Monday, March 16, 2015

Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957

I found this book of W. H. Auden's poems in a cool bookstore/cafe in Edinburgh. It was one of those "recommended by the staff" books. It called to me, somehow. I didn't buy it at first, but after I left, I kept thinking about it, and returned the next day to buy it. I'd never really read Auden before. It's weird that it was in a Scottish bookshop, I guess, given that he's an English/American poet.

He's kind of a scary poet, honestly. He works very hard, and his hard work comes through. He makes it rhyme, dammit. Not that his poems feel forced -- rather, they feel like they are made out of hardened steel. And they are dark, too. Not that they revel in darkness, instead, they are bright and welcoming, but they always have an eye on the grave, and when it comes to facing it, have an unflinching quality. Here are some various quotes I saved as I went through the book.
Among the half dozen things for which a man of honor should be prepared, if necessary, to die, the right to play, the right to frivolity, is not the least. 
Each has his comic role in life to fill, though life be neither comic nor game. 
Love like matter is much odder than we thought. 
Any heaven we think it decent to enter must be Ptolemaic with ourselves at the center. 
Let us honor if we can / the vertical man / though we value none / but the horizontal one. 
I’m afraid there’s many a spectacled sod prefers the British Museum to God. 
O stand, stand at the window as the tears scaled and start; you shall love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart. 
Clear, unscaleable ahead / rise the mountains of Instead / from whose cascading streams / none may drink except in dreams 
When I’m a veteran with only one eye / I shall do nothing but look at the sky.
 It was a pleasure getting to know Auden over this thirty year collection. The poems are sorted chronologically, so I really got a sense of his growth as a poet as I passed through his life. He is a sturdy companion I am sure I will visit with often.

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