Impulsively, I decided to do the AtoZ blogging challenge for April. The theme is favourite authors. I will revisit their work, re-reading favourite books and paragraphs and post a short note on what their work means to me.
A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us.
Wystan Hugh Auden
As a self taught reader of poetry, I had not chanced upon many poems of W.H.Auden except a few of the most famous ones in anthologies, when I began to come across frequent references to his poetry in the novels of Alexander McCall Smith, a writer whom I admire greatly for the warmth of humanity that shines through his work. Inspired by Professor McCall Smith’s frequent references to Auden’s life and poetry through the reflections of philosopher Isabel Dalhousie in the Sunday Philosophy Club series, I turned to the poet’s collected works and was surprised to find that the more I read of Auden’s poems, the more I found that his voice had very similar overtones to that of McCall Smith. There is the finesse of craft, the excellence of technique in multiple verse forms, the rich allusiveness to literature, culture, art, science and society. The gentle humour, the empathy with the fragility of the human condition, the sparkling wit which complements the wisdom within his words and above all, the sense of kindness that pervades his lines which seem to reach out to all of humanity.
A few quotes from the poet who evoked tenderness in ‘Lay your sleeping head, my love’, heart-wrenching pathos in ‘Miss Gee’ and ‘Funeral Blues’ and echoes a reader’s feelings in his poet’s tribute ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats’.
On loving kindness.
“How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.”
W.H.Auden (The More Loving One)
Incidentally, the above lines describe the attitude of many of McCall Smith’s characters. Isabel Dalhousie personifies this view most of the time, as does Barbara Ragg from The Corduroy Mansions series, in a scene where she breaks up with the mean and selfish Oedipus Snark during a weekend getaway with him and as she leaves, pays the bill for both of them.
“I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.”
W.H.Auden (As I Walked Out One Evening)
“Not to be born is the best for man
The second best is a formal order
The dance’s pattern, dance while you can.
Dance, dance, for the figure is easy
The tune is catching and will not stop
Dance till the stars come down from the rafters
Dance, dance, dance till you drop.”
W.H.Auden (Death’s Echo)
Or simply, a poet who seems to have enjoyed his work, and had a lot of fun writing delightful verse like this one.
When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I’m picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.
W.H.Auden (O tell me the truth about love)
Describing Auden’s poetry transcending the human experience into that on a higher plane, Alexander McCall Smith says in his book ‘What W.H.Auden Can Do for You‘ that “There are plenty of poets, especially those given to the writing of confessional verse, who are ready to tell us about their particular experience of love. We listen sympathetically, and may indeed be touched or inspired by their insights. But few poets transcend the personal when talking about love. They are talking, really, about how they felt when they were in love; Auden digs far deeper than that. He talks about love and flesh as it can be experienced by all of us – he transcends the specific experience in a particular place and time, to get to the heart of what we are.“
The above words apply equally to both of their work.