Monday, January 30, 2012

Don't read the other fellows...

From Edward Mendelson's introduction to Volume IV, Prose, 1956-1962 by W.H. Auden:

Auden waited until halfway through his [first Oxford] lecture before he claimed any merit for poets and critics, and when he did so, he claimed mostly the virtues of modesty. "Whatever his defects, a poet at least thinks a poem more important than anything which can be said about it;" furthermore, when reading a poem by another poet, "he would rather it were good than bad," and "the last thing he wants is that it should be like one of his own."  A poet's general statements about poetry are less likely to be valuable than his appreciations of individual poems, but they may be illuminating about the poet who makes them:

I am always interested in hearing what a poet has to say about the nature of poetry, though I do not take it too seriously.  As objective statements his definitions are never accurate, never complete and always one-sided.  Not one would stand up under a rigorous analysis.  In unkind moments one is almost tempted to think that all they are really saying is: "Read me.  Don't read the other fellows."  But taken as critical admonitions addressed by his [internal] Censor to the poet himself, there is generally something to be learned from them.

You can read Auden's entertaining essay on Sydney Smith from this book here, thanks to the publisher. Some of Auden's aphorisms on writing are here.

1 comment:

Andrea (Andee) Beltran said...

Thank you for these links this morning. My best to you this week.