It is hardly unfair to say that Auden, over the years, has done one of two things with books entrusted to him for comment: either he wrote about what interested him at the moment, making some spidery connection with the book in hand, or, with books he felt keen about, like Cyril Connolly’s vivid Enemies of Promise, he quoted from them at agreeable length. In a book so titled, there is less Shakespearean criticism than one would have expected.Falstaff, Shylock, Iago are tossed about and viewed.
Then, my final decision, which seemed to be fairly fortuitous at the time, took place in 1922, in March when I was walking across a field with a friend of mine from school who later became a painter. INTERVIEWER Do you think of your reading as being an influence in your decision?
AUDEN Well, up until then the only poetry I had read, as a child, were certain books of sick jokes—Belloc’s . He told me a very funny story about Clarence Darrow.
I felt myself faced with what I can only call a moral choice—it was my duty to take the second and more efficient one. ”—and at that point I decided that’s what I would do.
Later, I realized, in constructing this world which was only inhabited by me, I was already beginning to learn how poetry is written. Looking back, I conceived how the ground had been prepared.
” These are the minor headaches a writer must live with.
My pet peeve is people who send for autographs but omit putting in stamps.And I got my start reading detective stories with Sherlock Holmes. It seems that Darrow had written him a very laudatory letter, claiming to have saved several clients from the chair with quotes from Housman’s poetry.Shortly afterwards, Housman had a chance to meet Darrow.He was sitting beneath two direct white lights of a plywood portico, drinking a large cup of strong breakfast coffee, chain-smoking cigarettes, and doing the crossword puzzle that appears on the daily book review page of —which, as it happened, this day contained, along with his photo, a review of his most recent volume of poetry.When he had completed the puzzle, he unfolded the paper, glanced at the obits, and went to make toast. .” His singular perspectives, priorities, and tastes were strongly manifest in the décor of his New York apartment, which he used in the winter.Marianne Moore, with her animals, is paired with Lawrence, with his, in what I would agree is his most satisfying book of poems (Birds, Beasts and Flowers).One of Auden’s rare jabs is delightful: he quotes Yeats’s anthology-piece “The Scholars” and calls it “rather silly.” Speaking for myself, the questions which interest me most when reading a poem are two. ” The modesty, the casualness, the fake-American, the Henry James, the theology, the depth-psychology, are all charmingly characteristic.With a photo there’s no human decision; you’re not there; you can’t turn away; you simply gape. I was planning my idea of the concentrating mill—you know, the platonic idea of what it should be.There were two kinds of machinery for separating the slime, one I thought more beautiful than the other, but the other one I knew to be more efficient.INTERVIEWER I thought your objection might have been to the instrument itself. Spiders, certainly—but that’s different, a personal phobia which persists through life. I could decide between two ways of draining a mine, but I wasn’t allowed to use magical means.You have written a new poem condemning the camera as an infernal machine. Normally, when one passes someone on the street who is in pain, one either tries to help him, or one simply looks the other way. INTERVIEWER Was there anything that you were particularly afraid of as a child? Then there came a day which later on, looking back, seems very important.