I have fallen absolutely, irrevocably, unflinchingly in love with W.H. Auden.
I’m ashamed to say that I created a few new expletives when his 897-page collected works popped up on my MFA reading list. I planned to quickly scan the monstrous volume for cool stuff (mentions of lust, free coupons, whatever) and pen a heartfelt, though somewhat cursory, analysis, using words like “sweeping,” “intricate,” “concise” and maybe even “hullabaloo.”
But W.H. is a snaky seducer. I’m reading every page aloud:
Motionless, deep in his mind, lies the past the poet’s forgotten,
Till some small experience wake it to life and a poem’s begotten,
Words its presumptive primordial, Feeling its field of induction,
Meaning its pattern of growth determined during construction.

Now I’m gazing at his craggy, hangdog countenance on the book cover, thinking yea, I would’ve married him in a heartbeat, and we’d be miserable, a tortured couplet for sure, but damn, he writes like a guy who sold his soul to the devil for a pen.
Why didn’t anybody tell me about this before?

Originally Published: March 28th, 2007

Patricia Smith has been called “a testament to the power of words to change lives.” She is the author of seven books of poetry, including Incendiary Art (2017); Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (2012), which won the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Blood Dazzler (2008), a chronicle...

  1. March 28, 2007

    Patricia, would you mind posting the full title and publishing house of the W.H. Auden Collected if it's not a painfully obvious title? I've been wanting to read his essay collection THE DYER'S HAND too.

  2. March 28, 2007
     NEG

    Though there’s a sort of pervasive sardonic angst, his work still feels as though it inflates such a state with an authoritative flourish that is, to this reader, uninteresting. So I don't really care for (most) of his poems, but his book of aphorisms (The Prolific and the Devourer) is amazing! It’s (the aphorism) a much better place for these sorts of tones.

  3. March 28, 2007
     Kwame

    Hmmm. Wet blanket. Now I understand the metaphor. (smile)
    One love, KD

  4. March 28, 2007
     patricia

    WH Auden (sigh) Collected Poems, edited by Edward Mendelson, Vintage International, 1991.

  5. March 28, 2007
     patricia

    I'll admit...I had to look up "aphorism."
    Also, pervasive sardonic angst is a bit of an aphrodisiac for some of us. Loosen up.

  6. March 28, 2007
     NEG

    "Loosen up" Hmmm... I'll have to look that one up.
    Sorry, I thought this was a blog where folks talked about poetry. Guess, I was wrong.

  7. March 29, 2007
     ART

    No, you weren't wrong, NEG. Different styles sometimes clash, but this does seem like a place to talk. I want(ed) to hear more from you about Auden's aphorisms, which I am not familiar, and I'm pretty sure Patricia Smith would say the same. I don't know either of you, but am guessing the "loosen up" was not meant to deflate. Anyhow, care to talk a little more about them? I will track them down, at any rate. Thanks for the tip.