.H. Auden more than I love it.
I applaud Auden's moral seriousness, his commitment not to turn a blind eye to the horrors, including World War II, of his time. I applaud his deep investment in poetry, and yet his incapacity to inflate either his own influence or his verse's importance. I find this combination of profound dedication and self-deprecation very appealing, and also missing in many of today's poets.
Auden's command of the English language astounds me. Has there since Shakespeare been a writer so on top of his game in that regard? The poet's flexibility with form invigorates me. Really, he could do it all, and he bore the mark of a master, which is that his formal poems never seem like exercises. Instead, his rhymes fall trippingly off the tongue. I admire Auden the person. He seems like a congenial man with a sense of humor.
His personality was revealed last night at a tribute to him at New York's 92nd Street Y. The centenary of his birth was about two weeks ago. Oliver Sacks and Charles Rosen spoke, and charmed. Sacks has such a Princess Bride of a British voice--"Twu Wuv." Auden's friend Shirley Hazzard rambled at length. Unfortunately she seemed not get her bearings and repeated the phrase "he had good manners" several times.
What I gleaned from the event is that certain rhymes and vistas of Auden wow me, yet I get lost in the poems as a whole. He was such a philosopher; his discursiveness can ruin poems for me. I'm not left reeling from one sustained image, as I am with work by George Herbert, John Keats, or Robert Frost, as examples.
But lines do shine, and I do thank Shirley Hazzard for contributing to the evening this, about three friends sharing an idyllic June day:
That later we, though parted then,
May still recall these evenings when
Fear gave his watch no look;
The lion griefs loped from the shade
And on our knees their muzzles laid
And Death put down his book.
I celebrate Auden the humanist and knower of human truths.