American Poet, Novelist, Critic, Children's Author, Essayist
American Poet, Novelist, Critic, Children's Author, Essayist
We are willing to admit the normality of the abnormal?are willing to admit that we never understood the normal better than when it has been allowed to reach its full growth and become the abnormal.
We died like aunts of pets or foreigners.
We know from many experiences that this is what the work of art does: its life ? in which we have shared the alien existences both of this world and of that different world to which the work of art alone gives us access ? unwillingly accuses our lives.
The writer does not get from his work as he writes and reads it the same aesthetic shock that the reader does; and since the writer is so accustomed to reading other stories, and having them produce a decided effect upon him, he is disquieted at not being equally affected by his own.
We like somebody who succeeds with such bad conscience, and who seems to wish that he had the nerve to be a failure or, better still, something to which the terms success and failure don?t apply?as when Mallory said, about Everest: ?Success is meaningless here.?
There are some good things and some fantastic ones in Auden?s early attitude; if the reader calls it a muddle I shall acquiesce, with the remark that the later position might be considered a more rarefied muddle. But poets rather specialize in muddles?and I have no doubt which of the muddles was better for Auden?s poetry: one was fertile and usable, the other decidedly is not. Auden sometimes seems to be saying with Henry Clay, ?I had rather be right than poetry?; but I am not sure, then, that he is either.
We live in an age which eschews sentimentality as if it were a good deal more than the devil. (Actually, of course, a writer may be just as sentimental in laying undue emphasis on sexual crimes as on dying mothers: sentimental, like scientific, is an adjective that relates to method, not to matter.)
There is in this world no line so bad that someone won?t someday copy it.
We never step twice into the same Auden.?HERACLITUS
There is something essentially ridiculous about critics, anyway: what is good is good without our saying so, and beneath all our majesty we know this.
We read our mail and counted up our missions ? in bombers named for girls, we burned the cities we had learned about in school ? till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among the people we had killed and never seen. When we lasted long enough they gave us medals; when we died they said, "Our casualties were low." They said, "Here are the maps"; we burned the cities.
These calves, grown muscular with certainties; this nose, three medium-sized pink strawberries.
They have thrown away her electric toothbrush, someone else slips the key into the lock of her safety-deposit box at the Crocker-Anglo Bank; her seat at the cricket matches is warmed by buttocks less delectable than hers.
They said, Here are the maps; we burned the cities. It was not dying?no, not ever dying; but the night I died I dreamed that I was dead, and the cities said to me: Why are you dying? We are satisfied, if you are; but why did I die?
This poet is now, most of the time, an elder statesman like Baruch or Smuts, full of complacent wisdom and cast-iron whimsy. But of course there was always a good deal of this in the official r“le that Frost created for himself; one imagines Yeats saying about Frost, as Sarah Bernhardt said about Nijinsky: ?I fear, I greatly fear, that I have just seen the greatest actor in the world.? Sometimes it is this public figure, this official r“le ? the Only Genuine Robert Frost in Captivity ? that writes the poems, and not the poet himself; and then one gets a self-made man?s political editorials, full of cracker-box philosophizing, almanac joke-cracking ? of a snake-oil salesman?s mysticism; one gets the public figure?s relishing consciousness of himself, an astonishing constriction of imagination and sympathy; one gets sentimentality and whimsicality; an arch complacency, a complacent archness; and one gets Homely Wisdom till the cows come home.
The tags' chain stirs with the wind; and I sleep paid, dead, and a soldier. Who fights for his own life loses, loses: I have killed for my world, and am free.
The usual bad poem in somebody?s Collected Works is a learned, mannered, valued habit, a habit a little more careful than, and little emptier than, brushing one?s teeth.
The firelight of a long, blind, dreaming story lingers upon your lips; and I have seen firm, fixed forever in your closing eyes, the Corn King beckoning to his Spring Queen.
The usual criticism of a novel about an artist is that, no matter how real he is as a man, he is not real to us as an artist, since we have to take on trust the works of art he produces.
The greatest American industry?why has no one ever said so??is the industry of using words. We pay tens of millions of people to spend their lives lying to us, or telling us the truth, or supplying us with a nourishing medicinal compound of the two. All of us are living in the middle of a dark wood?a bright Technicolored forest?of words, words, words. It is a forest in which the wind is never still: there isn?t a tree in the forest that is not, for every moment of its life and our lives, persuading or ordering or seducing or overawing us into buying this, believing that, voting for the other.
The ways we miss our lives are life.
The head withdraws into its hatch (a boy's), the engines rise to their blind laboring roar, and the green, made beasts run home to air. Now in each aspect death is pure.
The weight and concentration of the poems fall upon things (and those great things, animals and people), in their tough, laconic, un-get-pastable plainness: they have kept the stolid and dangerous inertia of the objects of the sagas?the sword that snaps, the man looking at his lopped-off leg and saying, ?That was a good stroke.?
The moon rises. The red cubs rolling in the ferns by the rotten oak stare over a marsh and a meadow to the farm's white wisp of smoke. A spark burns, high in heaven. Deer thread the blossoming rows of the old orchard, rabbits hop by the well-curb. The cock crows from the tree by the widow's walk; two stars in the trees to the west, are snared, and an owl's soft cry runs like a breath through the forest. Here too, though death is hushed, though joy obscures, like night, their wars, the beings of this world are swept by the Strife that moves the stars.
The wild beasts, sparrows pecking the llamas' grain, pigeons settling on the bears' bread, buzzards tearing the meat the flies have clouded.