Monday, February 05, 2007

In one of the dives on Fifty-second Street

Joseph Brodsky's heavenly essays (On "September 1, 1939" and To Please a Shadow) are once again half-persuading me to have another look at Auden. I have been here earlier. It is very hard to pinpoint the problem: Auden is accomplished and profound, but his cadences and rhythms seem to be a hard taste to acquire for me. There is something there that feels lifeless and vague, something that fails to raise emotion and thought. You admire but are not engaged, encaptivated.

Of course to my shame there are some external factors involved as well - I have always found Auden's person slighly distasteful. All his various ideological phases, Freudian, Marxist and religious are varyingly unsympathetic to me. Freud was a mechanical, totalitarian thinker, the European heart of darkness in the 1930's was surely in Moscow, not Berlin (this shifted concretely only during 1941-42, whatever pre-existing hidden potential there was: in any case, if you were blind enough to venerate Stalin and discredit liberal democracy, you wouldn't have perceived any hidden montrosities anyway). The move to the neutral and isolationist USA in 1939 of all years does leave a questionable taste to mouth: after all that exhortation comes - a well timed departure. His bewilderingly shifting strands of Christianity I'm least familiar with; in case they obviously weren't very beneficial for his later poetry.

Still, once again Brodsky makes such a powerful, eloquent case that leaves very tempting echoes in the mind: years have passed since the last effort, perhaps I have matured enough for Auden...

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