Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Turning aside from Auden

I recently mentioned "Poetic Justice" by Amanda Cross (pen name of Carolyn Heilbrun).  The story is actually about politics in an English department but the main character, Prof.Kate Fansler, knows a great deal about the poet W.H.Auden.  The book has many Auden quotes and references.  I don't know much about Auden or his time or achievements.  I did read that he is considered a great poet.

Great poets and authors usually turn me off.  My perception is that they are so busy being "good" that they fail to be interesting or what is usually called "accessible", meaning understandable. But I did enjoy the recitation of "Stop all the clocks" in the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral".  The poem is a lament over a death and is striking.  I have seen the movie several times and enjoyed "Stop all the clocks" each time.  So, I checked some Auden out of the university library.  I have been reading the poems a few at a time.

My favorite so far is The Model, a depiction of an 80 year old woman who sits with serenity and strong composure for her portrait to be painted.  The poet says that at her age, the cheers and bruises she has experienced throughout life are "all one". She knows life's ups and downs and has faced them. (I would post all or part of the poem but evidently someone is carefully controlling dispersion of his words.)

As I read the poems in the Modern Library volume, I find that most are too complex for me to understand and refer to Greek and Roman gods, goddesses and figures from writings of the ancients that I don't know about.  Auden was born in 1907 and so grew up with the aftermath of World War I.  It was a terrible, bloody conflict and set the stage for WW II.  I was born at the beginning of WW II and had little understanding of that war or its predecessor.

As far as I can tell, many of Auden's poems have to do with death and tragedy.  I can understand a sensitive soul's feeling the pain of loss from war, the threat of death on the front lines, the fear that the world will never be safe and a general intuition of gloom everywhere.  But my life has not been like that and I don't want to spend effort to get in the mood to experience art that is.

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