Thursday, February 22, 2007

Auden's Centennial

W. H. Auden's 100th birthday is this week. (That being a nice way to finesse that I'm a day late with this post -- or it would have been had I not added this parenthesis, which sort of gives the game away.) He's one of my very favorite poets -- I'm not sure I'd be willing to put anyone up as my very favorite poet, but he's among the half dozen or so that would come to mind if I tried to choose one.

Auden must be a popular poet with bloggers, since it does seem that the internet is buzzing with Auden this week. Just a few I noticed: 3quarksdaily tips their hat. Patrick Nielsen Hayden put up a centennial notice, leading to a wonderful thread of people posting their favorite Auden poems/stanzas/lines. I put up "A Walk After Dark", saying that it had the lowest attention-by-Auden-lovers to quality ratio of any of my favorite Auden poems. Then I found that Hugo Schwyzer posted it today as his Auden centennial memorial. So maybe I'm wrong about that, I don't know.

But I suppose the best words to mark the occasion might be these stanzas from another of Auden's best poems, "In Memory of W. B. Yeats":
Time, that is intolerant
of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week,
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
... except that if you click through the link to the poem above, you won't find those verses anywhere in it. Why? Because quotes Auden's later version of the poem -- the version that cut those wonderful stanzas out. (Here's a version with them still in, although they add an awkward note pointing their later exclusion in the text of the poem (what's up with that!?), and here's another -- although that one mashes two of the stanzas awkwardly together.) Ah well, as the Guardian noted today, "He was silly like us... Few writers mutilated their own work more often."

Apart from those two, here are some other of my favorite Auden poems (yeah, most of them are on most people's greatest hits list. I'm listing ones I like, not trying to be original).
As I Walked Out One Evening
August, 1968
Epitaph on a Tyrant
In Praise of Limestone
Law, say the gardeners, is the sun
Musee de Beaux Arts
September 1, 1939
Who's Who
And for those words, among others, time has laid its honors at his feet.

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