This is something really new for me. I only began reading literature again, after a multi-decades long hiatus, 2 yrs ago. Poetry in particular has always been inaccessible to me – I mean, I read a lot of Greek and Latin poetry, of course – but somehow that’s different – but I’ve *never* been able to read poetry in my own language, and have never understand any modern poetry at all. So that I’ve now come to the point of reading Auden is a mark of the progress I’ve made – difficult as it’s been.
When I decided to start reading poetry last year, I decided on Auden, and bought a nice copy of the Collected Works – and started staring at it. Where TF was I supposed to begin? Reading 700 pages of poetry, what! So the book sat there…. unopened.
Then I ran across a couplet by Pound that Gilbert Sorrentino used in Imaginative Qualities and was knocked over by it and said: “I’m gonna do this!” But this time, decided to start small. I’ve ordered a copy of a group of the Cantos, rather than trying to read the whole of it (which is absurd), and “selected poems” of Auden and Paterson (William Carlos Williams) – thinking these would be more manageable… and give me a more plausible point of entry.
This is the volume that arrived first, and so I’ll start with this.
This is a collection made by Edward Mendelson, who was Auden’s Literary Executor. So he’s a serious Auden guy. And he did something unusual – he put together a collection of Auden’s poems that include the *original*, unrevised version of the early poems – poems that Auden revised extensively or, in some cases, suppressed. So this is different than the reading of a collection that Auden himself constructed. Mendelson does not think that the later versions are inferior – they may often be deeper and more complex. But they do not give the poems in the historical context or in the manner that Auden actually produced them. And having that is valuable in its own right. (Mendelson thus suggests reading this edition first, and then the later revised versions second.)
There is also a short introduction on Auden’s poetry and its relation to Modernism that is… simply put, brilliant. Or at least, it’s the first thing that I’ve ever read on poetry that made sense, that was deep, devoid of all jargon… it was like a door opening up… So I’ve started on what is really, for me, a new journey….