Monday, May 14, 2007

A poet in full ...

... W.H. Auden: Saviour and scapegoat. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

So Seamus Heaney thinks Auden is "a writer of perfect light verse."

I'd like to see what Heaney has written comparable to this: "Who stands the crux left of the watershed, / On the wet road between the chafing grass".


  1. Anonymous11:47 AM

    Can't say I have any knowledge of either poet really, but a fw words taken inisolation can be made asay virtually anything. Heaney could, for instance, have said, "Auden could write geat poetry of rare depth, while also being a writer of perfect light verse." Then again, perhaps he simply considered him a writer of perfect light verse, which is presumably faint praise. Without a wider knowledge of his views, those few words in themselves are, however, rather than a devastating put-down, quite a compliment.

  2. Hi Andrew:
    A good point, though I suspect Sansom thinks Heaney's remark representative of his view of Auden. So far, I haven't been able to find much of what Heaney has had to say about Auden.

  3. Anonymous12:29 PM

    Hi Frank-Did a little rummaging myself, Frank, for a mere couple of minutes admittedly & didn't find anything. Maybe tis representative of Heaney's views but then again.

  4. Anonymous12:30 PM

    Oops, excessive use of Frank.

  5. Anonymous1:08 PM

    Don't know why a non-poetry reading pleb such as myself has spent the last ten minutes delving this issue, and it yielded not a whole lot but that Heaney described Auden as being able to subjugate "all the traditional poetic means to his own purposes."
    He also wrote a poem, "A Stove-Pipe for Auden", which is seemingly something of a homage. And also an essay, or not sure... perhaps a collection of essays, Sounding Auden, where he says, "Auden constantly returned to the double-nature of poetry. On the one hand...magical incantation, fundamentally a matter of sound and its power(sic)....on the other, poetry is a matter of making wise and true meanings, of commanding our emotional assent etc."

  6. Here, perhaps, is that quotation of Seamus Heaney in context:

    "Auden was an epoch-making poet on public themes, the register of a new sensibility, a great sonneteer, a writer of perfect light verse, a prospector of language at its most illiterate roots and a dandy of lexicography at its most extravagant reaches. There is a Victorian bulk to this book that contains his confident, abundant, peremptory, insouciant opus. A hundred years from now Auden's work will certainly be in permanent and outstanding profile, and for all one's niggardly withholdings, in the end one assents with a 'yes' as pleasured and whole-hearted as Molly Bloom's."

  7. Well, Dave, I think you've settled it: Heaney was taken out of context. He may cavil a bit, but he does seem to give Auden his due.